12 of the best children’s toys for role play

From doctor's sets and microphones to puppets and bathtubs, these are the top rated toys for imaginative play

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There’s nothing little ones like more than copying Mum and Dad or pretending to be other people they see who are in charge of life’s important stuff (police officer, waiter, fire officer, teacher, shopkeeper, doctor). Toys like play phones, medical kits or tea sets are brilliant props for acting out these roles and jumping right into the exciting world of imaginative play.

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Here’s our pick of the 12 top role-play toys, as rated and tested by children…

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1. Le Toy Van Doctor’s Set, £39.95

GOLD winner, Best Toy For Role Play, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

Age: 3+

What it is: A vintage-style fabric doctor’s bag with wooden medical instruments, including a stethoscope, thermometer, syringe, blood pressure gauge, ear scope, reflex hammer, scissors and 2 medicine bottles with clicky lids. Comes with a set of activity-stimulating play cards.

Why we love it: It’s beautifully made, nice to handle and should last for ages, which we think makes it worth paying that little bit extra for. Good range of instruments to ‘cure’ your patients with, and it’s also nice and portable.

What our child testers made of it:

  • ‘Saffron’s been having hours of fun with this. There has been a lot of role play with real humans and soft, furry animals! The set is excellent quality and feels really special – there’s a great selection of instruments.’ Sarah, mum to Saffron, 3
  • ‘It’s extremely well made and the details are amazing. Andy’s been playing with it independently for long periods of time, talking to his teddy bear “patients”. He also enjoys checking if Mummy’s heart beats properly, if my temperature is right – and especially if I have good knee reflexes!’ Oana, mum to Andy, 3

Available from: JoJo Maman Bebe and Amazon


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2. Money Match Cafe, £12.50

SILVER winner, Best Toy For Role Play, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

Age: 5 to 8

What it is: A role-play money game where children create a café scene using 3D card tables and pretend cash.

Why we love it: A great game for imaginative play, with detailed images and lovely quality (and wipe-clean) card. Bonus points for teaching the value of coins and what they look like in a really fun way.

What our child testers made of it:

  • ‘I like this game: it’s so fun. It is easy to set up and I can play with friends or my dolls/toys. It is also good as there are 2 different levels of the game to make it slightly easier/harder depending on how good you are. I played the green level which was fun as I could work out the coins.’ Evie, 6
  • ‘Brilliant little game. Good quality for the money, with lovely detail on the tables and food cards. Noah and his older sister have great fun with it. A hit!’ Sarah, mum to Noah, 5

Available from: Amazon and Debenhams


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3. X Factor Microphone Speaker XF2, £24.99

JOINT BRONZE winner, Best Toy For Role Play, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

Age: 6+

What it is: An official X Factor-branded microphone with a Bluetooth wireless speaker that acts as a mini karaoke machine. You can sing along to any song direct from your device: just pair the device and put on the track. Features 48 red LED lights with 3 different light modes, echo and voice changer functions, and FF/RW/Pause/Play buttons and volume controls. Up to 5 hours of use from 1 charge.

Why we love it: Good quality sound – and enormous fun. We may have spent rather too long ‘testing’ the voice changer…

What our child testers made of it:

  • ‘This is an excellent toy. Gracie hasn’t stopped playing with it since opening it – we’ve had a disco every day! She loves experimenting with the voice changer functions: fun for hours!’ Kerry, mum to Gracie, 9
  • It’s fab: encourages kids to sing and to gain confidence, and also take turns.’ Clare, mum to Maddison, 8

Available from: Smyths Toys and Amazon


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4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Hand and Finger Puppet Set, £24.99

JOINT BRONZE winner, Best Toy For Role Play, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

Age: 3 to 9

What it is: A set of soft fabric puppets based on the characters in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Includes a Willy Wonka hand puppet, and 5 finger puppets of the Golden Ticket winners Charlie Bucket, Violet Beauregarde, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teavee.

Why we love it: This is one of those simple, unflashy, well-made toy sets that nearly always sparks such imaginative play. Nice, soft fabric too.

What our child testers made of it:

  • ‘Very cute and soft. Great fun for Ronald Dahl fans!’ Magda, mum to Zohra, 3

Available from: Amazon and Paper Tiger


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5. Morphy Richards Kitchen Set, £14.99

What it is: A starter set for budding little cooks containing a scaled down Morphy Richards toaster, coffee maker and kettle, plus 2 plates, 2 cups and saucers, 2 sets of cutlery and plastic slices of toast, eggs and sausages. Comes in gender neutral red.

Why we love it: The attention to detail was really rated by our testers: they adored being able to fill the coffee maker with water and see the toast pop up in the toaster – and awarded it Silver in our 2017 Toy Awards. Bargain price, too.

Available from: Amazon and Asda 

6. Casdon Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum Cleaner, £20

Age: 3+

What it is: A mini replica of the Dyson Ball cleaner with sucking sound effects, a cyclone action that makes the beads inside it spin, and a twisting and turning motion like the real thing. Removal dustbin at back to empty debris – because, yes, it actually vacuums! Stands at 63cm tall and requires 4 C batteries.

Why we love it: Not only does it look like a real Dyson but it cleans up, too. Hours of role play with noises, movement and even a removable bin. Gender neutral colours too! This toy won Bronze in our 2017 Toy Awards.

Available from: Amazon and Asda


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7. BABY Born Interactive Bathtub, £39.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A plastic doll-sized bathtub, designed to fit a BABY Born doll (sold separately) but would work with any standard-size waterproof doll. Comes with a working shower head, light and sound effects, a button that makes the bathwater bubble – and a little rubber duck.

Why we love it: Pink and plasticky isn’t every grown-up’s cup of tea but we got an enthusiastic response to this toy from boys and girls alike. Some parents also reported that playing with this toy helped their child overcome their fear of ‘real’ showers – an unexpected bonus!

Available from: Argos and Amazon


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8. LeapFrog Musical Rainbow Tea Party, £19.99

Age: 12 months+

What it is: This tea set includes a teapot that lights up in 6 colours, makes tea-time sounds, and plays over 50 songs and phrases designed to teach children about colours, matching and counting. It also comes with a plate of colourful cake slices, and 2 cups and saucers.

Why we love it: We really rate the ‘pouring’ noise the teapot makes when you pretend-fill the teacups, along with the hidden mirror inside the teapot lid, the ‘serveable’ cake slices and the teapot’s friendly voice and songs. 

Available from: Smyths and Debenhams 


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9. VTech My 1st Toolbox, £24.99

Age: 2+

What it is: This brightly-coloured plastic toolbox comes complete with a 2-way mechanical drill, role-play hammer, spanner, nails and screws. Includes 2 double-sided cards featuring ‘projects’ to read so children can discover colours, spelling, letters, phonics, numbers and more. There are 3 light-up tool buttons that introduce the tool, offer facts and tell you what the colour is. Requires 2 AA batteries.

Why we love it: They might be plastic but these tools actually work: great for busy little hands. The role-play cards make this toolbox a cut above – they slide into the lid and reward your child for using the tools correctly with flashing lights, words and songs.

Available from: Amazon 


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10. Melissa & Doug Wooden Cutting Food, £14.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A set of 8 wooden made-to-slice food items, with a cutting board, knife and tray.

Why we love it: The Velcro tabs that hold the pieces together make a very satisfying sound when sliced. The hand-painted food items are chunky and good quality – and they’re a great way to introduce concept like ‘half’ and ‘quarter’ and – important, this one – sharing out equally…

Available from: Very and Smyths Toys


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11. Little Tikes Gas n Go Mower, £19.99

Age: 18 months+

What it is: A realistic-looking miniature lawnmower with moving ignition key, throttle and pull cord. A removable ‘gas canister’ allows your child to role play filling it up, and beads pop as you push it. No batteries required – sounds are mechanical. Stands at 50cm tall.

Why we love it: This mower is designed with lots of nice little touches, and the sounds are pretty realistic. Bonus points for no batteries!

Available from: Argos and Amazon


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12.  Fisher-Price Classics Chatter Telephone, £14.99

Age: 12 months+

What it is: This classic pull-along play phone from 1961 has been re-released for a new generation, with the same rotary dial, handset, rolling eyes and ring tone.

Why we love it: This original ‘mobile phone’ for babies is a complete nostalgia fest for parents while still having plenty of play appeal for them. Little fingers love using the rotary dial to make a call. They don’t make them like this anymore!

Available from: Amazon and John Lewis

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