pretend play gift ideasWhen we think of kids playing, we usually default to organized activities like sports or hobbies. But “make-believe” has an equally important role to play in child development.

Pretend play has been identified by researchers as critical to a child’s cognitive and social development. Playing make-believe from a young age has been linked to increased language skills, the ability to self-regulate, expression of emotions, creativity, problem-solving, and empathy.

Babies love to watch what adults do, and as they grow older, they start to imitate adult activities. Whether it’s taking care of their own baby doll or baking pretend cookies, children tend to be naturally drawn to imaginative play.

If you want to encourage your child to play make-believe, check out these pretend play gift ideas from one of my favourite toymakers, Melissa & Doug.

Gift idea #1: Pretend play in the kitchen

pretend play gift ideasMy one-year-old loves watching me cook (almost as much as he loves eating what I cook!). But it’s going to be a few years until he’s old enough to do cooking and baking with me, so in the meantime, I plan to get him a pretend kitchen.

The Melissa & Doug Cook’s Corner Wooden Kitchen has everything your future chef needs: a sink, stovetop, oven, refrigerator, storage shelves, cutting board, even a timer! I just love wooden toys because they’re so sturdy and classic.

pretend play gift ideasFor something a bit more out of the box, Melissa & Doug also has the Star Diner Restaurant Play Set. Watching your child’s face light up as they realize it’s a diner on one side and a kitchen on the other will be priceless! The kitchen features an oven, fridge, milkshake maker, drink dispenser, and more. The booth side even has a jukebox! This toy is just too cute for words. I would’ve loved a toy like this when I was a kid!

You can accessorize the kitchen and diner with the Melissa & Doug Wooden Cutting Food, Sandwich Making Set, Pots & Pans SetChef’s Costume, and more for the ultimate pretend play experience. I can already imagine my little guy cooking up my made-to-order eggs, or slicing up a juicy watermelon in the summertime. Yum!

Gift idea #2: Pretend play in the grocery store

pretend play gift ideasChildren love to visit the grocery store. My son is totally captivated by the rows and rows of products. (He also loves all the attention he gets from strangers!)

Many toddlers love to transport things from one place to another. A pretend grocery cart is such a great way to satisfy their urge to move things in their environment. The Melissa & Doug Shopping Cart Toy has a metal frame, so it’s realistic and will stand up to years of play. Of course, you’ll also need some pretend foods for your child to load up the cart with. Melissa & Doug makes faux Fridge Foods, Grocery Cans, and Fruit. Your child will have endless fun as she loads up the cart, pushes it around, dumps it all out onto the floor, and then re-loads it.

pretend play gift ideasNo grocery store experience would be complete without a cash register. Go all out with the super-modern Melissa & Doug Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store Play Set. Your child will be beyond excited when they see this double-sided set! It includes shelves for food items, a realistic beeping “scanner”, a hand-crank conveyer belt, a card swipe machine, and a cash drawer. Your little one can do everything from checking out customers to stocking shelves and purchasing groceries. The Fresh Mart accessories pair perfectly with this play set. They include an apron, cloth shopping bag, play money, cards, coupons, and boxed and canned food items. Plus, as your child gets older, this set can help them learn how to count money and do basic addition and subtraction. This is a toy that will last for many years!

Gift idea #3: Pretend play around the house

pretend play gift ideasSince young children love to do everything adults do, they haven’t yet realized that cleaning is the worst. You can take advantage of their cleaning itch with the Melissa & Doug 6-Piece Cleaning Set. The set includes a broom, mop, dust pan, and hand brush, as well as a stand for easy storage. And since it’s kid-sized, it’s easier for kids to hold than the real thing. I think I’d get as much amusement out of a toy like this as my son would, just from watching him clean up imaginary messes. So cute!

pretend play gift ideasAnother type of household chore that children love to try out is doing laundry. The Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House! Wash, Dry & Iron Set includes a front-loading washer/dryer, control knob for choosing wash and dry settings, and an attached ironing board. There’s also a laundry basket, detergent, and dryer sheets that kids can store on the built-in shelves when they’re not using them. Who knows, maybe pretending to wash, dry, and iron clothes will make them love doing laundry when they’re older! (A mom can always dream, right?)

Gift idea #4: Pretend play out and about

Going out and about is always an adventure for kids. Whether it’s going to a restaurant, a fair, or the zoo, children are so receptive to new experiences.

pretend play gift ideasKids of every age (and their parents) love to order food. Even I got excited when I saw the Melissa & Doug Food Truck House. Your kids can role-play their hearts out as they pretend to cook and eat food they’re not normally allowed to have. They can scoop ice cream for their friends and siblings inside this spacious playhouse, and “drive away” when they’re finished. It features a spinning steering wheel and gas tank for pretend driving, a loudspeaker on top to attract customers, decorated awnings, and service windows on both sides. There’s also a menu and sandwich board for your kids to write their daily specials. Accessorize it with the Condiments Play Set, Wooden Play Food, and the Scoop & Stack Ice Cream Set. A toy like this will give your child memories to last a lifetime!

With so many adorable toys, it’s easy to encourage your child to play make-believe and develop the lifelong skills that come with using their imagination daily.

What’s your child’s favourite type of pretend play? Share in the comments below!

For more pretend play gift ideas from Melissa & Doug, visit Best Buy.

I'm an elementary school teacher by day, meditation coach by night, freelance writer, and momma to a beautiful baby boy. When I'm not working, blogging, or hanging out at mom and baby groups, you can find me in the kitchen, on my yoga mat, or in front of my laptop searching for my next travel adventure. Check out my mindful living blog at for tips on everything from budgeting to stress reduction.