imaginative play for kids

Best toys that encourage imaginative play

How to choose toys to encourage imaginative play in your children; and why this is really important for their development….

imaginative play for kids
kids play toy camping stove

Most parents will be in the thick of Christmas present planning; what toys should we get our child this year? What are the popular toys? What are the best one for our kid and where they are at with their interests and development?

With tech-based toys forming an ever increasing part of most children’s Christmas list, it’s more important than ever for parents to also choose toys that encourage imaginative play, time away from tech and to encourage them to play physically and imaginatively.

Evidence shows that children who play imaginatively have significant advances in development as they grow up and gain vital social, emotional and mental skills which will make them healthier, happier and more successful as they grow up and into adulthood.

Here is why you should ensure toys which stimulate a child’s imagination find their way under the tree this year and also some great examples of toys for different types of kids….

Playing gives your child a learning advantage

Evidence shows that learning through play is an essential part of healthy learning and development for young children. And imaginative play exercises the brain. But without practising using your imagination, it won’t work as well and so if we don’t teach our children to be imaginative and encourage opportunities for imaginative play then they will not develop this part of their brain which will put them at a disadvantage in learning and being the best they can be. 


If you think you will be keen to encourage your child when they are a teenager to do well in their school work and exams, then if you encourage as much pretend play in the early years as possible then they will benefit later. It will help their brain development and they will be more able to achieve academically.  


As Albert Einstein said “Logic will get you from A to Z: imagination will get you everywhere”

child playing

Play helps children to understand and regulate emotions and is essential for good mental health development.

We are seeing more and more children affected by mental health issues, but pretend play in the early years can help to prevent some issues that develop as they move through primary school. Pretend play helps children to understand who they are and how they fit into the world. They can explore emotions, experiences and practice interactions in a safe environment. It helps with their self -esteem and self -awareness as well as improving language and communication skills and physical development. And all of this helps to develop a better mental health foundation as they approach more challenging periods of growing up.

Play build connection

Time with our children is short lived. Before we feel we have blinked they are at secondary school going through the stress of exams or visiting universities! So that precious time when they are little and want to play needs to be grabbed and celebrated. Not only because it’s fun but because the connection that it gives you will build a strong foundation for your relationship which will help you to be closer to them, support them and be able to communicate with them as they grow up and move through the different phases. So in short, play helps to build connection with your child which will last a lifetime.

And anyway, the opportunity for play is short lived and I bet we all wish some days that we could put down our task list and go and play dinosaurs or kings and queens or pirates outside!!!

reading with child
dad and child playing

Great toys to promote pretend play…

Toys that encourage exploration...

melissa and doug explorers toy

Toys that allow your child to go outside are brilliant as not only are they being imaginative, they are getting out in nature which is proven to benefit children (and adults!) in numerous powerful ways! Encouraging exploration outdoors gives children the chance to use their senses, take risks, be observant and be physically active.  This outdoor nature exploration set is ideal and combines all of this – with a dress up element, children can feel the part of the explorer. There are boxes and containers and tools to help with their explore as well as prompts and activities to help guide them and give them ideas for what to look for.

See more about this great nature explorer set here

Tip – toys like this don’t have to played with in isolation. Try mixing things up and taking other toys outside to include in their adventures! Dinosaurs and toy animals are great for this. You can even hide them around and about to form part of your child’s fun. Imagine their delight when they find their T-rex hiding in the bush!

melissa and doug explorer toy
nature play set kid exploring

Toys that encourage role play...

Kids love to role play, especially around jobs like doctors, police, firefighters, pilots, train drivers, hairdressers…anything with a uniform or tools! So this Little Tikes First Aid set is ideal and will keep them busy and playing for hours. Especially if they decide all their teddies need the ‘teddy hospital’! The best thing is this toy can be used again and again and be combined with all kinds of other toys. And it’s easily transportable, so a great one to take away to the grandparents or family events where you want them to be able to play and have toys with them that are easy to take with you.

toy doctor kit
kid role play doctors

Toys that encourage story telling...

Charlie came up with the elaborate storyline that his favourite toy reindeer had injured his leg and needed it mending or he wouldn’t be able to fly with Santa on Christmas Eve! So toys like this encourage children to create and tell their own stories and be part of the story too! The doctors set is ideal for encouraging this storytelling play.

See more about the doctors first aid set here 

child playing imaginatively first aid kit
kid role play doctors

Toys for kids to act out scenarios they have enjoyed in real life

If your child has been on a camping holiday then they will love to re-create that with this camping stove set. And the complete toy set allows them to play ‘grown up’ and be the person who cooks, prepares and looks after everyone whilst camping. Kids love to play as adults and be the one in charge and being able to do this using a cookery play set like this is really beneficial.

What’s great about this camping cookery set too is that it can be played with outdoors, and so promoting outside play and activity at the same time. And it’s easily transportable and so can be taken along on your next camping holiday and they can set it up next to your actual camping stove and cook along with you!

Find out more about the Melissa & Doug Camp Stove set here

camping play set child
camping play set

Toys for Dress up

Dressing up is an easy way for kids to express themselves and experiment with different characters, actions, ways of being and it also allows them to ‘act out’ scenarios and behaviours which is a really healthy part of their social and emotional development.

So, whether it’s dressing up as their favourite superhero’s, types of jobs or animals they can learn loads about themselves and the kind of person they are through dress up.

Find great Dress up costumes here

Toys for kids to act like their favourite characters

Toys like these that allow kids to pretend to be their favourite characters lets them explore ideas, stories and feel important and valued. Pretending to be part of the stories as the characters they watch and admire is a great way of making them part of the stories and allows them to be more active in their play rather than just passively consuming the stories through TV or films that feature the characters. When they play the part they feel closer to the character and so can understand more complexities in the stories and actions that they then see played out when passively watching them at another time. It also allows them to consider ‘what would they do in the characters situation’ which is a really crucial part of childhood development.

Find character based toys here

We hope you enjoy these toy suggestions. Find more great toy suggestions here  

Your time with young children is short and precious. Soon you’ll be battling over homework and what time they will be in…….so make the most of this time with them now……

Happy playing and let us know your favourite scenarios and imaginative play ideas……

toy cooking

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