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10 the best toys for pretend play

Let your child's imagination run wild with these kid-tested and rated play washing machines, kitchens, shops, prams, dollhouses and BBQs

9 the best toys for pretend play

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 activity-packed world of imaginative play. You could plump for the classic wooden mini kitchen or doll’s house – always winners – or go for something a bit more modern with interactive sounds and lights.
We’ve been taking a good, hard look at loads of pretend-play toys, in a range of prices, and– with the help of our child testers – have whittled them down to a very select few.

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

1. LeapFrog Smart Sizzling BBQ Grill, £50


Age: 2+

What it is: A 47cm x 41cm smart grill 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, mum of  our child tester Henry, 2 and his brother Charlie, 5, said: “My boys played for ages 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

2. TP Muddy Madness Wooden Mud Kitchen, £149.99


Age: 3+

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. Our child testers loved the water butt a lot. Oh, and how easily it all hoses down after the mud is slung.

Available from: John Lewis

3. Little Tikes First Washer-Dryer, £49.99

Age: 2+

What it is: A chunky (40cm x 40cm x 20cm) washer-dryer with sound effects, spinning dials, pull-out detergent drawer and a drum which spins round like the real thing. Includes 11 laundry accessories, including baskets, toy clothes and a detergent bottle. Requires 4 AA batteries (included).

Why we love it: Our child testers couldn’t get enough of this – it’s looks just like a scaled-down washing machine and it spins, dries and even beeps when the wash is done. The accessories are great, especially the little baskets for sorting and collecting the play clothes. It’s the perfect size and height for a toddler/preschooler, too. We chose this for our Top 100 Xmas Toys list.

Available from: AsdaArgos and ELC

4. Tender Leaf Table Top Tool Bench, £76

Age: 3+

What it is: A 42cm x 25.8cm x 49cm 28-piece wooden tool bench. Comes with 5 tools, a vice, a storage shelf and a chalkboard as well as nuts, bolts and pieces of drilled wood.

Why we love it: This reclaimed rubberwood table-top-sized work bench looks amazing and the tools are chunky and well-made. We particularly like how there’s a special hanging place for the saw and holes you can stow the spanner and screwdriver in. Our testers had fun drawing on the blackboard, ‘crushing’ things in the vice and making robot faces (like in the picture) with the nuts and bolts.

Available from: Wooden Toy Shop, Bird Kids and Bright New Things

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 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

6. 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, too. It really does have the ‘wow’ factor. And the accessories are very cute.

Available from: Kidkraft and Amazon

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

8. 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

9. Le Toy Van Honeybee Market, £69.95

Age: 3+

What it is: A 40cm x 38cm x 64cm wooden market stall with a striped cloth canopy, a bell and 2 deep shelves. Comes with a wooden crate containing apples and pears and a canvas shopping bag. Additional crates and matching accessories available separately. Requires some self-assembly.

Why we love it: It’s beautifully made and super-sturdy. We really like that the fruit are part-fabric (lovely to touch) but we do wish there were more of them. Our child testers absolutely loved the little bell on the side. Does take a while to assemble.

Available from: Le Toy Van, Amazon and Wonderland Models

10. Melissa & Doug Slice and Stack Sandwich Counter, £40

Age: 3+

What it is: A 34cm x 22cm 52-piece wooden sandwich counter with a pretend meat and cheese slicer, wooden food slices, felt sandwich roll and toppings. Includes cup with a drink insert, menu, bottle of dressing, tongs and play money.

Why we love it: It totally caught our child testers’ imagination – they were taking orders and creating fillings almost before we’d got it out of the box. We love how many pieces there are in this set and how well thought out everything is. Masses of fun.

Available from: Very, Amazon and Uber Kids

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