Dramatic Play: Must Have Toys Series (Part 1)

Some of you have asked me what I think the must have toys are for your children.  It is barely October, and I am reminded that some of you are over-achievers and are already thinking about Christmas lists.  I salute you :) I keep saying that one of these years I will be more organized.

But honestly, this is THE perfect time to talk about building your toy arsenal.

When you look out there in our current Pinterest world, you will see different extremes.  You will see people advocating for buying the latest and greatest electronic toys and apps for your children in order to build STEM skills.  You will also see the opposite extreme, parents advocating for all wooden, beautifully crafted Montessori-esque toys.

I am going to tell you what I always thought were necessities in my classroom, and what we have had in our home toy room.  Most of the toys you will see below have been with us since we have had our oldest two children (they are now 11 and 9 years old).  So, these toys stand the test of time.  Children don't quickly outgrow them.

I wrote a post several years ago about the research behind electronic toys.  I encourage you to check it out.  The toys I'm going to share here are open-ended, meaning they can be used for many different purposes.  This is the key to making sure toys grow with your child.

I've organized my recommendations into 5 Main Categories:

  1. Dramatic Play
  2. Small World Play
  3. Construction Play
  4. Fine Motor Play
  5. Gross Motor Play
This post does contain affiliate links, but these are all products that we own and love.  

So...to the first category: 
Dramatic Play

Dramatic play is important for all children, because it provides opportunities to build all of the developmental domains.  

Here are the items I think are must haves:

Kitchen Set

This can be a large set or portable pieces.  I have seen bloggers create a toy stove from plastic storage boxes.  Check this one out!

We have a kitchen set similar to this one, my oldest daughter received it when she turned 1 at Christmas time.

Pretend Food and dishes

You can choose either plastic, wooden, or felt food pieces.  We have an assortment of each in my house.  Even better yet, you can give your children pieces of cardboard to create their own.

Baby Dolls

Both boys and girls benefit from playing with dolls.  Each one of my children received from my mom on their first Christmas.  There is just something about cuddling up with a brand new doll on Christmas morning.

You may want to invest in both soft  (great for cuddling) and plastic baby dolls.  The plastic dolls are great for swimming and giving baths.

Cash Register

A simple cash register can change a kitchen set to a restaurant.  A pile of stuffed animals to a pet store.  A bookshelf of books to a library.  There are so many play themes that emerge when a cash register is introduced.  

This exact cash register is still available online, but it is crazy expensive for some reason (it must be an old version).  In my classrooms, we always used this one by Learning Resources. 

You could also substitute a calculator for a cash register!  We do this sometimes during our Friday play group sessions when we play with the drink station.

Dress up Clothes

I have 3 Ikea bins full of dress up clothes!  It is a weakness.  My children have all loved dressing up.  It is a wonderful role-playing experience, and also helps with self-help skills (dressing, buttoning, zipping, etc).

This post is going live in October.  A great time to build your dress up bin.  After Halloween, check out your store's clearance section.  You can find some great pieces.  We have the classic princess dresses and superheroes.  I also like to include community helper outfits.

Most of our dress up clothes are made by Melissa and Doug. We have had them for YEARS!  We have the firefighter, doctor, waitress, construction worker, and pirate.

I am adding these Play Scarves to my youngest daughter's wish list for Christmas this year.  Many Reggio and Montessori classrooms use play silks (these scarves are a more affordable version and have decent reviews).  They use these scarves because the children can use their imagination to turn them into many different things.  They can be a cape, a skirt, a baby blanket, or the top of a tent!

Doctor Kit

I think a simple doctor kit is great to add to your dramatic play materials.  This allows you to role-play before going to check-ups.  


There is so much rich language that occurs when you hand a child a pretend phone!  The toy phone pictured below is from our toy kitchen and has needed batteries for 2 years :)  The other is an old cell phone.  The point is, the phones do NOT have to do anything.  Your child will do ALL the talking! Add 2 in your space so that children can talk to each other.

Still not sure what to get?

You may already own most of these things.  In that case, pat yourself on the back!  You are providing rich play opportunities for your child!  Is there something that your child is really interested in?  Could you create a play kit just for that interest?

For example, your child may really love babies.  Buy an inexpensive diaper bag.  Fill it with baby bottles, blankets, the smallest diapers you can find, and a few baby rattles.  These real authentic items will enrich your child's play.  Check back soon for a post all about interest play kits!  

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