When your child says "Let's pretend," she's on the road to self-discovery, using her imagination to help learn essential life skills. Playing "Hospital" or "Firehouse" with friends teaches her how to cooperate and communicate with others, while a solo game of "House" offers practice in managing a home and caring for a family.
Choosing Toys That Are Just Right
The key to inspiring imaginative play is stocking your playroom with a wide variety of toys that encourage dramatic play and creativity. Start with dress-up clothes — combining your own castoffs with child-size outfits like princess gowns, superhero capes, firefighter hats, and assorted accessories. Shop for sets that model real life, like doctor kits and tea sets. Puppets, dolls, stuffed animals, and action figures are a must, and toy instruments will bring out his inner Mozart.
Before buying, see how your selection rates by running it through our parent checklist:
Is this age-appropriate for my child?
First, check that the toy is safe for your child and that it is the right size. Then think about how it fits the general interests of her age group. For example, most preschoolers love toys that help them imitate household life, while kindergarteners are often more interested in ones that center on careers and community. Older elementary schoolers are developing specific interests and strong friendships, so props that target particular hobbies and invite cooperative play are popular.
What skills will my child learn?
The best toys for pretend play are open-ended — offering your child the tools to enter a fantasy world without telling her what to do when she gets there. Make-believe toys are also ideal for preparing your youngster for new experiences. Try giving your son a medical kit to demystify an upcoming trip to the doctor's office.
Will this toy appeal to my child's interests?
Buy him props that will help him imagine his dreams. Does he want to be a firefighter? Love music? When possible, look for versatile toys that he can use different ways, such as stacking bowls that work as cooking pots or magic toadstools.
Does this fit in our household?
Keep in mind where you're going to store the toy. Do you have room to leave a playhouse up all the time? Does the toy invite cooperative play or is it best for solo time? Is it a noisy toy that's better suited to outdoor play?
Will this toy last?
Look for quality and durability. They'll need to stand up to heavy use, and you don't want to restrict play in order to preserve a fragile toy.