Open-ended toys for kids provide the perfect solution for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged children. If kids learn about the world through movement and play, our children need open-ended pretend play toys and imaginative play materials that meet their daily creative needs.
Play is the most important work of early childhood. Children begin to understand the world around them through movement and play. As parents and caregivers, we must provide imaginative play environments that allow children to discover the world at their own pace.
What is Pretend Play in Child Development?
Pretend, dramatic, or imaginative play is when children act out the roles and activities that they see going on around them in play. They pretend that they are a cat, or imagine that they are riding a horse. This helps children learn about and understand their world better.
Kids also use dramatic play and pretend play toys as a vehicle for social-emotional development. When children pretend to be a mommy, doctor, teacher or cook they can assimilate the world as they experience it. They play through each new developmental step over and over again so they can learn and grow.
What Age Does Pretend Play Start?
Rudimentary pretend play in the form of role play can emerge in toddlers as young as 18 months old. Most children start the first stages of dramatic play by the age of three or four years old.
The Best Pretend Play Toys for Children That Encourage Imaginative Dramatic Play
These 15 open-ended toys for imaginative, pretend or dramatic play provide the perfect solution for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged kids.
Children need imaginative play toys that meet their creative needs as they grow and learn. The list of pretend play toys listed below can help children learn through play from the toddler years, preschool years and elementary school-age years!
Click on the title of each toy to learn more about it. If you click to purchase, this website may earn a small commission with no cost to you. For more ideas have a look at the Rhythms of Play Store.
15 Open-Ended Pretend Play Toys for Kids
Blocks are one of the best items in the world for pretend play. A child’s imagination can run wild creating unique masterpieces with a variety of shapes in this collection of 60 natural finished, smooth-sanded hardwood blocks packaged in a handsome, wooden tray for easy storage.
These set of wooden building blocks for dramatic play can inspire hands-on, imaginative play. Building blocks are foundational for children’s play and promote motor, language, and social skills, plus creativity, and color & shape perception.
Wooden building blocks are also ideal for introducing early math concepts, including shapes, parts-to-whole, and sorting. They never get old, grow with your children, can be used in conjunction with many other toys, and will inspire your child’s creativity.
If you would rather make your own have a look at our collection of The Best DIY Blocks for Kids.
This set includes a total of 30 blocks in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors using certified non-toxic, water-based stains. These blocks can be combined with other building blocks sets for larger construction projects.
Little hands will be itching to start building when they see these oversized blocks. They will inspire hours of pretend play and fit together in a nearly infinite number of configurations. If your child is not ready to handle the oversized hollow wooden blocks, try the Lightweight Jumbo Wooden Blocks instead!
Create a world of tunnels and arches with this 10-piece wooden set. Curved, hardwood blocks in three different widths and diameters for use as a fun, building manipulative or as “tunnels” for use with other small toys. For use both in the classroom or at home.
5. Playstands and Silkscapes
Play stands are absolutely perfect for pretend play. Young children can spend hours playing underneath them. They also make a magical hideaway or book nook and can be used both indoors and outdoors. I have provided affiliate links to two different styles below.
- Play stand with shelf
- Arch for play stand
- Play clips
- Camden Rose Waldorf Cherry Playstand Playroom Set w/Vibrant Rainbow Silk Canopy
Play silks and silk scapes are wonderful for pretend play especially when used in combination with oversized wooden blocks and play stands. They are most often draped over play stands, chairs, headboards, etc. to create all manner of play space. They also create a beautiful hideaway for young children and can also be used for dress-up dramatic play.
This dollhouse is perfect for all kinds of accessories and endless imaginative play. It’s plain yet beautiful design opens for easy access and allows children to use their imaginations while playing.
This cute little portable wooden dollhouse for pretend play features working doors, two flexible wooden play figures, eleven wooden furniture pieces, and sturdy carrying handles.
This seven-piece wooden family set is perfect for use with dollhouses and play sets or playing family in any imaginative setting! The poseable people have flexible arms and legs, so children can bend their bodies and change their positions, as they enjoy limitless pretend play possibilities.
Children will spend hours creating fun scenarios for these poseable wooden dollhouse figures. They are made for the dollhouse above but can also be used with blocks, play stands, or any other way your child imagines. Set includes a mother and father doll, grandmother and grandfather doll, and two child dolls (one boy and one girl), and a baby.
Dramatic doll play is the perfect way for young boys and girls to work out whatever they are dealing with in their lives via pretend play. Dolls are used to try on all of the activities and roles that children see going on around them. Dolls are a pretend play toy that is very helpful for children dealing with stress, trauma and/or loss.
In addition to imaginative pretend play, this set also promotes sorting, matching, patterning, and fine motor skills.
Children of all ages will imagine so many fun ways to use these sweet little Rainbow Friends because they are a natural addition to almost any of the toys already in your toy box.
Designed for creative use in anyway children see fit, they can be used with building blocks, for counting, as “people” in any type of pretend world your children create… this list goes on!
Want to make your own rainbow peg dolls? Learn how by clicking on the link!
Wooden cars are the perfect vehicles for pretend play. Made in Vermont by a well-respected, established toy company, these cars are reminiscent of many parents’ childhood toys. They are the perfect size for little hands, easy to roll and have a design that requires more imagination than simply reacting to the toy’s preconceived design.
10. Family Pets and Toy Animals
Toy animals are perfect for pretend play. They can be played with by themselves, outside, in sandboxes, and with blocks and doll houses. Below I have provided links to several different kinds.
- Family Pets
- Farm Friends
- Big Bucket of Farm Animals
- Jungle Animals
- Woodland Animals
- Plush Woodland Animals with House Carry Along Case
- Under The Sea Plastic Sea Life Creatures
- Plush Farm House with Horses, Farm Boy, and Farm House Barn House Carry Along Case
A portable wooden barn that opens wide for easy play access and closes up to take with you. It features a handle for easy transport and includes seven realistic plastic farm animals, a wooden ladder and a folding corral.
An open-ended toy that promotes imaginative play. Children can role play various characters such as farmer or gardener and tell stories as per their imagination. While playing, parents can ask children questions helping to develop language skill and creativity.
An open-ended, multi-use toy that children will discover endless uses for. This toy nesting house inspires creative imaginative play. The block pieces can be used for pretend play and more. It can be used as a Puzzle, a pretend play toy house for dolls and figures, or the Pieces can be used as building blocks.
These five adorable little wooden bowls are a must-have for every child’s toy box. They can be nested together, stacked in a variety of ways, filled with little objects or used imaginatively as play dishes and cups… the uses are as varied as a child’s imagination!
In addition to a pretend play toy young children can explore concepts of size, comparison and sequencing, as well as exercise their fine motor skills, reasoning/problem solving, and hand-eye coordination while playing with nexting bowls.
This 13 piece porcelain set includes 4 cups, 4 saucers, a teapot with a lid, a sugar bowl with a lid, and a creamer. Each cup is a different color, as well as the cream and sugar and the teapot. It can even be used with real liquids!
Turning knobs, a see-through oven door, and bright colors will be a big hit with your child and encourage hours of creative play! The stove comes equipped with accessories, and it has a cabinet, oven, and microwave that open for easy storage and pretend play.
Best Imaginative Play Toys
Children need materials and pretend play toys that are open-ended enough to meet their many types of imaginative play needs. They need dramatic play toys and imaginative play materials that allow them to recreate the world around them in order to learn and grow.
Natural open-ended pretend play toys fill that need best. Open-ended toys for imaginative play allow children to imagine and learn about the world at their own pace. The 15 imaginative play toys listed above provide the perfect solution for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged kids.
A few more pretend play toys for imaginative dramatic play can be found in this roundup of the best natural preschool toys for kids.
For more ideas for the whole family have a look at the Rhythms of Play Store.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!
More Natural Educational Toys for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
- Eco-Friendly Baby Toys that Boost Development Naturally
- The Best Natural Educational Toddler Toys
- Best Natural Preschool Toys and How They Benefit Development
- Natural Materials for Pretend Play
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Nell has over 20 years of experience working with children and is the founder of Rhythms of Play. She believes in the wonder of childhood, the power of the imagination, learning through play, and getting outside in all seasons! Learn more…