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10 of the best children’s toys for role play

From teeny doctor's kits to mini lawnmowers, we've found the top toys for sparking a child's imagination and immersing them in a world of role play

best role play toys

There’s nothing little children like more than copying Mum and Dad as they do household tasks or pretending to be other people they see who are in charge of life’s important stuff – police officers, waiters, fire officers, teachers, shopkeepers, doctors and more.

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And toys such as play vacuum cleaners, dress-up clothes, play phones, little medical kits and pint-sized tea sets are just the perfect props for acting out these roles and jumping right into the imaginary-play world.

We’ve tested some great role-play toys for toddlers, preschoolers and primary-school aged children, and, after a lot of pretend cooking, cleaning, nursing, DIYing and fire-fighting, we’ve found some brilliant toys for encouraging wonderfully imaginative play.

Here is our pick of the best children’s toys for role play, as tested by kids and rated by parents…

1. Melissa & Doug Fire Chief Role Play Set, £19.99


Age: 3+

What it is: A 6-piece fire chief dressing-up set that include a machine-washable jacket, a helmet, a fire extinguisher and a megaphone. The jacket’s roomy enough to fit a child up to 5 years, at least. Requires 2 x AA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: The jacket is well-made and good quality (and it’s good to see that it’s washable), although it has to be said that it – and the helmet – are clearly US-style, rather than UK-style, firefighting clobber. The little fire extinguisher is great, too. But it’s the (working) megaphone that makes this set special – with its exciting siren sounds. It got 10 out of 10 from Amy, mum of our child tester, Joshua, 4 – who’s been spending a long time putting out fires and rescuing people.

Available from: Smyths Toys

2. Le Toy Van Doctor’s Set, £39.99


Age: 3+

What it is: A vintage-style 22cm x 15cm 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. It 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 a bit extra for. There’s a good range of instruments to ‘cure’ your patients with, and the wooden handles make it nice to pick up and carry around, too.

Available from: Jojo Maman Bebe, Waterstones and Selfridges

3. Morphy Richards Kitchen Set, £17


Age: 3+

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. It comes in gender-neutral red.

Why we love it: This play set has fantastic attention to detail. It allows kids to fill the coffee maker with water, and the toast pops up from the toaster at the touch of a button. It’s also great value – although there’s only 1 sausage, 1 egg and 1 rasher of bacon, so whoever’s getting the 2nd plate at pretend breakfast is going to have to make a grab for all the toast!

Available from: Very and Smyths Toys

4. Little Tikes Gas ‘n’ Go Mower, £19


Age: 18 months+

What it is: A 50cm-tall mini 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 (the sounds are mechanical).

Why we love it: This mower is designed with lots of nice little touches, and the sounds are pretty realistic. Your kids can ‘fill it up’ with ‘petrol’ (i.e. water) when it runs out of juice and it even acts as a handy walker for those who are still a little unsteady on their feet. Bonus points for no batteries!

Available from: Amazon, Argos and Very

5. Classic World Tool Belt, £18


Age: 3+

What it is: A pretend DIY-lover’s tool belt, featuring 13 wooden pieces including a hammer, a wrench, bolts and a screwdriver.

Why we love it: The belt itself is made of good sturdy, firm fabric and clips neatly and securely around your child’s waist. The tools are just the right size for little hands, and we like that the whole thing is not “boy red” but carefully gender neutral in its colouring. We particularly love the colourful nuts for the bolts –really fun to twist up and down, either with your fingers or with the little wrench.

Available from: Kidly and Educational Toys

6. Melissa & Doug Wooden Cutting Food, £15


Age: 3+

What it is: A set of 8 wooden made-to-slice food items (31 pieces in total), with a cutting board, knife and tray, all boxed up in a wooden crate.

Why we love it: The hand-painted food is chunky, nice detailed and great quality, and the Velcro tabs that hold the pieces together make a very satisfying sound when sliced. This toy is a great way to introduce early maths concepts like ‘half’ and ‘quarter’ and – important, this one! – sharing out equally.

Available from: Argos, Amazon and Smyths Toys

7. Battat Dalmatian Vet Kit, £32

Age: 2+

What it is: A pet-care playset, including a plush dalmatian puppy, a 21cm x 20cm x 27cm carry case and 12 vet and grooming accessories, including a stethoscope, brush, water bowl and blood-pressure monitor.

Why we love it: The carry case is nice and sturdy (though quite small) and there’s a really good range of accessories – our child testers particularly liked the syringe! The soft-toy puppy is cute but tiny (to fit in the case) – your child may prefer to use their vet’s tools on a bigger toy animal, if they have one. Nice to see a toy vet’s kit/animal care kit that isn’t exclusively pink.

Available from: Jojo Maman Bebe, Halilit and Amazon

8.  Melissa and Doug Wooden Ice Cream Counter, £39.99


Age: 3+

What it is: A 34-cm high, wooden ice-cream counter that comes with accessories including 2 cones, 8 ice-cream scoops, 6 toppings, a cup, a spoon, tongs, a menu, play money and a scoop.

Why we like it: It’s compact and portable (a definite positive for anyone looking for a space-saving alternative to a toy kitchen). It’s not completely wooden (the tongs, toppings, bowl and scoop are plastic, as is the see-through front of the counter) but it’s beautifully detailed and beautifully made. Best of all is the scoop, which little hands can easily operate and which thrillingly picks up and releases the ice cream – you can create quite a stack of flavours!

Available from: Argos, Bright Minds, Amazon and Über Kids

9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Hand and Finger Puppet Set, £26.99


Age: 3+

What it is: A set of 38 cm-high 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 – although it’s definitely better suited for primary-school age kids, who’ll be familiar with Charlie’s story (and we’ve found that most preschoolers don’t really do finger puppets – although they like watching other people do them). Nice, soft fabric too, and enough finger puppets for friends or siblings to join in.

Available from: Amazon and Fiesta Crafts

10. Casdon Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum Cleaner, £18

Casdon Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum Cleaner

Age: 3+

What it is: A 63cm-tall mini replica of the Dyson Ball cleaner with sucking sound effects, a cyclone action that makes the beads inside it a spin, and a twisting and turning motion like the real thing. There’s a removal dustbin at back to empty debris because, yes, it actually vacuums! Requires 4 x C batteries (not included).

Why we love it: Not only does this look like a real Dyson but it cleans up for real, too– which your child will love if they’re following you around with your grown-up vacuum. It’s nice and lightweight and we like how it twists and turns. The sound can be a bit loud but the way the little balls bounce around is lovely.

Available from: Argos, Smyth Toys and Very

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We’ve got more top tested and rated toys here…

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