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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

10 of the best children's toys for role play

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. Casdon Kenwood Mixer, £22.99

– Great for real cooking too

Casdon Kenwood Mixer

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 4+ | Batteries: 2 x AA (not included)
Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 26cm x 15.5cm x 19.5 cm mini version of the iconic titanium Kenwood mixer with real mixing action plus ‘K’ beater, whisk and spatula. The battery-operated motor has 2 speeds (it can also be operated by hand using a lever) and the mixer arm also lifts up like on the real thing.

Why we love it: We absolutely love that this toy mixer actually works well enough to mix real cakes (though it might struggle with a very dense mixture with lots of lumpy ingredients, like a fruit cake). Our child tester Mila, 3, loved using it to bake cakes with her nana, and was thrilled that it looks “just like a grown up cake mixer”. It’s great that it comes with a whisk attachment, as well as a beater (mini meringues, anyone?) and Mila’s mum Danielle was impressed that it could be used with or without batteries. She said the mixer is now a firm fixture in Mila’s toy kitchen and café.

Available at: Amazon, Asda and Toy Team

2. Woody Treasures Cookie Time!, £19.99

– Great for pretend tea parties

Woody Treasures Cookie Time

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: An 18cm x 14cm 18-piece wooden cookie set that comes in a brightly coloured wooden biscuit box with lid. The cookies are all different designs and shapes and include 2 gingerbread men, wafers and heart-shaped jammy dodgers.

Why we love it: It’s a nicely designed, durable toy that presents all sorts of play-cooking and tea-party-hosting possibilities. And as Tenisha, mum of our child tester Kady, 3, pointed out, "you can match the shapes when putting the biscuits away in the box, too." Lady herself is a big fan: "I love these cookies. My teddies think they are amazing!"

Available at: Woody Treasures and Amazon

3. Casdon Dyson Toy Cord-free Vacuum, £21.99

– Great for active play

Casdon Dyson Cord-free Vacuum

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: 3 x AA (not included)
Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 71cm-high mini version of a Dyson cord-free with working suction and colourful balls that move around the cylinder in a simulated cyclone action. Can be used as a handheld cleaner or with a long handle.

Why we love it: There are a lot of toy vacuums around but not many that actually suck up bits of paper and fluff and can be opened and emptied – just like the real thing. Our child tester Luke, 3, couldn’t wait to get his vacuum out of the box, saying: "Wow Mummy!" and fitting on the handle attachment. His mum Katie was impressed with how sturdy it is and declared it definitely worth the money.

Available at: Very, Amazon and Argos

4. Fiesta Crafts Pop-Up Theatre Production, £21.99

– Great for putting on a show

Fiesta Crafts Pop Up Theatre Production

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 6+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 25cmx 21cm cardboard pop-up theatre with stage, a backstage area, ticket office and an (illustrated) audience. Comes with 2 wooden-headed fabric finger puppets and 6 theatre tickets that can be stored in a little drawer underneath.

Why we love it: It's a lovely compact all-in-one theatre: just fold open the top to create the stage, get your puppets and tickets out of the drawer and on with the show! The finger puppets are well made but you can't pick which ones you receive, so it’s pot-luck which characters you get (though you can buy more from Fiesta Crafts). Our child tester Finley, 6, got Charlie and the Chocolate Factory characters and his mum Helen said, "The quality of the puppets is lovely, with lovely details, and they could withstand some bashing about from an over-enthusiastic boy. Finley has played with it multiple times since receiving it, putting on lots of re-enactments of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - his version of it… His imagination has run wild!" More puppets would have been great, as would more diversity in the characters included.

Available at: Amazon

5. Melissa & Doug Fire Chief Role Play Set, £24.99

– Great for dressing up

melissa-doug-fire-chief-roleplay-set

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 4 | Batteries: None

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 at: Smyths Toys

6. Le Toy Van Doctor's Set, £39.99

– Great for nurturing skills

bestroleplayletoyvandoctorrs

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

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 at: JoJo Maman Bebe and Waterstones

7. Morphy Richards Kitchen Set, £17

– Great for value

best-childrens-toys-for-role-play_211407

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

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 at: Very and Smyths Toys

8. Little Tikes Gas 'n' Go Mower, £24.99

– Great for active play

Little Tikes Gas ‘n Go Mower

Age suitability: 18 months+ | Best for age: 18 months+ | Batteries: None

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 at: Amazon and Very

9. Classic World Tool Belt, £19

– Great for pretend DIY

Classic World Tool Belt

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

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 at: Kidly and Educational Toys

10. Melissa & Doug Wooden Cutting Food, £15.99

– Great for learning about sharing

best-childrens-toys-for-role-play_185461

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

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: Amazon and Smyths Toys

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About the author

Helen is Deputy Editor of MadeForMums, the author of Parenting for Dummies (Wiley, £17.99) and the Head Tester for our MadeForMums Toy Awards. She has written about parenting for Mumsnet, Pregnancy & Birth, Prima Baby, Boots Parenting Club and She Magazine and she's also been Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby. She has 3 boys and a heavy-duty washing machine.

We've got more top tested and rated toys here...

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