Call us sentimental, but we love all things holiday themed. Peppermint lattes? Cheesy holiday movies? We’re here for it.
So naturally, we want to share that holiday fun with the little ones in our lives too – preferably without constant screen time. Cue holiday-themed playtime. These toddler-friendly pretend play ideas are a very merry way to embrace the magic of the holidays with your kiddos all season long!
The dolls deserve a little holiday cheer too, right? Supply your little one with materials to “deck the halls” of their dollhouse, and watch what they come up with. Artificial snow from your tree looks oh-so-winter-wonderland (if you’re up for a little mess, of course). Green pipe cleaners work great as tiny Christmas trees, wreaths, and garlands, though toddler hands may need some help with the cutting and twisting. Finish it all off with some craft pom-pom ornaments!
Pretend Polar Express
That’s not just a toy train. This time of year, it’s the Polar Express itself, and your child is the engineer. White felt or cotton balls can help you create a snowy North Pole around the tracks.
Play Kitchen Cookies
Baking holiday cookies is probably one of the highlights of the season for your sous-chef. Let them re-enact it by equipping their play kitchen with a rolling pin, modeling clay, and some holiday cookie cutters — all the joy of holiday baking without the sugar rush.
North Pole Campout
If you have a child’s tent, turn it into an igloo for a North Pole campout. You can even transform your outdoor playhouse into a snowy holiday scene. If you’re feeling crafty, you can help your little explorer decorate with white construction paper “ice blocks” for a real chilly igloo feel. No tent? A good old-fashioned blanket fort does the trick too.
The Elves’ Toy Shop
A good tool set is a busy elf’s best friend. Your little one’s toy tool set or workbench is the perfect setup for playing an elf in Santa’s workshop.
Rudolph and the gang need to be in tiptop shape for Christmas Eve. Who better to make sure they’re up to the task than your little veterinarian? (After all, toys are at stake here!) Stuffed animals or even a (very patient) family pet make great pretend reindeer. No plushies or pup to play the part? We love the Schleich reindeer figurines. They’re realistic, less expensive than a stuffed animal, and they make great additions to your little one’s toy stable.
Holiday Toy Shopping
Real holiday shopping? Maybe a bit stressful. Pretend holiday shopping with your favorite little shopkeeper? Now, that’s some holiday cheer. Let them line up some stuffed animals and toys for their shop while you or a sibling play a happy customer with pretend money. Older kids will love the addition of a toy cash register or shopkeeper stand for more role-play.
Light the Menorah
There’s something enchanting about a menorah in the window. It’s just too bad you only get to light it once a night, right? A play menorah set with removable candles lets the kids recreate that magic anytime they want.
We’ll have lots of fun with Mr. Snowman … unless, of course, you live in a warmer climate or your kids aren’t fans of the cold. Never fear though. Play-Doh snowmen are a great way to get excited about the holiday season — no mittens required!
You already have the perfect pretend sleigh — your child’s bed! Make some reins by tying or taping both ends of a jump rope to the footboard or headboard. Let them fill up a large bag with toys to deliver, and dig out that old Santa hat (you know you have one somewhere). They’ll jump at the chance to play Santa. Just be sure to remove the jump rope before bedtime.
Holiday Sensory Bins
For the youngest toddlers, Santa and imaginative play may be out of their reach this year, but holiday-themed sensory bins are just their speed. Fill a few shallow bins with some of the best scents, textures, colors, and sounds of the season. Think things like Christmas tree clippings, (non-chokable) jingle bells, wrapping paper, and red and green dyed rice. Set the bins on a toddler-sized table and watch them explore.
Up the fun factor of dreidels by using them for spin art and stamps. Lightly dip plastic dreidels in washable paint, and set them spinning on a few pieces of paper. (Of course, you’ll want to be outside for this one!) Then, use a stamping pad or a light coat of paint to stamp the dreidel’s letters and designs onto the paper.
Felt Christmas Trees
Toddlers are to Christmas trees as moths are to flames (but in the best way). While you can’t make the glowing lights less magical and enticing (and would you really want to anyway?), you can redirect them with a felt Christmas tree. Hang one on the wall, and whenever your toddler is tempted to un-trim the real tree, encourage them to take the felt ornaments on and off the felt tree instead.
Holiday Reading Corner
Transform your kiddo’s normal reading spot into a cozy, winter-themed nook ready for a visit from Santa. Use poster board or construction paper to make a paper fireplace for the wall. Add in some construction paper flames and logs plus a few cozy blankets, and you just may want to curl up there yourself.
Have a stocking to spare? Make it a part of your little one’s toy collection this season. Ask them to fill it with presents for a family member or one of their favorite characters. They’ll love the chance to hunt for goodies around the house, and you’ll love seeing the funny things they pick out as gifts.
Now, go make those memories!