The end-of-day sprint is sometimes the hardest for parents with young kids. They’re tired; you’re tired. All that stands between you and the sweet relief of bedtime is about an hour and a half, but you’re fighting the good fight and have resolved to keep them off the screens and make some memories. So what’s a parent to do? Enter: pretend play. You’ll win at parenting for the day, and they’ll use their creativity while developing social, emotional, and language skills, and learning to express themselves. The best part? None of these make-believe prompts require a lot of supplies or planning, so it’s easy to pull them out at a moment’s notice.

Play house, but change roles with your children. They’ll love telling you to clean up your room and get ready for bed.

Climb Mt. Everest! The stairs become your journey, and the summit is (surprise) a bedroom! Along the way, you might need oxygen. You might slide down the mountain. You might even need to be pulled up the stairs on a sheet. 

Set the stage. Get promoted to Prima Ballerina and prepare for your first performance, which happens to have the King and Queen of the Universe in the audience. 

Find a buried treasure. Watch out! Pirates are on your trail. Outsmart them by creating a plan to hide, transport, and escape with your bounty. Don’t forget to create a hide-out where you can plan your escape. Or, make your own treasure map and be the pirates looking for a chest of jewels.

Be a pioneer who must set up a homestead before winter sets in. Build a barn for your animals, a cabin for your family, clear a “field” of “rocks” (pillows, if playing indoors), and overcome all sorts of rustic challenges.

Plan your space travel itinerary. Start with “We’re headed to the moon,” and work out all the details: what you need to wear (mixing bowl or colander helmets are excellent, here), what you should pack, what you need to watch out for, and what to do when you get there. 

Go on safari. Turn your backyard into a wild place with a rare breed of animal you’re on a mission to photograph. But watch out! The wild animal can’t see you, so you better be super sneaky. 

Visit a restaurant. Serve up some fun using pretend play food or Play-Doh. We love the free, printable menu from AmyJDelightful, or create your own. Cut pictures of food out of magazines to jazz up your homemade menu. 

Get a visit from the postman. Snail mail is the best! With a play setup like this one from Buggy and Buddy, your littles can become letter carriers who address, stamp, and deliver packages and notes. Or use your mailbox and decorate a ride-on to look like the mail truck. 

Be a superhero! The best part of this idea? Figuring out each superhero’s back story. What’s your superpower? How did you get it? Are you a good guy or a bad guy? Who is your enemy? What’s your name? Once you get the specifics nailed down, you can create scenarios where the villain is up to no good, and your little superhero saves the day!

Related: The Ultimate (& Mostly Free) Dress-Up Checklist



Create a sidewalk community. Fill your driveway with an imaginary city, including a library, a school, a train station, a grocery, a farm, and shopping. Choose roles and watch your little village come to life.

Pretend your child is Cinderella. Give them a bottle of Windex and a paper towel—they’ll think it’s hilarious when their mean “stepmother” (you) barks orders… and you get the lower windows washed. 

Act out a story. Start with a storyline like There once was a magical frog and a mean old witch who had captured the frog. Include as many characters as you have kids playing, and tell a story as they act it out. 

Play adventurer. Set them up with magnifying glasses and a journal (nothing fancy here… just a few sheets of printer paper folded in half). Dedicate each page to a drawing or a rubbing of something interesting that catches your kids’ eyes. 

Play hide and seek, but add a plot. Pretend the “it” person is a bird, and the “hiders” are different types of things birds might eat, or maybe make the “it” person a chef and the “hiders” different ingredients to make a specific dish (even more fun if you have some pretend foods for each hider to hold). 

Play charades. The mother of all pretend play games is probably the most simple idea on our list. No explanation needed for this one!

Build a story. Find an empty box and create a diorama from found objects in your yard or house. As you make the diorama, layer in story elements. Before long, you’ll have a scene with characters, plot, period, location, and motivation. 

Have a spa session. Let your kids “pamper” you (bonus here: you get to sit or lie down with your eyes closed). 

Run a customer service call center. Complete with dissatisfied customers and solutions to retain their business, this might be as fun for you as it is for the kids, especially if you get the play the dissatisfied customer. 

Pretend the floor is lava. This pretend play idea is an oldie but a goodie. Use pillows, furniture, and clothing to navigate the house without falling in.

Related: 17 Ways to Turn Cardboard Boxes into Epic Creations

playing office is a fun pretend play idea


Play “company.” Don’t forget to have a boss, a company mission, and remember: factory work is the key to a kid’s heart. Make something! 

Run a cleaning service. Have them offer different services, like vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, and emptying trash. Be sure to check quality control because the fun is doing a good job and being praised by your “employer.”

Act out nursery rhymes. You’ve never laughed as hard as you will when your kids pretend to be Jack and Jill.

Create a news broadcast with information from the day. Report on new restaurants that have opened up and what they served for lunch, emergencies, local interest pieces, and the weather. 

Extra, extra! Read all about it. Write a newspaper together, and deliver it to a neighbor or another parent. 

“Invent” a Time Machine. Pretend to travel through time and let your child pick where to go. Beds make great dinosaurs, and hoses make terrifying prehistoric snakes. Just don’t forget how to get back to 2024. 

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