Pretend play. It’s fun, engaging and great for their development, from helping to build their imaginative skills to encouraging social interaction. But when’s the right time to start, and what piece of pretend play kit suits their stage?
Newborns to six months
It’s all about absorbing things at this stage. A stimulating play mat like this Activity Pad by Wee Gallery can help them learn about the world around them and eventually help them understand different stories and scenarios. Alternatively, double up on their visual and imaginative development with a black and white set of flash cards like these Art Cards for Baby. Have fun telling them all about the different animals - and don’t forget the sounds!
Six to 12 months
They still won’t be fully grasping the pretend play stuff at this stage, but, as they say, every little helps. At around six months, babies' grasping skills will have developed enough for them to hold something for a couple of minutes. Embrace this and give them a simple toy that can help with imaginative play later on. These B.Toys Luckeys Play Keys are a great choice. Full of bright colours and realistic car noises, they’ll help develop their imagination. Oh, and they won’t be stealing your keys later on either. Bonus.
At this point, toddler imaginations are really beginning to form. They may not be making up stories just yet, but if you give them a toy car, they’ll whizz it across the floor. They may also add some baby babble that resembles an engine sound. Brum, brum. Why not invest in a car track, like this two-lane waytoplay Expressway Set, that'll enhance your toddler's cognitive skills and hand-eye coordination. Including straight and curved roads, it can be fitted together in lots of different ways. All you need to do is add the cars… and the brum-brum noises.
With those grasping skills in full flow, now’s the time to keep a close eye on your phone. Anyone else found theirs in the toy box after hours of searching for it? Or, had to prize it off them when you have an urgent work call? The Plan Toys My First Phone is here to save the day. Just remember, when your toddler hands you the phone - you answer it. 🤣
18- 24 months
As their cognitive skills grow, they’ll now start to identify more with the world around them. They’ll miaow at a cat or want to change their teddy’s nappy. (We’re currently right in the middle of this stage). As well as teddy nappy changing, our toddler is obsessed with her wooden kitchen and spends hours making us ‘food’ to eat. The Sebra kitchen is stylish, sturdy and comes complete with a range of utensils making it the perfect recipe for hours of pretend play fun. All you need to do is perfect your acting skills when they proudly hand you the wooden toast...
Kid more of a storyteller? There’s kit for that too. This Olli Ella Holdie House is pretend play at its best. In a simple design, just add dolls or little characters to give them hours of story time fun. The unfinished wood also means you can paint it in any colour or design they like. Creative and crafty. We love it.
Say hello to dress up. This type of play is great for helping boost their confidence and, if they have siblings or playdates, their social skills too. And it doesn’t have to be all superheros or princesses either. French brand Meri Meri does a great selection of subtle and not-so-subtle costumes for every personality. Currently on our list of faves is their Dragon Cape Dress Up - a detailed dress-up that's perfect for fantasy role play. Alternatively, Tell Tails do a range of animal tails that can turn your child from a pretty mild-mannered kid into a Wild Thing in an instant. Handle with care.
By this point, their pincer skills have developed enough for them to colour in, so why not introduce them to face-paints. These Djeco Face Paint Dress Up Sets are a great place to start. The kit includes two sets of three different themed designs, with an easy to follow instruction booklet. Your kid more crafty? Mix fancy dress and art into their pretend play development with this Selfie Craft Co Colour in Cape. Let them colour it in, then, when they're done they can wear it again and again.
So there you go, our tips on embracing pretend play, at every stage. Get ready for lots of imaginative fun!