Pretend play. It’s fun, engaging and great for their development, from helping to build their imaginative skills to encouraging social interaction. But when’s the right time to start, and what piece of pretend play kit suits their stage?

Yep, you guessed it, we’ve got it covered. Here’s how to start their pretend play journey and a guide on what stuff will help them at different stages. Get ready to drink pretend tea and spend all your pennies at their make believe shop…

Pretend play for newborns to six months

It’s all about absorbing things at this stage. Although the main focus here will be developing their visual and sensory skills, it’s never too early to start their pretend play journey. A brightly coloured play mat can help them learn about the world around them and eventually help them understand different stories and scenarios. Pick one that’s full of texture and different shapes like this East Coast Nursery Say Hello Discover World Play Mat. It plays the two original Baby Sensory Theme tunes and comes with five detachable toys to help encourage tactile and hearing development too. Alternatively, double up on their visual and imaginative development with a black and white set of flash cards. These Wee Gallery Art Cards for Baby are black and white to appeal to newborns. Just tell them all about the different animals (don’t forget the sounds) for a step in the right creative direction.

Izabelle testing out the Wee Gallery Art Cards for baby

Wee Gallery Art Cards for Baby, £12.

Pretend play for six to 12 months

They still won’t be fully grasping the pretend play stuff at this stage, but, as they say, every little helps… At around six months, babies' grasping skills will have developed enough for them to hold something for a couple of minutes. Embrace this and give them a simple toy that can help with imaginative play later on. These B.Toys Luckeys Play Keys are a great choice. Full of bright colours and realistic car noises, they’ll help develop their creativeness and continue to be played with when their imagination is in full swing. Oh, and it also means they won’t be stealing your keys later on either. Bonus.

Start pretend play with the B. Toys Luckeys Play keys

B.Toys Luckeys Play Keys, £14.

Pretend play for 12-18 months

At this point, toddler imaginations are really beginning to form. They may not be making up stories just yet, but if you give them a toy car, they’ll whizz it across the floor. They may also add some baby babble that resembles an engine sound, brum, brum. Now’s the time to really start helping them on their way. Go traditional and invest in a car track that they can play with, like this Sebra Felt Roadway. Reversible, this two-lane roadway set will not only help with pretend play but also your toddler's cognitive skills and hand-eye coordination. Including straight, curved switching roads, which can be fitted together in lots of different ways, all you need to do is add the cars…

Syd trying out the Sebra Felt Roadway

Sebra Felt Roadway, £40.

With those grasping skills in full flow now’s the time you may find that they’re curious about your phone. Anyone else found theirs in the toy box after hours of searching for it? Or, had to prize it off them while they’re pretending to talk into it? The Plan Toys My First Phone is here to save the day and encourage speech development and pretend play too. Small enough to grab, it’s full of colour and buttons to press. Just remember, when your toddler hands you the phone - you answer it. 🤣

Pretend play for 18- 24 months

As their cognitive skills grow, they’ll now start to identify more with the world around them. They’ll miaow at a cat or want to change their teddy’s nappy (yep, we know, we’re currently right in the middle of this stage). Now’s the time to really introduce your toddler to pretend play. Not sure where to start? As well as teddy nappy changing our toddler is obsessed with her wooden kitchen and spends hours making us ‘food’ to eat. Sounds tasty, right? Get them their very own. The Sebra kitchen is stylish, sturdy and comes complete with a range of utensils making it the perfect recipe for hours of pretend play fun. All you need to do is perfect your acting skills when they proudly hand you the wooden toast...

Martha playing with the Sebra play kitchen

Sebra Kitchen, £159.

Kid more of a storyteller? There’s kit for that too. This Olli Ella Holdie House is pretend play at its best. In a simple design, just add dolls or little characters to give them hours of story time fun. The unfinished wood also means you can paint it in any colour or design they like. Creative and crafty. We love it.

Pretend play for 2 to 3 years

Their imaginations are continuing to develop so this age is a great time to start building in even more pretend play skills. Say hello to dress up. This type of play is great for helping boost their confidence and, if they have siblings or playdates, their social skills too. And it doesn’t have to be all superheros or princesses either. French Brand Meri Meri do a range of subtle headgear that lets them dress-up without going over the top. Currently on our list is the Meri Meri Bunny Dress Up Kit which features a headpiece and tail for subtle dressing up. It can also be teamed with anything making it great for parties too. Alternatively, Tale Tails do a range of animal tails that can be worn in the same way. Get ready for lots of running around as they embrace their new found characters! #yourewelcome

Pretend play for 3-4 years

By this point, they’re really into everything. Their pincer skills have developed enough for them to colour in, while their cognitive skills are working overtime as they really start to pick up what’s going on around them. Take advantage of these and use them to enhance those pretend play skills by introducing them to face-paints. These Snazaroo theme face paint packs are a great place to start when it comes to this. Featuring two face paints, a sponge and a brush, this mini pack also comes with a simple three step guide to help create the look. And because they’re formulated to be paraben and fragrance-free, it means even kids with the most delicate skin can join in. Awesome.

Kid more crafty? Mix fancy dress and art into their pretend play development with this Selfie Clothing Co Colour in Cape. Let them colour it in, then, when they're done they can wear this again and again for imaginative play. Creative and long lasting - it's a perfect piece of kit.

Henty playing with the Selfie Co Colour in Cape

Selfie Clothing Co Colour in Cape, £25.

So there you go, our tips on getting kids involved in pretend play and some pretend play products to help develop these skills. Get ready for lots of imaginative fun guys!