Tales From the Nursery

Tales From the Nursery: The Toddler Years

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Tips for Encouraging Pretend Play in Toddlers

It has been very exciting to watch my daughter engage in more pretend play.  She started doing a little bit of imaginative play a few months ago, but it has increased a lot more lately.  The ability for a child to play with toys in a way that they represent other objects and actions is a developmental milestone!  It shows that they are starting to learn how to empathize with others as well as understanding the roles of different people and objects in their lives.

My daughter’s favorite is pretending that objects are phones.  It can be a long wooden block, a toy phone, or even a rubber ducky that she will put to her hear and start yabbering away.  She will also offer the “phone” to me and put it to my ear.  She delights in it when I start to talk into the “phone.”  She’s also started to pretend to wash the dishes in her play kitchen sink.  Oh! And let’s not forget pretend food.

She still likes to actually chew on some of the food pieces, but she will serve them up to my husband and I and even to the cats.  She makes lip smacking sounds and says “nummies.”  This definitely has made our play time more interesting, and it’s fun to see how she reacts to me using objects in the wrong way like a pizza as a phone.  Even though she’s playing pretend, some things are just too silly and she knows it!

Tips for encouraging pretend play with your toddler

These are some of the things we do here:

  • Have stuffed animals and dolls of various types and sizes to play with.
  • Have containers, boxes, kitchen utensils, cups, etc to play with.
  • Have specialty toys like play kitchens, tool bench, doctor kit, etc.
  • Have dress up clothes or allow your child to choose outfits to wear. (On occasion I even let her pick out my shirt, which she gets a great kick out of!)
  • Interact with the toys yourself to show them how to play.
  • Interact with the objects your child brings to you and use them in the manner THEY are intending (i.e. put the block to your ear and talk, don’t build).
  • Repeat your child’s actions out loud to help with language development and identifying their actions.

More tips about pretend play are available here.

One of the newest things my daughter has been doing lately is pretending to feed her dolls.  It started out with offering empty cups to her stuffed animals and going “ah!” like they were enjoying the refreshments.  Then she started offering play food to her stuffed animals and dolls.  She’s even put a few of her dolls to my chest to be nursed!

One of her favorite new dolls is the Lalaloopsy Sew Magical Mermaid Doll.  She likes to take her into the bathtub.  Her hair changes color in the warm water (and when a warm hand touches her head), but the color change is subtle.  Rissa likes to pretend her doll, Coral, is swimming around.  She helps pat her dry with a towel afterwards and likes to undress her out of her mermaid tail.

Rissa does like to hug and carry her around, but prefers her with no clothes for some reason.  Thankfully the head doesn’t soak up too much water!  Rissa’s very into pointing out body parts right now, so she likes to show me Coral’s bellybutton (an X) and her eyes.  The latest thing has been to sit Coral next to her in her high chair and pretend to feed her real food.  Coral does well sitting in the high chair, but her head is top heavy which makes it hard to sit her up on the floor in a circle with the other dolls and animals.

Disclosure: I received a Lalaloopsy Sew Magical Mermaid Doll to free of charge in order to facilitate a review.  No other compensation was received.  And, as you can see, my daughter had fun playing with her!


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Comments ( 40 )

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  1. Emily April 7, 2012 Reply

    I’m cracking up here…when The Boy was about 14 months old, he picked up a chicken leg and pretended it was a phone. It was hysterical!

    Modeling behaviors is an important element to encouraging pretend play.
    Emily recently posted..in this great country, why are we talking about chronic unemploymentnaptimeismytime

  2. Kristin Wheeler April 7, 2012 Reply

    Yes, being an educator I know how important pretend play is for child development. I love your post. I will be sharing it.
    Kristin Wheeler recently posted..Easter Baskets Are Ready for Tomorrow! #EasterSmiles #CBias

  3. It’s very evident in the pretend play that my daughter engages in she is imitating behaviors of those around her. Just yesterday morning she was taking pictures of her food with her play camera! I think I’ve created a monster…lol!
    Sarah BB @ East9thStreet recently posted..Feeding My Zoo with Del Monte Products #ILoveMyK9east9thstreet

  4. heather April 7, 2012 Reply

    My little guy is at about the same stage… he loves the phone too… and he’s also starting to feed his Caillou doll when he eats.. he doesn’t like his high chair any more preferring a booster at the table, so he puts the doll in the high chair – too cute…
    heather recently posted..9 at 9 – An Interview with…chascouponmom

  5. Laura April 8, 2012 Reply

    My daughter pretends play much more than my son ever did. I did all the things like buy kitchen, food, tool sets. His version (he’s now 8) of imaginative play comes through with Legos (HUGE here!) and drawing.
    My daughter she is almost 4 and now she wants to do things for real..so you have to watch when she’s playing restaurant..she really tries to go fill your order!
    Laura recently posted..A Tisket A Tasket Spring Giveaway Hop!DealinandDishin

  6. chelesa sims April 8, 2012 Reply

    my daughter like to play with her pretend kitchen food and dishes.she took an old key board and a crayola dry ease and put them together and start typing on the keyboard saying she was checking her emails.

  7. Kimberly Schotz April 8, 2012 Reply

    I try to supply my toddler with open ended toys that encourage lots of pretend play.

  8. Melissa Lawler April 8, 2012 Reply

    Pretend play is the most important way kids have of learning.
    Melissa Lawler recently posted..Wacky Weekend Giveaway Linky!

  9. Wendi Niccole April 8, 2012 Reply

    April 8, 2012 Reply

    I love to see my daughters pretend playing. It’s amazing the things they come up with, so funny! My nearly 2 year old loves to pick up anything that even remotely resembles a phone and talk into it!mtmamahen

  10. Jana April 8, 2012 Reply

    Yes pretend play is so important! When my daughter was a toddler I would do a lot of pretend/imaginative play with her and now I love to sit back and listen to her playing with her dolls or stuffed animals. The conversations are priceless!


  11. polly April 8, 2012 Reply

    i love watching our 3 year old grandson & his pretend play….it’s amazing what they come up with!

  12. Teri H April 8, 2012 Reply

    The “Monkey See, Monkey Do” routine can also be a positive as mentioned above where you pretend play on the phone and then allow your daughter to do so. I encourage my 2 year old son to cook along with mommy by placing his play kitchen against one of my kitchen walls. This works fantastic. He even washed up the dishes and cleans his play kitchen up when I do the real one.
    Great tips. Thank you for sharing.
    Teri H recently posted..A Tisket A Tasket ~ Douglas Toys James Black Lab Review & Giveaway

  13. amanda roach April 8, 2012 Reply

    those are great tips.thanks.

  14. Sharon April 8, 2012 Reply

    I think my daughters first pretend game had to do with making everything into a phone. And she always wanted me to talk on it!!! She had a toy cell phone (complete with sound), a rattle phone and a plastic phone. But, she preferred to use other things (like my purse calculator) as a phone. It is so cute when she copies us doing our chores. My husband was cutting down branches in the yard this weekend and my daughter put on her glasses, gloves and used a shovel as her shears to cut some “branches” inside the house.

  15. Carolyn Ann Colley (Griffith, Smith) April 8, 2012 Reply

    These are great tips, my granddaughter is 6 and she has such a imagination, when she was 3 her bother had to have open heart surgery and was 4 hours away from home, she came up with some of the best stories of going to see him in the hospital, I don’t remember my kids having that much of an imagination when they were that small.

  16. Lorayne Gothard April 8, 2012 Reply

    I think this is very important. Pretend play allows their imagination to expand and it is much better than the TV.

  17. Carrie Phelps April 9, 2012 Reply

    My oldest grandchild is going to be five & pretend play is still important for him. I love the tips, thanks.

  18. Erin Rok April 9, 2012 Reply

    Childhood is all about pretend play, thanks for the great tips!

  19. Lentil April 9, 2012 Reply

    From what I can see, pretend play is something kids take to naturally. We’re hard-wired for it, like language. It’s how we learn. You can encourage play by playing along with them, asking questions and being silly, but mostly just let them be!

  20. Janet W. April 9, 2012 Reply

    Right now my grandson is obsessed with peas! He has play food that are peas. He also has peas in one of his board books. He pretends to eat them by picking them with his fingers and trying to make us eat the peas!

  21. Seyma Shabbir April 9, 2012 Reply

    Great tips! Both my sons love to act out what their stuffed toys would do and say! They love to be silly!!

  22. jennifer dansberger jones April 10, 2012 Reply

    I like how you stated that parents should repeat or echo what the child is doing/saying but remember to also engage your child in conversation as well. Even toddlers with limited vocabulary should be asked questions and comunicated with through play. Otherwise how else are they to develop the skilled need to hold a conversatiion and enteract with others as they mature.

  23. Brandi Price April 10, 2012 Reply

    My son’s first pretend play was using a shoe for a telephone. So funny and so cute! I love pretend play. “No matter how big and tough you are if a toddler brings you a pretend phone, you WILL answer it!”

  24. Jennifer Hedden April 10, 2012 Reply

    These are some great tips and will definitely come in handy with my niece. I think it is so cute to watch kids pretend play. I never realized how important it is to their development. Thank you for sharing!

  25. Jamie Brigham April 11, 2012 Reply

    I have containers, boxes, kitchen utensils, cups, and rubbermaid containers for my son to play with. He loves it.

  26. Rachael H. April 12, 2012 Reply

    Great tips! I believe pretend play is sooo important!

  27. sherry warlick April 12, 2012 Reply

    Great tips! Thanks.

  28. desiree April 13, 2012 Reply

    but you have to be careful with cell phone my gf kids were playing and her mom thought she had the fake phone and then the baby only 1 year got hold of the phone and broke the code and was making long distance call on it

  29. Tracy Awalt Juliano April 14, 2012 Reply

    Kids are amazing. Their imaginations are limitless. I often sit in awe as I watch my daughter play. Her creativity astounds me. Truth be told, I’m jealous. If I picked up random household objects and created my own world of wonder at age 37, people would be calling nice young men in nice white coats.

  30. Jessica Cox April 14, 2012 Reply

    I used kitchen stuff to encourage pretend playjess_james02

  31. Michele Behlen April 14, 2012 Reply

    Toddlers imitate what they see. I think it is also important to provide them the opportunity to be creative with toys and objects that don’t run on batteries.

  32. Brittany C April 15, 2012 Reply

    I love watching my daughter pretend play, the best part of it is when she thinks no one is watching her. She was swimming in a small pool I had bought her for Easter and playing with her barbies, she pretended that her barbie was drowning and needed help. Just cracks me up. Thanks for sharing Tips for Encouraging Pretend Play in Toddlers:) I enjoyed it!

  33. jenn April 16, 2012 Reply

    I babysit a 9 mo old and she is a little explorer so I turned the bottom kitchen drawer into a play drawer, she gets to still feel like she is making mischief and I know that she is safe

  34. Debbie Petch April 17, 2012 Reply

    Make believe is so much fun for kids. I have all kinds of puppets and they make up stories with them.

  35. Kimberley Meier April 19, 2012 Reply

    I thought it was so cute that my daughter started pretending to be a mommy to her dolls right after I had my son. I loved that she wanted to be like me!
    Kimberley Meier recently posted..B2B Book Review & Giveaway: Remnant by Roland Allnach

  36. Stephanie O April 20, 2012 Reply

    I think for me and my daughter is it is for me to play along with her.

  37. Cara Higley April 21, 2012 Reply

    Great article! I have a nephew age 2 who I babysit very often and is going through this stage. He loves playing pretend phone also. His big love is CARS! I have this box of toys that as soon as he comes in my house, he heads to the back room and brings it out to play with. I’ve notices recently he’s used dolls and figurines to play with and move around. IT’s SOOOOOOO cute!!

  38. Fantastic tips!! My daughter loves pretending, too. So cute!
    Lindsay @Artsy-Fartsy Mama recently posted..DIY Twix Bars

  39. Sam Eagle(Stephanie Mago-Eagle) April 22, 2012 Reply

    Love the blog my baby is 22 months old & she loves to play & these tips will help me out a lot thanks

  40. Lauren April 22, 2012 Reply

    My daughter’s favorite thing to play with is water. She likes to make little pools for her toys.

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