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

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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, castle or doll’s house – always winners – or go for something a bit more modern with the new-look food trucks and ice-cream vans.

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

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1. TP Muddy Madness Wooden Mud Kitchen, £149.99

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

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…

What our child testers made of it:

  • ‘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.’ Clare, mum to Molly, 4
  • ‘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!’ Hanna, mum to Jake, 6

Available from: John Lewis and Uber Kids

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2. Busy Me Electronic Cash Register, £29.99

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

Age: 3+

What it is: A toy cash register with working microphone (for customer announcements, obvs), working calculator and chip and pin reader for pretend card payments. Comes open-and-close cash drawer, toy food and money, and a range of beeping, pinging supermarket-y sounds.

Why we love it: It’s a really great value for a toy with so many features. And the microphone is a genius touch! ‘Spillage in aisle 3…’

What our child testers made of it:

  • ‘Alfie has lots of fun playing with this and getting his big brother involved as a customer at his ‘shop’. He loves the sounds that it makes, and the microphone.It’s a fab toy – more realistic than many of the alternatives.’ Emma, mum to Alfie, 4
  • ‘Great toy: Grace hasn’t stopped playing with it. There are lots of features to keep her entertained – we like the microphone and the calculator.’ Lisa, mum to Grace, 4

Available from: The Entertainer

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3. KidKraft Farm to Table Play Kitchen, £229.95

BRONZE winner, Best Toy For Pretend Play, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

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!

What our child testers made of it:

  • ‘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!’ Emily, 3
  • ‘This is “the best kitchen ever” according to Charlotte, and I can’t disagree. Lots of different play elements to keep her entertained, and unique features, like the hob that lights up.’ Zoe, mum of Charlotte, 3

Available from: Amazon

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4.  LeapFrog Scoop & Learn Ice Cream Cart, £49.99

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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5. Abbey Manor Dollhouse, £99.95

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, voting it Silver winner in the 2017 Toy Awards. It really does have the ‘wow’ factor. And the accessories are very cute.

Available from: Kidkraft and Amazon

Fisher-Price Servin’ Up Fun Food Truck

6. Fisher-Price Servin’ Up Fun Food Truck, £89.99

Age: 18 months+

What it is: This toy offers both kitchen, vehicle and restaurant role play options for your child, with more than 20 accessories, a sink and light-up grill, a recycling bin, a service bell, a dashboard and a steering wheel. There’s also a ‘magic’ till that reads the 4 menu cards and plays songs. Offers 3 play stages to suit your child’s age, too.

Why we love it: No matter what your child is into – cars, cooking or playing shop – this food truck has something to offer. The learning functions of the till are a nice touch, along with the staged play settings.

Available from: Argos and Smyths

Little Tikes Shop ‘n Learn Smart Checkout

7. Little Tikes Shop ‘n Learn Smart Checkout, £169.99

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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8. Hape Aqua Retro Kitchen, £69.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A wooden play kitchen (76cm x 60cm x 40cm), featuring a sink, clock, oven (with opening door) and a range of wooden accessories including a ladle, spatula, frying pan and saucepan.

Why we love it: It’s just the right size and height for an older toddler or pre-schooler, and its lovely retro styling appeals equally to the grown-up and small-person eye. It’s sturdy but still light enough to be carried from room to room, if needed. Young children will love the clicking hob-control knobs, the moveable clock hands and the little red shelf you can store saucepans on.

Available from: Amazon and Wooden Toy Shack

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9. Myweeteepee Bundle, £149.99

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

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

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

Molto Deluxe Kitchen with Lights

12. Molto Deluxe Kitchen with Lights, £49.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A well-sized  (110cm x 118m x 34.5cm), brightly coloured kitchen and breakfast counter with extractor fan hood, oven, fridge, double hob, sink, washing machine and hotplate. Comes with 19 accessories and needs 3 AAA batteries.

Why we love it: This is a great-value kitchen, considering all the details and extras you get. And the switch-on-and-off lights over the breakfast bar are a genuinely storming small-person-pleasing touch.

Available from: Smyths and Amazon

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