14 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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Kids have unlimited capacity for imagination, and role play is a great way to encourage it.

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There are loads of options out there – from all-singing, all-dancing interactive plastic baths for baby dolls, to more understated wooden shapes to encourage self-directed imagination. A cardboard box and a stick are often all a kid needs to go off into a world of their own, but below are some great additional toys to provide hours of role play fun.

Here are our pick of the best children’s toys for role play…

1. Mi Mic X Factor Karaoke Disco Cube Speaker, £59.99 – best for hours of fun

Age: 5+
Awards: MadeForMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Toy For Role Play – Gold

What it is: A rechargeable, portable Bluetooth speaker cube with integrated disco lights and echo function. It comes with 2 karaoke microphones and connects to a variety of karaoke apps. It provides approximately 5 hours of play time and has a 10 metre range.

Why we love it: This new product from the X Factor range takes the interactive karaoke fun to the next level as the cube contains its own disco lights and two microphones. The tech is clever, as it allows you to connect to various karaoke apps via Bluetooth, so you’re bound to find songs to sing along that please your kids – and you.

It is a worthy winner of this year’s MFM Toy Awards Best Toy for Role Play category as it really gets kids involved. Eva, MFM tester and mum of Dara, 6, says her daughter loved the microphone, as “it’s very portable and great fun”. 

Available from: JD Williams and Very.co.uk

2. Melissa & Doug Fire Chief Role Play Set, £22.99 – best for younger children

Age: 3+
Awards: MadeForMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Toy For Role Play – Silver

What it is: A fire chief dress up set that comprises six pieces (from jacket to megaphone) to fan the imagination and encourage role play. 

Why we love it: This is a great looking set, with a nice array of accessories that are great to encourage successful role play. The megaphone makes some fun sound-effects, and overall, our MFM Awards testers thought the quality of materials was good. Amy, MFM tester and mum of Joshua, 4, says, “Our son really enjoyed being the fireman and putting out fires. He often said ‘I’m rescuing people’ and enjoyed helping people in need.”

Available from: Smyths Toys, Amazon and Ocado

3. Petit Collage Shine Bright Magnetic Play Sets, £12 – best for travelling

Age: 3+
Awards: MadeForMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Toy For Role Play – Joint Bronze 

What it is: Portable illustrated magnetic dress up and play sets designed to inspire little girls to dream big. Each set includes two scenes and more than 25 magnetic pieces.

Why we love it: These are wonderfully illustrated play sets that will fire up your child’s imagination and ambition.

The 3 different sets are based on inspiring women – astronaut Mae Jemison, artist Frida Kahlo and primatologist Jane Goodall.

The tin provides the backdrop to the figures, so it’s easy to tidy away and take along. Endless fun on the go or at home, it’s a winner.

April, MFM tester and mum of Ruby, 4, thinks the sets are excellent value for money. “My daughter has had hours of fun with them,” she says. “She is extremely excited to show her little friends they come for tea.”

Available from: Amazon, Yes Bébé and House of Fraser

4. Battat Dalmatian Vet Kit, £32.99 – best for animal lovers

Age: 2+
Awards: MadeForMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Toy For Role Play – Joint Bronze

What it is: A role play set including a plush dalmatian toy, carry case (21cm x 20.3cm x 26.7cm) and 12 accessories to play vets at home.

Why we love it: It’s great that this cute little dog comes with so many accessories – everything a budding vet might need. It provides lots fun and can easily be tidied away (always handy when a toy is its very own storage box!).

Sarah-Jane, MFM tester and mum of Zachary, 3, says her son had great fun playing with the set. “Even under my heavy-handed 3-year-old, each piece stayed intact and survived the throwing tests he put them through. Impressive.”

Available from: Jojo Maman Bebe, Halilit and Amazon

5. Le Toy Van Doctor’s Set, £39.99 – best for longevity

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. 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 that little bit extra for.

A good range of instruments to ‘cure’ your patients with, and it’s also nice and portable.

It won Gold in the Best Toy for Role Play category at our awards last year, with testers praising its quality and detailing.

Available from: Jojo Maman Bebe, Waterstones and Selfridges

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Hand and Finger Puppet Set, £27.99 – best for simple fun

Age: 3-9

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, and enough finger puppets for friends or siblings to join in.

Available from: Amazon, Dotty Hippo and Fiesta Crafts

7. Morphy Richards Kitchen Set, £17 – best for kitchen play

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, as you get quite a few items for the price.

Available from: Very, Smyths Toys and Boots

Casdon Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum Cleaner

8. Casdon Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum Cleaner, £25 – best for realistic features

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 a 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: While young children are often experts at making a mess, they often love the chance to role play at ‘chores’ too. Not only does this 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!

Available from: Argos, Very and Mothercare

9. Baby Born Interactive Bath Tub, £39.99 – best for older siblings

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. It comes with a working showerhead, 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, Smyths Toys and Very.co.uk

10. LeapFrog Musical Rainbow Tea Party, £19.99 – best for babies

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: Debenhams, George at Asda and Boots

11. Melissa & Doug Wooden Cutting Food, £16.99 – best for longevity

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 a concept like ‘half’ and ‘quarter’ and – important, this one – sharing out equally.

You get fewer items for your book, than – say – with the Morphy Richards set, but many parents will appreciate the lovely wooden finish of this food. 

Availability: Ocado, Argos and Amazon

12. Little Tikes Gas ‘n Go Mower, £19 – best for outdoor play

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. Your kids can ‘fill it up’ with ‘gas’ (i.e. water) when it runs out of juice and it even acts as a handy walker for those a little unsteady on their feet.

It’s great that it encourages garden play too, as we’re always keen to get our tots running around outside. Bonus points for no batteries!

Available from: Amazon, Argos and Very.co.uk

13. Melissa and Doug Wooden Ice Cream Counter, £39.99 – best for play with friends

Age: 3+

What it is: A fantastic quality 20-piece miniature ice-cream counter with great accessories – from realistic ice cream scoop to a menu for little customers to peruse.

Why we like it: The ice-cream combinations are endless which makes this pretend play toy so much fun.

Your little one can choose from 8 different scoops of flavour, 6 assorted toppings, 2 cones or a plastic cup.

We love that it looks so realistic, and is made from quality material, which means it will last a number of years. Little touches, such as the menu cards and menu mean that your kids’ imagination and role play can run wild.

It is pricey, but we feel the quality is worth it – it’s a real heirloom keeper.

Available from: Argos, Bright Minds and Über Kids

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14. Classic World Tool Belt, £18 – best for mini builders

Age: 3+

What it is: A first tool belt made of wood, featuring all the necessary accessories a budding DIY needs – 13 pieces in total. 

Why we love it: This is a unisex, sturdy belt with lots of handy tools to encourage learning and imaginative play. Many kids have a fascination with building – assembling and dissembling, so this belt is ideal for them. It is made from lovely wood and firm fabric, with a handy clasp to secure it around the waist.

Available from: Kidly, Hippychick and Educational Toys

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