25 DIY Pretend Play Kits
This post may contain affiliate links.
Play is vital for children’s brain development, emotional health, self-control maturation, literacy development, and physical skills. But often it’s challenging for busy parents to think of ideas for play, and ways to get kids to play independently. Today, I’m sharing easy and fun ideas to solve this problem with DIY Play Kits that use materials and supplies you already have at home.
Truly, play is the best way for kids to develop their brains, social skills, vocabulary, and self-control. And, what’s more, play is easy, cheap, and independent.
But, let’s get real. Kids sometimes need a push away from television and video games and towards pretend play.
Keep in mind that instead of “go and play”, you’re giving kids play ideas and materials around a theme to support children as they engage in mature, brain-building play.
The research shows that mature play involves a specific theme, acting out roles, speaking with related vocabulary, using props, and will last for hours instead of minutes. It’s magical.
Throughout life, imagination remains a key to emotional resilience and creativity.
– Stuart Brown, Play
Let’s help our kids pretend play.
Here are 25 ideas for thematic pretend play kits.
In each DIY kit, add supplies that will help facilitate imagination for roles and activities. I’m sharing my suggestions to use a starting point to gather whatever you have around the house.
I’ve included ways to prep your kids for the pretend play theme. It’s not necessary to do this but it can help extend the hours that your kids play because they’ll have more in their background knowledge to use as they create their own scenarios.
For example, if you’re going to play mechanic, you might read a book about mechanics to learn more about gas, oil, engines, and tools.
Or if your kids will be playing restaurant, you could talk about menus, different types of cuisine, tips, and servers.
Finally, you can put these kits together before you need them. Store in shoe boxes or plastic bins. Your kids don’t need to be fancy. Just functional.
DOWNLOAD SOME PRINTABLE LABELS HERE.
Life must be lived as play.
Pretend Play Themes
Click on the theme to see more about it.
Camping / Forest Ranger
Detective / Spy
Fairy / Fairy tale
Directions for Pretend Play Kits
Pretend play kits that you can make yourself can be anything you can imagine such as . . .
Camping / Forest Ranger Theme
Camping Supply List:
explorer kit (binoculars, fan, magnifying glass, flashlights)
READ books about camping.
LEARN how to keep a nature journal.
PRACTICE observing nature with binoculars and a magnifying glass.
Coffee Shop Theme
Coffee Shop Supply List:
order sheet, pencil
snacks (granola bars, crackers, fruit snacks, etc.)
real or pretend money
construction paper for menu and prices
Coffee Shop Prep:
VISIT a coffee shop and take notice of what the shop is like. List what will you need for your own coffee shop. Make a sign with prices.
SHOW your kids how to make coffee or tea with warm, not hot, water.
Detective / Spy Theme
Detective / Spy Supply List:
note cards or notebook and pencils
ink for fingerprints
secret decoder (directions here)
Pre-made Spy Kit
READ a mystery picture book like Pigeon P.I. by Meg McLaren, The Great Pie Robbery and Other Mysteries by Richard Scarry, and The Detective Dog by Julia Donaldson.
SHOW your kids how to take someone’s fingerprints, use the walkie talkies, and look for clues.
PLAY the detective game — directions here.
Fix-It Person Supply List:
scraps of wood
Fix It Prep:
READ The Fix-It Duck by Jez Alborough.
TALK about safety rules. Teach the difference between regular and Phillips screwdrivers. Be clear where it’s okay to hammer and use the screwdriver.
With younger kids, teach them how to hold the camera properly — without a hand over the lens, and how to wrap the cord around their wrist. Sometimes it’s helpful to hold the camera with the young child. Practice holding your body and the camera still.
With older kids, introduce them to camera perspectives: close ups, landscapes, and so forth. Allow them to take lots of photos and experiment with angles. Help them look through the photos and make decisions about what to keep and why.
Post Office Theme
Post Office Supply List:
Pre-made Post Office Kit
Post Office Prep
WATCH your mail carrier deliver mail. Talk about addresses, deliveries, and packages.
READ The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg, The Post Office Book by Gail Gibbons, and I’m a Mail Carrier (A Tinyville Town Book) by Brian Biggs.
SHOW your older kids where to put a “stamp” and how to correctly address an envelope. Show younger kids how to use their letter-sound knowledge to use invented spelling.
movie theater supply list:
paper and markers for signage
Vehicles Supply List:
tape for roads
sandbox or dirt
small figures and animals
READ books on vehicles like Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton.
WATCH construction vehicles.
Play I Spy with vehicles.
Pretend Play with Favorite Books
Great ideas especially beauty salon. That one is a new idea for me! Here are some pretend play boxes that I have created. Personally, I love pet show one the best. Read more
Another fun kit is the TickleMe Plant Gift Box Set. With it you can easily grow a real house plant that moves and closes its leaves when you tickle it!