Pretend play is a wonderful activity to regularly get your toddler thinking about the world around them.

Toddler playing with bubbles outside.


Image by Leo Rivas

It encourages use of their imagination while also building a base of valuable language, social, and emotional skills they’ll use throughout life. Depending on the activity, pretend play can also help develop motor skills including hand-eye coordination.

The possibilities of different activities are endless. Each session of pretend play is sure to delight the toddler and even you as you discover how creative they already are! These activities are free and their reactions will be even more priceless.

You can engage in pretend play with them yourself and also help them get started with others. This activity can be a great way for them to bond with you, other family members, and friends. Older siblings can also help out and may be proud to show something to their younger sibling which can be a win-win.

Toddler smiling and playing in the backyard.

Image by Peter Idowu

Pretend Play for Toddler Ideas

1) Pretend play restaurant

Playing restaurant is a great way to teach your child communication skills. The child and caregiver can take turns being the server and being the customer. It is also a great way to make manners a habit by saying, “please” and “thank you.”

Let your toddler explore making decisions. They love being able to make their own choices, so letting them order off a pretend menu is a great chance for them to do so. It is also an opportunity to discuss healthy foods. You can explain why eating a variety of foods is important. It can also be a tool to get them excited about veggies or other flavors you’re trying to get them used to eating regularly.
You can even print out paper menus to use at your restaurant. You can also color the pictures together for an added activity to teach your toddler more about shapes and colors by asking them to point at colors or food items as they order.

2) Pretend play grocery store

Playing grocery store is another fun scenario that teaches communication skills as well as counting (paying and making change). Exchanging invisible or toy coins and bills can help improve their hand-eye coordination. 

It can be another great way to talk about healthy foods and nutrition. You may even place a new flavor you want to introduce or they’re getting used to like butternut squash to let them try after they pick it.

You can use play food if you have it, or else, you can use empty cereal and snack boxes as well as empty milk and egg containers, and paper grocery bags from the store. Your toddler will love to pack and unpack the paper bags with stuff!

3) Pretend play vet’s office

Toddlers love caring games, such as pretending to wash, care for and tend to imaginary pets (stuffed animals). If you have a toy medical set, this is great, but if not, you can use toilet paper for bandages and a real thermometer and empty medicine dropper out of your own cabinet.  

Pretending to care for pets in need will teach your toddler empathy and compassion for others. You can also use this activity as an exercise on how to treat pets you have in your household. It can be great to teach your toddler how to gently pet animals and to not tug on ears.

4) Pretend play post office

Help your child write letters or draw pictures and place them in envelopes. Then pretend to mail them in a mailbox (a cardboard box is perfect). Talk about who your child would like to send a picture or letter to and let them dictate to you what they would like them to say.

For the younger toddler, sending your old junk mail through the mail slot and then picking it up again (and again) for “delivery” is loads of fun!  You can create a great DIY cardboard mailbox as well as other creative uses for recycled cardboard boxes.

5) Play pretend camping

Make a tent out of sheets and blankets then pretend to camp out. Talk about what you would need to bring with you, such as a pillow, a flashlight, water, and food. Depending on time of day, you can also turn off the flashlight and reassure your toddler the dark is safe.

Bring toddler snacks into your tent and have a little picnic. Pretend there is a storm coming and you will have to wait for the rain to stop before you can go back outside. Talk about nature and what sounds you could hear if you were really outside like the chirps of crickets and owls hooting.

6) Play pretend kitchen

Playing kitchen is an important activity to get your toddler familiar with the concept of cooking their own food. This can help lay the groundwork for healthy eating habits later on in life when they’re tempted with less healthy options.

You can even design their own kitchen made of cardboard boxes or you can draw a stovetop/grill on paper then lay it on a flat surface. Direct them with simple instructions like adding 3 of an ingredient and 1 of another ingredient then mixing it together can help with counting and fine motor skills.

Toddler pretend playing with shadow.

Image by Susana Coutinho

Easy and nutritious snacks for pretend play with toddlers

Even adults know that great snacks make any activity more fun and memorable! Toddlers love our flavors. Caregivers love that our food is organic & non-GMO with no concentrates or preservatives.

Many of our flavors combine multiple nutritious fruits and veggies which can serve as a wonderful tool to introduce new flavors gradually. You can even get our baby and toddler food pouches delivered right to your home.

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