By the time children are 2 years old they start to develop a sense of how objects in the world work. Eventually, toddlers begin look at things symbolically and can use their imaginations to create roles and transform objects. In today’s academically charged society, it’s easy to forget how important pretend play is for kids’ development. But toddlers who regularly engage in pretend play develop the skills they need to prepare them for real life.

“When toddlers pretend to cook, reenact a doctor’s visit, fight wild bears, or put out an imaginary fire, they are using imaginative play to help them make sense of the world,” says early childhood teacher, Alison Keene. During pretend play, kids use words to interact and move plots along, plan and carry out sequences of events, solve problems for their imaginary friends, process information, predict the things that will happen next and cooperate with others. These factors encourage language development, empathy, concentration, problem solving abilities, logical thinking, creativity, comprehension, and social skills in young children.

Help make the most out of your child’s pretend play experiences by providing an atmosphere that’s conducive for safe exploration! Here are some great prop ideas for richer pretend play experiences for your toddler.

What’s Cooking?

Everyday experiences and relationships with loved ones are the most influential part of learning for young children. This is why imitating mom and dad is the most common form of pretend play for youngsters. When your toddler sees you in the kitchen whipping up delicious meals, washing dishes, setting the table, and chatting on the phone, it’s not uncommon for her to mimic you. With the right gear your toddler can use her imagination to prepare wholesome meals for her dolls, reenact experiences at her favorite restaurant, or host a dinner party for all her teddy bear friends. Props for your toddler’s cooking station can include:

  • pots
  • pans
  • pretend food
  • spoons
  • aprons
  • empty food, drink, and dishwashing liquid containers
  • phone
  • dish towels
  • dishes
  • table cloths
  • cookbooks
  • child-size table and chairs

Mail Call

Next time you go to the post office, let your toddler accompany you. This will give him the chance to experience firsthand what being inside of a post office feels like. During your visit, explain what the post office workers do all day and how mail is sorted and delivered. You can even let your child purchase stamps and drop letters in the big blue mailbox!

When you get home, set up a pretend play area so your child can reenact the post office visit. Help your toddler expand on his experiences by joining in the pretend postal worker adventures. Your child can do things like sort mail, pack and label boxes, and deliver letters and packages to family members. Collect the following items for kids’ pretend post office play experiences:

  • cash register
  • caps
  • envelopes
  • jackets and shirts
  • child-made mailboxes (shoe boxes will work)
  • paper
  • pencils, pens, crayons, markers
  • pretend stamps or one-cent stamps
  • scale
  • rubber date stamps
  • stamp ink
  • junk mail
  • stickers
  • bags
  • fake money
  • various size boxes (for packing items)
  • packing paper
  • labels
  • telephone

Dressed to Impress

When kids dress up, they can become anything and anyone they want to be—superheroes, princesses, knights, mommies, or daddies. Role playing helps build leadership skills and teaches children how to look at things from someone else’s perspective. With the right props, kids can dress for a crime-fighting adventure or a night on the town. Some versatile gear for your toddler’s dress-up area can include:  

  • hats
  • wigs
  • clothes
  • shoes
  • handbags
  • wallets
  • face paint
  • jewelry
  • makeup and lotion containers
  • full-length, child-safe mirrors (can be purchased at toy stores)
  • large towels
  • coats
  • feather boas
  • sunglasses

When toddlers are given a platform for pretend play, they not only learn to see the world from other points of view. They gain a skills that are essential for real world success, all while having the playtime of their lives!