Pretend Play Kitchen

While a limited amount of screen time is great, sometimes it’s best to let the kids engage in fully imaginative play. And there are lots of toys and games that encourage this. Activity centres and pretend play sets, in particular, would make great holiday gifts.

They help spark a child’s imagination as they pretend that they’re everyone from a chef to a parent, a construction worker to a doctor.

From play kitchens to workbenches, doctor’s play sets, and more, here are some great gift ideas to get the imaginative child on your list.

Play Kitchens and Food Sets

Play Kitchen Toddler

Play kitchens are a favourite of kids who love to mimic what they see their parents and other adults doing, like frying up some eggs in a saucepan, stirring sauce in a pot, baking a delicious pie, brewing hot coffee, washing dishes, or chopping vegetables.

There are play kitchens for kids of varying ages, from under a year, all the way up to pre-teens. Designed to look like smaller versions of real kitchens, they include everything you’d expect from the main section of a kitchen, except nothing is actually connected to electricity or gas, so there’s no danger. However, with the right accessories, kids can totally pretend to serve dinner, make your coffee, bake delicious desserts, and more. And while it’s total imaginative play for the kids, it also secretly teaches them about responsibility, such as cleaning up after themselves, putting things away, washing dishes, and safety with electronic devices.

Play Kitchen Older kids

Play kitchens range from high-end wooden replicas with intricate details—from the knobs on the stove that actually rotate, to the stylish backsplash and microwave plate that turns, to simpler designs for toddlers with plastic parts, larger accessories, and lights and sounds that add to the realistic experience.

Pretend Play Food

Whatever play kitchen you get, make sure to grab some accessories so they can start playing right away. There are things like sandwich stackers—so they can pretend to write down your special order and make you a custom creation (hold the mayo, light mustard, extra pickles), to pizza and pasta play sets, to pretend play restaurant and pizza delivery. You can even get pretend pots and pans sets, bakeware, and a wide selection of plastic play food, which helps with learning and identifying food and food groups, as well as where items should go (like cereal in the pantry and milk in the fridge.)

Pretend Play mixerThe great thing is that kids tend to play with them a lot, and you can continue to add new accessories and food items to the mix for birthdays and other holiday gifts, which will continuously keep them interested—from a pretend toaster with bread slices to a new stand mixer, rolling pin, and attachments they can practice with until they’re ready for the real thing.

Restaurants & Grocery Shopping Sets

While having a play kitchen at home is awesome, kids still need to figure out how the food gets there in the first place. Grocery shopping, of course! There are pretend play sets for grocery shopping that include things like grocery bags with a made up store’s name and logo on the front, along with essentials they might have on their pretend grocery list, like cereal, cake mix, butter, pasta noodles, soup, and more. Of course, they’ll also need money—and might even have a gift card to use.

Pretend Play grocery items

Some sets come with a checklist so kids can learn to organize the items they need then purchase them one by one from a pretend store, which could be your actual kitchen, a shelf in their playroom, or even a separate playset that is designed to look like a grocery store, complete with checkout line, point-of-sale (POS) machine for paying (by pretend credit card, of course), and scanner for swooping each item across to log the price.

Pretend play grocery store

Sometimes, however, the family just feels like going out to eat, or ordering in. And there’s nothing kids love more than pretending to serve their parents food in that timeless game called “restaurant.” There are sets that are designed to look like restaurants—complete with seats where kids can sit their friends or siblings down for a dine-in pretend meal, as well as a gracious host and impeccable service.

Pretend Play Diner

Tools and Workstations/Workbenches

For kids who like to follow the handy parent around the house, mimicking their every move—from hammering a nail to drilling a screw or cutting wood boards, a pretend workstation is a cool gift. The upright units are perfect for a playroom or child’s room, and they usually feature a number of plastic and totally safe accessories like a wrench, hammer, screws, level, screwdriver, and more, along with pieces through which kids can pretend build. They help teach kids not only dexterity and hand-eye coordination, but also the basics of what each tool is and how to use it. Kids also learn to put things away and keep a work surface organized.

Kids will love feeling as though they are working alongside their parent or other adult. And they’ll take pride when they do something right, like “hammer” a nail perfectly into a pre-cut hole.

Just like with pretend kitchens, pretend workstations also come in plastic versions for toddlers and more sophisticated wood versions with smaller and more intricate pieces for older kids.

Doctor Sets

Another game kids love to play is “doctor,” where they pretend a parent, sibling, or friend is sick and needs a checkup with a pretend stethoscope and blood pressure monitor. Or maybe things are more serious and they require an X-ray or testing with an eye chart. Play centres designed to look like doctor’s offices are adorable and teach kids not only that they don’t have to be afraid of the doctor, but also about good habits like washing their hands, brushing their teeth, and what food they should be eating to stay strong and healthy.

If the child is a pet lover who already declares that they want to be a veterinarian when they grow up, consider a pretend play set that will let them pretend to do just that right now. They include everything from stuffed animal pets to all the tools a vet needs in their arsenal, like a stethoscope, thermometer, syringe, tweezers, bottles, pretend ointment, and more.

Bottom line

Whether you want to help a child play house, make their own pretend dishes in their very own kitchen, pretend to fix that wobbly chair in the kitchen, or give you an annual medical check-up, there are lots of pretend play sets and activity centres that would make wonderful gifts this holiday season.

See plenty of options in the categories noted above, as well as others, for kids of all ages, at Best Buy Online

Christine Persaud
With 20+ years of experience in trade and consumer tech journalism, I have covered the tech space since before social media was a "thing" and the smartphone as we know it was even invented. Writing for various technology, lifestyle, and entertainment sites, I have covered and reviewed hundreds of tech products, from home appliances to wearables, fitness tech to headphones, TV entertainment products and services, and more. I'm also a passionate foodie who loves to cook and bake, a TV show fanatic (happy to give what to watch recommendations!), and proud mother to a 12-year-old son.