Pretend Play Ideas for Kids That Parents Will Enjoy Too

Kids love pretend play and it's a normal part of their development in childhood. Encourage their imaginations and have fun together with these fresh ideas.

Published December 16, 2023
Child playing in homemade costume

You survived the baby stage and your budget survived the fruit-devouring toddler stage. But now that your little one is old enough to understand and enjoy pretend play, you might be exhausted from the constant imagination games. If you need some pretend play ideas that are fun and engaging for your little one, as well as enjoyable for you as the parent, we're here to help. 

Creative Indoor Pretend Play Ideas 

Whether you're looking for rainy day activities or something to do inside on a hot summer day, pretend play is one way to enjoy some quality time with your kids indoors. You might join them initially and then get back to your own tasks, or you might love these imaginary play ideas so much that you stick it out to the end.

Need to Know

Also known as symbolic play, pretend play is characterized by imaginary scenarios played out by children using language, actions, and objects. 

Go for an Imaginary Drive

This easy pretend play idea requires nothing more than a couple of chairs and a great imagination. Set up two or four chairs like the seats of a car and ask your child to take the driver's seat. You can pretend to be on a road trip together, out running errands, or play out a taxi driver and passenger scenario.

Run a Play Bakery

If you have play food in your home, this pretend scenario comes together quickly. Line up toy bread, donuts, and cookies on platters and place them on a table. Take turns being the bakery owner and the hungry customer. You might also make an imaginary coffee bar, set up a dine-in table, and include a toy cash register. 

Have a Tea Party

Father and young daughter having tea party

Invite the bears, notify the dolls, and brew your best pot of pretend tea. Tea parties are a classic imaginary scenario for kids, but they are made even more fun with a parent involved and engaged.

Helpful Hack

Sometimes I plan a not-so-pretend tea party as a creative way to get my picky eater to dig into her lunch. She thinks it's all a game and I have a mom win as she eats cucumber sandwiches.

Have a Pretend Photoshoot

This photoshoot doesn't require a working camera and the models are amazing at holding still. With a toy phone, or any other prop you can pretend is a camera, your child can help you style a photoshoot of their dolls or stuffed animals. You might even inspire them to photograph their play food or let you be the model for their spectacular photos.

Dress Up Is Always Fun

Some of us still remember our favorite dress-up clothes from childhood and how they became the inspiration for countless pretend play scenarios. If your child is on the younger side, they may need some help with wardrobe changes. You could even style them for that imaginary photoshoot you're planning. 

Be a Patient at the Imaginary Hospital

A stuffed bear with a broken leg and a dolly with a serious case of the ouchies can only go to one place for imaginary medical care: the imaginary hospital. Help your child set up a pretend hospital while you act as their nurse when treating stuffies and dolls. You might offer some treatment suggestions or help them set up their pretend X-ray machine. 

Quick Tip

Some pretend play ideas allow you to just sit back and relax while the kids do most of the pretend work. You can be the patient when you're playing hospital and all you really need to do is lay there for your imaginary treatment.

Other Simple Dramatic Play Ideas to Do Indoors 

Pretend play scenarios you can do indoors are limited only by your imagination and the amount of space you have. A few other easy imaginary play ideas include: 

pretend play travel
  • Vet, animal shelter, or zoo worker with stuffed animals
  • Pretend travel (pack pretend suitcases and plan where to go) 
  • Pilot or airline worker (do a setup similar to the car play idea)
  • Pretend library visit (can be good for quiet time)
  • Architect, engineer, or designer (for older kids) 
  • Pretend fun scenarios like going to a restaurant or movie theater
  • Grocery store or retail store (as workers, shoppers, or both)
  • Talent show or pretend music competition
  • Pretend festival or fair 
  • Party or event planner 
  • Ice cream shop or candy store 
  • Office or bank 

Pretend Play to Enjoy Outside

Imaginary play isn't just for your living room. For all the time your kids spend outside, there's plenty of room for some dramatic play. These ideas help you have some involvement in the fun or just get your child started on an afternoon of imaginary memory-making.

Fast Fact

Children most often develop the ability to play pretend between 2-3 years of age. Once developed, pretend play becomes a normal part of playing throughout childhood. 

Deliver Packages 

Here's a fun way to incorporate fun exercise into your child's pretend play. Add a wagon or basket to their bike and let them play delivery driver. They might bring pretend packages to the front door or even deliver hand-picked flowers. Don't forget to tip your amazing delivery driver with a few rocks or leaves.

Play Detective

Your front yard has an abundance of clues and there might be a guilty squirrel roaming about. Encourage your little Sherlock to hunt for clues and play detective with you. You might even turn the imaginary game into a fun scavenger hunt.

Build a Campsite

family camping in backyard

You don't have to plan a family camping trip to show your child the ropes of roughing it. Pretend camping in your backyard can be just as fun. Put up a tent, make a fake fire, and add some s'mores for extra enjoyment. This is a fun pretend play scenario for all of your children to take part in at the same time.

Get Stranded on a Desert Island

While you're building that campsite, you may as well go the extra mile and make it an entire survival scenario. Pretend along with your child that you're stranded on a desert island. You have to find or make shelter, gather food, and avoid all of those wild animals lurking behind the house.

Need to Know

Pretend play isn't just important for your child's imagination development. It also helps them learn to solve problems, strengthen language skills, and practice social and emotional skills. 

Run an Imaginary Construction Crew

If you're outside, you may as well get started on that new addition to the house. Encourage your little one to be part of an imaginary construction crew. They get to direct the imaginary workers, dream up the concept for the new build, and pick out the "power tools" from your backyard. Bikes make great cranes and a big stick is perfect for their wrecking ball.

Other Easy Outdoor Imaginary Play Ideas

There's plenty of space outside, so your options for dramatic play are endless. Here are a few more ideas that can be fun for kids and parents:

family playing firefighters
  • Pretend farm (planting, harvesting, using pretend farm machines, etc. )
  • Firefighter or rescue worker
  • Going on a boat and/or fishing 
  • Car wash or bike wash with their toddler outdoor vehicles
  • Pretend Olympic games or races 
  • Beekeeping
  • Animal rehab worker  or animal rescue
  • Play landscaper or gardener 
  • Set up a pretend city or town 
  • Fruit, vegetable, or pretend lemonade stand 
  • Food truck 
  • Archeology (if you have a sandbox, you can do a pretend dig)
  • Pretend charity event, like a drop-off food drive or walk/race

There's Nothing Pretend About the Pros of Quality Time

With all the pressure already on you as a parent, you deserve to just have some fun with your child. Don't get hung up on making the perfect imaginary play plan. What matters most is that you spend quality time with your little one making memories you'll both cherish long after they grow up.

Pretend Play Ideas for Kids That Parents Will Enjoy Too