31 Examples of Imaginative Play Ideas

I always thought I wasn’t a very imaginative or creative type of person……until I became a toddler mum! Now, imaginative play ideas and making up games on the spur of the moment is just part of everyday life.

Examples of imaginative play are anything that use your imagination to enact a scenario. These include but are not limited to playing mums and dads, superheroes, pretend cooking or opening a cafe or restaurant, hosting a picnic with your toys, building a city from boxes, turning a box into a boat and going fishing, playing doctors and much more. Imaginative play often re-enacts an every day situation that children have experienced.

If you find yourself lacking in inspiration after an exhausting day of role-playing, take a quick look below for some great examples of imaginative play. Hopefully, you’ll find some new favourite pretend play games.

Top 10 Imaginative Play Ideas

  • Be doctors and nurses looking after teddies and dolls
  • Make an imaginary meal
  • Build a city from boxes and go for a drive
  • Be superheroes and decide on your own super powers
  • Have a picnic with toys
  • Go fishing over the edge of the couch
  • Perform a play
  • Set up a post office and send cards to friends
  • Go on a safari adventure and spot your animal teddies
  • Play mummies and daddies and take baby for a walk

What is Imaginative Play?

Imaginative play is when children act out, role play or re-enact experiences they may have already experienced or just something they find interesting or want to experience. They do this in order to make sense of the world around them and absorb experiences further. Imaginative play is a type of open ended play with no real structure, end goal or results.

What are the Benefits of Imaginative Play

As adults, we often undervalue imaginative play or dismiss it as children just being silly and fun. Play is actually a child’s way of making sense of the world. Roleplay may seem simple and just a bit of fun but it can actually help young kids in many ways.

Here are just some of the benefits of imaginative play:

  • Kids learn practical life skills such as dressing themselves.
  • A chance for them to practise understanding the adult world and interpret new experiences.
  • Develops social skills like sharing and taking turns.
  • An opportunity to develop problem solving skills and experiment with solutions.
  • Helps emotional development and allows them to express and process feelings through re-enactment.
  • Encourages imagination.
  • Aids in language development including spoken skills, listening and also body language.
  • Great for developing independence.

How to Encourage Imaginative Play

There are plenty of simple ways we can encourage our kids to take part in pretend play:

  • Prepare an environment that has space and captures the imagination.
  • Provide props and toys to explore and use.
  • Be a playmate to your little one when they need it
  • Provide experiences in everyday life that they can re-enact later

Everyday Scenarios

There are literally hundreds upon thousands of everyday scenarios that would make great role-playing games and pretend play ideas. You can go as complex or as simple as you like but, most of the time, you’ll have plenty of great materials just lying around the house!

Doctors and Nurses

A firm favourite in our household! Definitely great for tired parents who can lay down and have a rest as the sick patient for a while.

Don’t have a doctors kit or dress up gear? A kitchen apron or one of dads shirts make a great uniform and dishrags or dusters work perfectly as bandages!

Ambulance Driving and Paramedics

Along the same line as doctors and nurses but your little one gets to have some extra fun speeding you through the busy roads to get to the hospital (again whilst you’re laid down “sick” of course)


I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you have a toothbrush and toothpaste in your house?! Maybe even a small pocket mirror to have a look in your mouth with?! Easy Peasy!

Vet Clinic

If your kids are anything like mine there’s a small mountain of stuffed animals in their bedroom all waiting to be cured of every disease known to man.

Maybe don’t let them go as far as I did as a child though and cut them open to operate. Mum was not happy at having to re-stuff and sew everything back up!

Check out this great setup from Little bins for Little Hands!


Remember playing cops and robbers as a kid? Me too! Why not relive some childhood memories and chase your little one around the room shouting “NEE NAW, NEE NAW”

Pilots and Flight Attendants

Dining chairs lined up to leave a walkway down the middle is super effective at creating an aeroplane feel, pop a large office chair at the front and the pilot even has somewhere to sit.

Have your kids serve you snacks and water…..it’s basically like having your own butler…..maybe.

Grocery Store

Pretending to do grocery shopping can provide hours of entertainment for little ones.

Why not go all out and create a farmers market in the living room with baskets on the shelves filled with toy food or even just real things out of the pantry! Set up a till and find some counters or even just stones from the garden to use as cash.

It’s even easy to make a quick conveyer belt and scanner using an old cereal box and tin foil like this great inspiration from Busy Toddler

Post Office

If you have any envelopes and stationery lying around the house, a game of pretend post office is easy!

Picklebums even has some great free printables kids can use to make their own stamps.


Just about every kid loves to read. Display all their favourite books around the room and let them browse around. You can even let them use an old loyalty card as their library card.

Don’t forget to charge them for late returns!

Office Workers

I work from home with just my laptop and mobile phone and my toddler has taken to playing “working mum” recently.

She calls me up on the phone (her hand) tells me she “has to go to work” and toddles off with her pretend laptop in MY laptop case! Then she wacks it a few times and makes some phone calls. It’s actually quite adorable trying to figure out what she’s talking about.

Coffee Shops and Restaurants

Another firm favourite for us thanks to mummy and her coffee addiction!

All you need is some cups and spoons, rags for wiping tables, something to use as money and some “food” to purchase. My daughter loves pretending to pour me a cup of coffee and slice me some cake while she chats about the weather.

Fast Food Drive Through

Driving the car to the fast food place, placing your order, getting your food and then discovering the toy you get with your meal.

Don’t forget to drive back and complain when you discover your chips are cold!

Takeaway Pizza Parlour

Along the same lines, this no-sew pizza craft would make a great imaginative play scenario.

Hair Salon

A lot of kids become obsessed with doing dollys (or mummys) hair but if you don’t have any dolls head why not use a mop head to pretend with!

Pamper Spa Days

Sit back and relax whilst your toddler treats you to being poked and prodded…..all in the name of beauty.

Horse Riding

This one is always a good one to play when dad’s around…..he’s “stronger” after all!

You haven’t experienced true parenthood until your little one has forced you to let them ride you like a horse around the living room,


We actually love to play “fishing”. We have a hammock in the living room so dad and toddler sit in the hammock with a long cardboard tube hanging over the edge while I lay on the floor underneath. Before long they get a “bite” and I have to shake the hammock around, grab the tube and throw a stuffed animal into the “boat”

Don’t have a hammock? It works just the same over the side of the sofa or a chair?


Another great way to put those beloved stuffed animals to use. A few Tupperware dishes work great for food and don’t forget to shovel the poop at the end of the day.

There are also vegetables to be planted, watered and harvested so there’s plenty of work on the farm for all the kids.

Zoo Keepers

Another regular game in our house. I like to be the angry caged lion but sometimes I have to be the hippopotamus….pretty sure dad told her to say that!

Cardboard Box Cubby Houses

Cardboard boxes really can bring hours of joy to a child. If they are old enough they can decorate the outside themselves, adding windows and doors or even painting it.

When kids are younger, simply chopping a rough door and windows in the side usually brings plenty of fun games of peek a boo and knocking on the door to be let in! We like to poke a hole in the roof and place our phone torch over it so we can turn the lights on and off too!

Imaginative Adventures

Everyday scenarios are great but the REALLY exciting stuff comes when you think up dramatic, exciting adventures and pretend travel to go on together. The options are endless but here are a few ideas to get you started!

Going on Safari Holiday

Pack your binoculars and safari hats, clamber into the back of the tour bus and take a bumpy ride through the African savannah.

Stop at the watering hole to see the animals taking a drink or chase the bison across the river whilst the snapping crocodiles circle. Stop to catch a photo of the lions and accidentally get left behind by the tour bus or join in the elephant parade.

Under Sea Adventures

Whether you’re a deep-sea diver, shallow water snorkeller or mystical mermaid, there’s plenty to see beneath the waves!

Dodge the Fishermans nets and evade the hungry sharks in an underwater adventure. Who knows, you may even find some long lost treasure along the way.

Exploring the Jungle

Monkeys swing overhead and something lurks behind those trees – grab your machete (not literally) and crash your way through the rainforest to find the trail back home.

Maybe you’ll find a long lost tribe that’s never seen modern-day humans before.

Learn more about Nature Play ideas here. 

Trekking to the North Pole

Get wrapped up in some extra layers, throw on your scarf and grab your hiking poles. Trekking into the wind is hard so keep your head down and stay together.

Let’s hope a freak blizzard doesn’t appear and separate you all.

Desert Island Castaways

Wash up on a deserted island and hunt for freshwater and food in the mysterious, uncharted landscape. Why not try out some of our seashell crafts for kids for even more fun.

Outdoor Imaginative Play

Pretty much any imaginative play can be done outside but here are some extra special ideas to get your kids enjoying the great outdoors!

Camping Trips

Pop up beach tents are super cheap! Or if you don’t have time to pop to the shop an old sheet or blanket thrown over a clothes horse does the trick.

Set up your campfire with some twigs from the garden and coloured tissue paper does a great job as the flames. Sit around and tell camp stories whilst you roast marshmallows on the fire.

Paleontologists – digging for fossils!

Our daughter is obsessed with dinosaurs at the minute and I can’t wait to try out this great, yet simple idea from Make Live Lovely for making our own fossils!

Making Mud Pies

Mud pies!! Getting dirty in the great outdoors – pretty much every kid will be in their element!

Magic Perfume Potions

We love to grab a large plastic tub and mix up “perfume potions” or “fairy potions” using water and anything pretty we find in the garden! Flowers, leaves, pinecones, twigs, stones, shells – literally anything works.

When the potion is finished, use it to cast spells on unsuspecting family members!

Race Cars

A laundry basket or a cardboard box makes a great race car. Better yet just 100% use your imagination and run around the garden “racing” each other!


Add a piece of wood and an old sheet to that laundry basket and you’ve got yourself a sailboat! The perfect vessel for a blustery day in the garden…..”Man overboard!!”

We hope this has given you some great inspiration! What’s your favourite imaginative game? Let us know in the comments so we can add it to the list!

Want even more inspiration to get kids outdoors? Check out my buying guides on kids scooters and balance bikes!

Find all our articles on play time here!

Sophie Marie

Sophie Marie is passionate about providing the very best for her kids and her family. She spends half of the year living in an isolated community in Far North Queensland so online research and finding the best products is a skill she's perfected over time.
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