50 Pretend Play Examples

50 Pretend Play ExamplesReviewed By Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

➡️ Study Card
pretend play examples and definition, explained below
➡️ Introduction

Pretend play is when children use their imagination to make-believe they are a particular character, like a superhero, or doing something, like cooking. Pretend play often involves symbolic play, role-plays or fantasy and is part of a developmental sequence of stages of play.

In addition to being great fun, there are numerous benefits to pretend play.

For example, pretend play exercises a child’s imagination and creativity.

It often involves talking, either to oneself or another child, which improves language skills.

When pretend play involves playmates, it helps children develop social skills and helps them learn how to negotiate conflicts.

Pretend play also improves a child’s gross and fine motor skills because they move around and manipulate objects of various sizes and shapes.

Pretend Play Examples

1. Playing House
Children pretend to be family members, taking on roles like parents, siblings, or pets. They mimic everyday activities such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of babies, practicing social skills and empathy.

2. Superheroes
Kids dress up as their favorite superheroes, imagining they have special powers. This type of play helps them explore themes of good vs. evil, bravery, and problem-solving.

3. Doctor and Patient
One child acts as a doctor, using toy medical tools to treat another child who plays the patient. This scenario helps children understand healthcare roles and reduces fear of real medical visits.

4. Storekeeper
Children set up a mock shop, complete with a counter, toy cash register, and pretend products. They take turns being the storekeeper and customer, practicing math skills and social interaction.

5. Astronauts
Kids pretend to explore space, wearing makeshift helmets and using cardboard boxes as spaceships. This play encourages interest in science and fosters creativity.

6. Pirates
Children dress up as pirates, using props like eye patches, toy swords, and treasure maps. They engage in treasure hunts and ship adventures, which stimulate their imagination and teamwork skills.

7. Chef
Pretending to be a chef, children use toy kitchen sets to cook meals for imaginary guests. This play helps them learn about food, cooking processes, and following instructions.

8. School
One child acts as the teacher while others are students, using a chalkboard or whiteboard for lessons. This helps children understand educational roles and reinforces their learning.

9. Firefighters
Kids pretend to be firefighters, using toy fire trucks and hoses to ‘extinguish’ imaginary fires. This play teaches them about safety, bravery, and community helpers.

10. Fairy Tales
Children reenact their favorite fairy tales, dressing up as characters like princesses, knights, or dragons. This allows them to explore narratives, develop language skills, and express emotions.

11. Police Officers and Robbers
Kids take turns being police officers and robbers, using toy badges and handcuffs. This play scenario helps them understand concepts of law enforcement and justice.

12. Animal Safari
Children pretend to be explorers on a safari, using toy binoculars and animal figurines. They learn about different animals and habitats while developing their observational skills.

13. Construction Workers
Kids use toy tools and building blocks to construct buildings or fix things. This helps them understand the roles of construction workers and develop fine motor skills.

14. Magic Show
Children pretend to be magicians, performing tricks with props like hats, wands, and scarves. This encourages them to practice coordination, public speaking, and creativity.

15. Restaurant
One child acts as a chef or waiter, while others are customers, using toy dishes and menus. This play scenario helps kids practice manners, communication, and understanding of dining etiquette.

16. Post Office
Kids pretend to be postal workers, delivering letters and packages using toy mailbags and mailboxes. This play helps them learn about the postal system and practice reading and writing skills.

17. Farmers
Children pretend to be farmers, using toy animals, tractors, and crops. This helps them understand agriculture, animal care, and the importance of farming.

18. Pilots and Passengers
Kids pretend to be pilots, flight attendants, and passengers, using chairs arranged as airplane seats and toy planes. This play helps them understand air travel and related roles.

19. Dinosaur Explorers
Children pretend to be paleontologists, using toy dinosaurs and digging tools to ‘excavate’ fossils. This encourages an interest in science and prehistoric life.

20. Royal Court
Kids dress up as kings, queens, princes, and princesses, using crowns and royal attire. They act out royal duties and court life, exploring themes of leadership, responsibility, and history.

21. Zoo Keepers
Children pretend to be zoo keepers, caring for stuffed animals and toy zoo habitats. This play helps them learn about animal care, habitats, and the roles of zoo staff.

22. Artists
Kids set up an art studio, using paints, brushes, and easels to create their own masterpieces. This encourages creativity, self-expression, and fine motor skills.

23. News Reporters
Children pretend to be news reporters, using toy microphones and cameras to ‘report’ news stories. This play scenario helps them practice communication, storytelling, and awareness of current events.

24. Knights and Dragons
Kids dress up as knights and dragons, using toy swords and shields for imaginative battles. This helps them explore themes of bravery, chivalry, and fantasy.

25. Travel Agents
Children set up a travel agency, using maps, brochures, and toy phones to plan trips. This play helps them learn about geography, different cultures, and planning skills.

26. Scientists
Kids set up a lab with toy microscopes, test tubes, and lab coats, conducting simple experiments. This encourages curiosity, critical thinking, and an interest in science.

27. Librarians
Children pretend to be librarians, organizing books and helping ‘patrons’ find what they need. This play helps them understand the role of libraries and promotes literacy.

28. Musicians
Kids pretend to be musicians, using toy instruments to form a band and perform concerts. This play scenario encourages musical interest, coordination, and teamwork.

29. Fairy Godparents
Children pretend to be fairy godparents, using wands and costumes to grant wishes and perform magic. This helps them explore themes of kindness, imagination, and fantasy.

30. Underwater Explorers
Kids pretend to be underwater explorers or divers, using toy submarines and sea creatures to explore the ocean. This play encourages interest in marine life and science.

31. Photographers
Kids pretend to be photographers, using toy cameras to take pictures of their surroundings or set up photo shoots with stuffed animals and toys. This helps them develop an interest in photography and storytelling through images.

32. Train Conductors
Children pretend to be train conductors and passengers, using toy trains and tracks to create journeys. This play helps them understand transportation and develop social interaction skills.

33. Bakery
Kids set up a pretend bakery, using toy ovens, rolling pins, and dough to bake and sell pastries. This play encourages them to learn about baking, measurement, and entrepreneurship.

34. Detectives
Children pretend to be detectives, solving mysteries with magnifying glasses and clue notebooks. This play encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and attention to detail.

35. Circus Performers
Kids pretend to be circus performers, such as clowns, acrobats, and animal trainers, using costumes and props. This helps them explore performing arts and develop coordination and creativity.

36. Mail Carriers
Children use toy mailboxes, letters, and mailbags to deliver mail around the house or classroom. This play helps them learn about the postal system and practice organizational skills.

37. Sports Coaches
Kids pretend to be sports coaches and players, setting up games and practicing with toy equipment. This play encourages teamwork, physical activity, and strategic thinking.

38. Hotel Managers
Children set up a pretend hotel, using toy reception desks, keys, and room setups to welcome guests. This play helps them understand hospitality and customer service.

39. Jungle Explorers
Kids pretend to be jungle explorers, using toy binoculars, compasses, and animal figures to discover new creatures. This play encourages an interest in nature and adventure.

40. Space Station Crew
Children pretend to be astronauts on a space station, using toy space gear and scientific equipment to conduct experiments and navigate space. This play fosters interest in space science and teamwork.

41. Veterinarians
Children pretend to be veterinarians, using toy animals, stethoscopes, and medical kits to care for their ‘patients.’ This play helps them learn about animal care and medical procedures.

42. Construction Site
Kids pretend to be construction workers, using toy tools, hard hats, and building blocks to create structures. This encourages teamwork, problem-solving, and an understanding of construction.

43. Fashion Designers
Children pretend to be fashion designers, using fabric scraps, drawing paper, and toy sewing kits to create outfits. This play encourages creativity, design skills, and an interest in fashion.

44. Movie Directors
Kids pretend to be movie directors, using toy cameras, props, and scripts to create their own films. This play helps them understand storytelling, directing, and teamwork.

45. Farmers Market
Children set up a pretend farmers market, using toy fruits, vegetables, and baskets to sell produce. This play helps them learn about agriculture, commerce, and healthy eating.

46. Magicians
Kids pretend to be magicians, using toy magic kits and props to perform tricks. This play encourages creativity, performance skills, and a sense of wonder.

47. Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers
Children pretend to be pilots and air traffic controllers, using toy planes, control towers, and maps to manage flights. This play helps them understand aviation and communication.

48. Robots
Kids pretend to be robots, using boxes, foil, and other materials to create robot costumes and act out robotic movements. This play encourages creativity and an interest in technology.

49. Archaeologists
Children pretend to be archaeologists, using toy shovels, brushes, and ‘artifacts’ to dig and discover ancient treasures. This play fosters an interest in history and exploration.

50. Gardeners
Kids pretend to be gardeners, using toy gardening tools, seeds, and pots to plant and care for pretend gardens. This play helps them learn about plants, nature, and responsibility.

Benefits of Pretend Play

➡️ 1. Self-Regulation

1. Self-Regulation

Pretend play can take many forms. Sometimes it can involve using objects to represent something else, or role-playing an imaginary scene with other children. Because it involves so much cognitive processing, one may speculate that pretend play can improve a child’s self-regulation and inhibitory control.

This hypothesis was tested byKhomais et al. (2019).

They asked the mothers of 60 public school preschoolers in Makkah, Saudi Arabia to observe their child at home for one week.

The mothers were then given a questionnaire about their child’s play behavior. There were six subscales in the questionnaire. Two were Symbolic Actions and Tools and Interaction with Others.

The researchers then assessed each child’s level of self-regulation using a well-known method that involves children doing the opposite of what they are asked. For example, if the experimenter says “touch your head,” the child should touch their toes instead.

“The results showed that the only dimension that could significantly predict self-regulation score is “interaction with others”, while other dimensions were not statistically significant predictors” (p. 106).

➡️ 2. Learning to Think from Other Perspectives

2. Learning to Think from Other Perspectives

Pretend play has many physical, social, and cognitive benefits. It may also improve perspective-taking. Because it involves pretending to be other characters, it will cause a child to change their mindset and think like another person.

Pretend play has been used by educators to help children understand the effects of bullying, how to handle peer pressure, or the importance of various social issues.

It could also be used to help children understand the value of environmental conservation. For example, third-graders might participate in a role-play on animal habitats. There are several characters in the play: a mother tiger, two cubs, a small group of tourists, tour guide, hotel owner, and poacher.

The first scene involves the tourists and guide taking photos of a mother tiger and her cubs. They are enjoying the beauty of the natural world and later return to their hotel. At the hotel they pay for their room and the dinner they have later. The hotel owner shows how happy she is to have the business and uses the funds to pay for her child’s school tuition.

But, the next scene shows a poacher kidnapping the tiger family and selling them to different zoos. When the tourists return to the scene, they are surprised and disappointed. They decide to check-out of the hotel and return home. The hotel owner looks sad.

The play is run for one week and students play different roles each time.  The teacher then guides a class discussion and thestudents take turns talking about what happened from each character’s perspective.

➡️ 3. Learning Prosocial Behaviors

3. Learning Prosocial Behaviors

As many scholars have stated (Vygotsky, 2004) imaginary play informs the child about what is appropriate in real-life situations.

“This ability to transfer skills from the imaginary to the real world is supported by research….contributes to the development of an understanding of the social relations, thinking and emotional states of other people …” (Veraksa et al., 2019, p. 3).

This is one reason teachers like to use plays and role-plays in their classrooms. Kids learn better through play than trying to sit still long enough for their teacher to explain something.

In addition to teaching kids about how to handle peer pressure or develop prosocial behaviors, this kind of pretend play can also teach about the importance of wearing your seatbelt.

The play Crash depicts a scenario of two families taking a quick drive to the market. One family buckles-up while the other family does not.

Not long afterwards, the two cars crash. One family is seriously hurt and needs to go to the emergency room. The family that wore seatbelts are all okay.

When the play is finished, the teacher guides a class discussion on the importance of wearing seatbelts. Hopefully, students will then take the lesson learned in the play and apply it to their real lives.

Gender Differences in Pretend Play

Boys and girls are different. Although there are exceptions, there can be differences in the types of play they prefer (Pellegrini & Smith, 1998). Girls seem to have a natural preference for cooperative play while boys prefer rough-and-tumble activities.

Carlson and Taylor (2005) were interested in the differences between girls and boys in terms of their preferred imaginary companions during pretend play.

They observed 77 boys and 75 girls ages 4 and 5 years old during two 45-minute play sessions. The children were asked a series of questions after each session regarding if they had imaginary friends or were impersonating others.

The results were quite interesting. As the researchers explain, “…girls were more likely than boys to have imaginary companions, whereas boys were more likely than girls to impersonate characters. Furthermore, there was a significant sex difference in the form of imaginary companions, in which girls’ companions were more often invisible and boys’ were more often based on toys” (p. 111).


Pretend play helps children in so many ways: socially, linguistically, physically, and cognitively.

Teachers use pretend play in the form of role-plays and dramas to help children develop important social skills and exercise their imagination in ways that simply cannot be accomplished in a traditional lesson.

The kids have fun, develop a positive attitude towards school, and learn without even knowing it. The importance of pretend play in a child’s development cannot be overstated.

➡️ References and Further Reading


Carlson, S. M., & Taylor, M. (2005). Imaginary companions and impersonated characters: Sex differences in children’s fantasyplay. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 51, 93-118. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/mpq.2005.0003

Khomais, S., Al-Khalidi, N., & Alotaibi, D. (2019). Dramatic Play in Relation to Self-Regulation in Preschool Age. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 12(4), 103-112.

Pellegrini, A. D., & Smith, P. K. (1998). Physical activity play: The nature and function of a neglected aspect of play. Child Development, 69, 577–610.

Müller, U., &Liben, L. S. (2015). The development of executive function. In R. M. Lerner, L. S. Liben, U. Mueller, R. M. Lerner, L. S. Liben& U. Mueller (Eds.), Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science, Cognitive Processes (pp. 571-613). Somerset, England: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Veraksa, A., Gavrilova, M., Bukhalenkova, D., Almazova, O., Veraksa, N., & Colliver, Y. (2019). Does Batman ™ affect EF because he is benevolent or skillful? The effect of different pretend roles on preschoolers’ executive functions. Early Child Development and Care, 191(2). 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2019.1658091

Vygotsky, L. S.(1967).Play and Its Role in the Mental Development of the Child.Soviet Psychology,5(3),6-18. https://doi.org/0.2753/RPO1061-040505036

Vygotsky, L. S. (2004). Imagination and creativity in childhood. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 42(1), 7-97.

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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

 | Website

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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