12 the best toys for pretend play

Let your child's imagination run wild with these top-rated toy kitchens, doll's houses, food trucks and play tents

Toy Awards role play toy

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Let your child’s imagination run wild with these top-rated toy BBQs, kitchens, food trucks and dolls houses.

Boys and girls of all ages love to indulge in a bit of make-believe – and a good pretend-play toy will give them the keys to a world of imaginative play. You could plump for the classic mini kitchen or doll’s house – always winners – or go for something a bit more modern with the new-look food trucks and ice-cream vans.

Here are the best toys for pretend play, as rated and tested by children…

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1. LeapFrog Smart Sizzling BBQ Grill, £50 – best for budding cooks

Age: 2+
Awards: MadeforMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Pretend Play – Gold

What it is: A smart grill (19cm x 47cm x 41cm) that comes with 8 different food items that can be cooked on its interactive skewer. The grill recognises each food’s name and colour. When you twist the skewer, it counts. You can turn the temperature dial from 1 to 10. Requires 2 AA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: This sturdy BBQ comes with so many sounds and accessories. We love how easy it is to store all the food under the BBQ so it can be neatly packed away when it’s not being played with, too.

Zoe, MFM reviewer and mum to Henry, age 2 and Charlie, age 5, says, “My boys enjoyed playing with this – they played for quite a long time together barbecuing different things. The skewer is a great feature, telling you what piece of food you’re cooking. We all think this is a great toy.”

Available from:Smyths Toys and Argos

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2. TP Muddy Madness Wooden Mud Kitchen, £149.99 – best for outdoor play

Age: 3 to 8

What it is: A deluxe 108cm x 43cm x 369cm mud kitchen, made from FSC-certified timber. Includes an oven with opening door, a removable splash tub with slide-over wood cover and a refillable water butt and tap. Comes with a set of stainless steel pots and pans and a mixing whisk. Requires about 1 hour of assembly.

Why we love it: It’s sturdy, stylish, and, basically, pretend-play heaven. We particularly like the ‘hobs rings’ you stencil on and the blackboard above the sink. Oh, and how easily it hoses down after the mud is slung.

Clare, MFM reviewer and mum to Molly, 4, says, “So much potential for play. Molly loves pretend play and mixing with mud is a dream for her: she’s made SO many mud pies! And it’s great how, afterwards, you can just hose it down and it looks clean right away.”

Hanna, MFM reviewer, mum to Jake, 6, adds, “Jake’s really enjoying this. The water dispenser is a big hit – and all the pots and pans. Assembling the kitchen is a bit time-consuming but it’s lovely and is getting plenty of use!”

Available from: John Lewis and Uber Kids

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3. Great Little Trading Company Seaside Fish & Chip Shop, £55 – best for playing shop

Age: 3+
Awards: MadeforMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Pretend Play – Silver

What it is: A wooden fish-and-chips shop stand (measuring 21cm x 32cm x 21cm). Comes with 4 ‘newspaper’ cones made from cardboard, and 32 wooden accessories, including 2 fish pieces, a set of tongs, 2 portions of chips, peas, lemon wedges, salt, vinegar and ketchup.

Why we love it: This beautifully-made set reminds us of trips to the British seaside. Our child reviewers loved it, too. Marlena, MFM reviewer, and mum to Odin, 3, says, “Fantastic quality. This toy will last a long time. Nothing will break easily. Since we got this toy – my son serves me chips every five minutes! Its play potential is endless. It helps to train memory and challenges my son to remember the orders I’ve made.”

And Samantha, MFM reviewer, mum to Erin, age 4, says, “All we hear all day is ‘Come to my fish and chip shop! Come to my fish and chip shop!’. My daughter loves the ‘grabber’ best and all the little bits of food that it comes with. It’s great for encouraging my daughter to say ‘How many chips would you like?’ and counting them out.”

Available from: GLTC

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4. KidKraft Farm to Table Play Kitchen, £229.95 – best kitchen for detail

Age: 3+

What it is: A stylish 110cm x 109cm x 69cm play kitchen with a window box featuring planted carrots and onions, a cutting board and wooden knife, fridge with ice maker that dispenses fake cubes, 2 storage crates and a chalkboard. Assembly required.

Why we love it: From the light-up oven to the choppable veg, there are plenty of thoughtful details on this lovely-looking kitchen – and we love the fake ice cubes!

MFM child tester, Emily, 3, says, “My favourite parts are the oven and the sink, because they light up! I love to pretend it’s a cafe, and I’m cooking soup in the kitchen. Everyone wants the carrot soup!”

Available from: Amazon

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5.  LeapFrog Scoop & Learn Ice Cream Cart, £49.99 – best for interactive role-play 

Age: 2+

What it is: A push-along cart with 8 scoops of ice cream, 3 toppings, 3 syrups, 2 storage drawers, a till, a syrup pump and 6 double-sided order/activity cards of varying difficulties. The ‘magic’ scooper for serving up orders recognises colours and flavours, and the cart plays music if you push it around. Needs some (easy) assembly and 3 AA batteries.

Why we love it: Where do we start?! From the satisfying click of the scooper to the endless learning opportunities of serving ice-cream orders to customers, this toy inspires SO much fun. Our testers awarded it Gold in the 2017 Toy Awards, and adored dinging the bell when an order was ready and ringing up the till, while their parents really liked the entertaining way it teaches colours, numbers, sequencing, memory and matching skills.

Available from: Amazon and Argos

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6. Kids Concept Kitchen, £120 – best kitchen for style

Age: 3+
Awards: MadeforMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Pretend Play – Bronze

What it is: Made of MDF and plywood, this toy kitchen (30cm x 73cm x 55cm) comes with accessories, including: clock, pots and pans, openable oven door, sink and ladles. Assembly required.

Why we love it: This handmade Scandi kitchen is super stylish. Our reviewers loved it, too. Dominic, MFM reviewer and dad to Saul, age 3, says, “Cost-wise, this is at the higher end of the wooden kitchen sets available, but it seemed well-made when I put it together and the various parts fitted together neatly.

“The pans and utensils were of a particularly good quality and the unit felt sturdy enough to last. It was also light enough for an adult to move easily, and small enough not to take up too much room in a bedroom. My son, Saul, says about it: ‘This one’s better than the red one at nursery because it has the things that you need to cook, and it has a clock.'”

Available from: The Modern Nursery

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7. Abbey Manor Dollhouse, £99.95 – best for doll’s houses

Age: 3+

What it is: A nicely-sized (58cm x 32.75cm x 71.75cm), wooden, Victorian-style doll’s house with 3 levels and 5 rooms, and a double-hinged design so you can fold it away for storage. Comes with a removable wraparound porch, a balcony and 16 accessories, including a piano. Suitable for dolls up to 5ins tall. Needs (a fair bit of) assembly.

Why we love it: It may look stereotypically girly but our boy testers – and our girl testers’ brothers – were really drawn in by this detailed dollhouse. It really does have the ‘wow’ factor. And the accessories are very cute.

Available from: Kidkraft and Amazon

Little Tikes Shop ‘n Learn Smart Checkout

8. Little Tikes Shop ‘n Learn Smart Checkout, £169.99 – best for space-saving toys

Age: 3+

What it is: A large checkout station complete with electronic conveyor belt, cash register, scanner and aisle light. It has 35+ unique scannable foods and accessories that are recognised by the checkout, and access to a free downloadable app to enhance the fun. Self-assembly and requires batteries 4 x AA (not included).

Why we love it: Our young judges loved playing with this interactive toy, which has lots of learning features and can even be folded flat when not in use – a godsend for smaller spaces. It’s pricey, but kids will get plenty of playtime from this one.

Available from: Amazon and Asda

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9. Myweeteepee Play Tent, £109.99 – best for hidey-houses

Age: 3+

What it is: A child-size tepee that comes with a non-slip removable floor mat, matching bunting, solid wooden poles and a carry bag for storage. Available in a range of designs.

Why we love it: A top-quality play tent that’s simple to set up – either indoors or outside (on a dry day). We particularly like the removable wadded base mat, which can be wipe-cleaned.

Kids will be entranced by the sight of it – and, once they venture inside, it’ll be quite a task to persuade them to come out…

Available from: World Of Camping and Not On The High Street

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10. iCandy MiPeach, £170 – best for toy prams

Age: 3+

What it is: A toy pushchair that’s a perfectly scaled-down version of the iconic iCandy Peach. Comes with seat unit, shopping basket, hood, apron, blanket and bag. Choose from bubblegum pink or royal blue.

Why we love it: This is a super-high-quality toy pushchair, and the attention to detail and similarity to the grown-up version is stunning. It’s definitely not cheap but, for children who love playing prams, as our testers did, it ticks every box going and will last for ages.

Available from: Little Angels and Amazon

Melissa & Doug Wooden Project Solid Wood Workbench

11. Melissa & Doug Wooden Workbench, £69.99 – best for little builders

Age: 3+

What it is: A solid wood, sturdy pretend play workbench. It comes with a functioning vice, tool rack, wooden tools and hardware. There’s shelf storage and it doubles up as a desk. Just the right size at 70.4 x 36.1 x 12.7 cm.

Why we love it: The construction on this bench is impressive. It’s high quality and sturdy. The little book of building ideas and extra pieces that are included provide your little one with loads of play time building fun.

Available from: Amazon

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