You can encourage kids to create imaginative scenarios with the right toys. These the most popular choices this year.

Best Play Sets and Playhouses for Christmas 2014

Pretend play helps kids express their feelings, lets them develop language skills as they create make-believe scenarios, and provides an opportunity for social development as they play cooperatively. It's important to let children direct themselves to get the most out of pretend play, but their creativity gets a jumpstart when they have the best pretend play toys. Kids will start engaging in pretend play at 2 or 3 years old, and most of these toys would be good Christmas gifts for kids ages 2 to 8.

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Fort Kits, Play Castles & Teepees

It's a big world, especially when you're small. Teepees, tents, and forts are perfect hiding places for kids who need to feel like they're in a cozy place. Fort kits make it easy to build a structure that can be played in for hours. Fort sets usually include the pieces to make a frame, and then you can use blankets or sheets to cover it. Fairy tales are an important part of childhood, and many of those stories take place in a castle. With a play castle, kids can act out the charming prince, brave knight, and beautiful princess stories they know as well as create their own fairy tales where they are the central character.

Play Kitchens & Toy Food

Eating meals is a familiar part of any child's day, but they don't get to spend much time preparing the food. A pretend oven is a safe way for kids to test out the things they see you do. Pretend kitchens are also excellent for helping children learn about cooperation, sharing, and taking turns. Be sure to give a set of pretend food with the toy kitchen, so your child will have ingredients to "cook" for you to "taste."

Career Play Sets

Career exploration is an important element of pretend play. Toy doctor kits are one of the most popular career play sets, and playing with toy versions of the tools kids see at the pediatrician can help alleviate apprehension of the doctor. Pretend medical kits also let your children "treat patients" (their dolls, stuffed animals, and friends) which teaches them empathy.

Toy Workbenches and Tools

Pretending to be a worker is appealing game for many children, and it's good for them to learn how to manipulate tools, like simple screwdrivers and hammers. For younger children, you can suggest "building projects," like requesting a kitchen remodel, and then let them tinker away at their workbenches as they "build" for you.

Pretend House-keeping Supplies

Domestic duties may seem like a drag to you, but to a young child, it's a chance to experience the things they see you do all time. Pushing a toy vacuum around the room helps your child explore the adult world while feeling like they are helping.

Costumes

Playing dress-up can be a game on its own, or it can be a part of other pretend play. If you have another play set, look for costumes that will enhance it, like princess costumes to go with a play castle or a lab coat to go with doctor's kit.
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