Learning through pretend play is valuable, maybe even essential, to a child’s development. Most of us can remember the days of playing ‘house’ and all the fun and learning that goes with it. While some kids are able to whip up imaginative scenarios with few props, a playhouse can encourage them to take their imagination to the next level, as well as advance their social and motor skills. It’s hard to decide which playhouse to get though, since there are so many choices out there. We’ve created this list of the top 7 playhouses so that you can find the one that fits what you are looking for. When you’re browsing, consider things such as age of the child, where you plan to put the playhouse, whether there are multiple kids, and budget. Luckily, just like adult homes, there really is something for everybody!
Best Playhouses for Toddlers
1. Little Tikes Cape Cottage
(Most homey — $$)
Why it’s great: I have to admit, the blue/cream color scheme caught my eye at first, because it’s just so darn cute! Then I realized all the other fun it brings to toddlers as they play. For instance, the doors and window shutters open and close; so simple, but so interesting to the little ones! There’s a mail slot where you can write a little note or draw a picture and deliver it to your child, a big hit! There’s also a flag holder, and although there aren’t flags included, you can pick out a couple from the store and your little one will have fun changing the flags whenever they see fit. On the adult end, I love how easy this is to assemble. I prefer to keep it indoors on top of the carpet, but it’s meant for outdoors, as well. In good weather, it’s easily moved to outdoors. Whether it’s going to be a cabin in the ‘woods’, or an apartment in the ‘city’, there’s no limit to what your kids can imagine as they play.
Keep in mind: If you’d like or need the floor of the playhouse (we just use ours in the playroom on top of a rug, so it’s not necessary for us), you have to purchase it separately.
Good for: Families who have a small space to work with, because this playhouse is pretty compact.
2. Step2 Happy Cottage
(Best for outdoors — $$$)
Why it’s great: As the name states, this playset makes kids really happy! Extra features keep them busy, such as the mailbox, doorbell that chimes, play phone, wall clock, flower box, shutters, and fireplace. The sturdy plastic design also has drain holes in the floor, so if it gets wet from rain or spills, it’s easy to clean. The feature that really sets this set apart the most is the toy grill. From washing the veggies in the playhouse to stepping outside to use the grill, kids can work together to create a grilling feast or do it all themselves. It’s a little on the large side to be an indoor playhouse, but the charming design will look great in any backyard.
Keep in mind: If you use this outdoors, you’ll want to sweep out any rain puddles that might occur after a storm, as there are no drainage holes. Or move it to the patio before the weather rolls in!
Good for: Families with multiple toddlers, because this playhouse has extra room and the grilling station on the outside. Lots of opportunities for outdoor kitchen role play.
3. Kiddey Knight’s Castle Play Tent
(Most imaginative — $)
Why it’s great: Kiddey’s play castle fits perfectly in any room and can be also placed in a garden, balcony or anywhere your child wants! It comes with ground pegs that ensure the play tent stays firmly in place even in light wind. The front door and mesh windows are great for keep bugs and flies away. It’s easy to put up (4 poles included), and you can store it in the carrying case and easily take it anywhere. Young children like to use their imaginations to create fun scenarios, and this tent makes it easy to set the stage for that. It’s fun to set up for playdates or even birthday parties, adding some magical charm to the theme of the room. If you’re looking for something whimsical and easy to assemble, this might be the perfect playhouse for your little one.
Keep in mind: This is not meant to be left out overnight in the yard. It’s easy to put up and take down, so do that when playtime starts and finishes.
Good for: Kids who love to pretend they are knights in battle, or rescuing a princess!
4. Banker’s Box Unicorn Playhouse
(Most artsy — $)
Why it’s great: Children start to experiment with crayons and markers around ages 2-3, and this fun playhouse allows them to create their own color scheme that they can keep adding to for days, or even weeks. Several children can work on it at one time, like painters painting a house. It’s so fun to see how proud they are of their artwork! The unicorn theme adds to the entertainment. The cardboard is quite sturdy, so it can hold up for some time. If you have company coming over and need to store the playhouse, it breaks down for easy storage. Your toddler can bring in some entertainment, such as pillows and blankets, toys, or books, and stay entertained for hours at a time in a home he or she helped create.
Keep in mind: This is not meant for kiddos who are more aggressive; the cardboard house will last longer if the doors and windows are opened gently.
Good for: Children who like to color, as this will spark their creativity and keep them entertained for hours as they decorate.
5. The Original AirFort
(Best temporary version — $)
Why it’s great: Great for parties, sleepover, and playtime, this play fort is super easy to put up.The AIR FORT inflates in less than 30 seconds by simply attaching it to a fan. Who knew fun could be created so quickly?! Instead of impatiently waiting, my little one actually finds it entertaining to watch. To put it away, all you have to do is stuff the fort back into its matching carrying bag and you’re done. It’s a cinch to take on a road trip; I’ve even used this in a hotel room to entertain my child when they’re away from the usual abundance of toys from home. And don’t worry, you can monitor the kids from the viewing window that allows you to see in. The material comes in eight fun colors. Also, if you have any issues, there’s a 60-day guarantee. There’s no doubt you’ll be in love with this play fort, though! It will capture the attention of not only your child but you as well!
Keep in mind: The box fan is sold separately, but is necessary. It can get chilly inside the fort because of the fan, so consider a long-sleeved outfit for your child when playing.
Good for: Parents who want to have a quick playhouse option that won’t be a permanent space-taker in the home.
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6. Princess Palace Playhouse
(Most posh — $$$)
Why it’s great: Just one look and you’ll see why this playhouse captures the attention and imagination of almost all children—the pretty colors, the turrets, and large size help with the royal appeal. There’s room for everyone, and there are many fun details, such as the musical door handle, working doorbell, clock, and five large windows. One of the best features is that it can be used indoors or outdoors because it’s fade and weather resistant. It could be fun to pair this with the Kiddey Knight’s Castle Playtent and have even more adventures. If you have a child who is in love with princess movies, this is definitely the route to take to create the biggest smile you’ve ever seen!
Keep in mind: Some of the cool features of this playhouse use batteries, so make sure to get some of those ahead of time.
Good for: Families with large playrooms or patios, because this is a very spacious playhouse!
7. Melissa & Doug Firetruck Playhouse
(Best for future firepeople — $)
Why it’s great: Let the playtime adventures roll and imaginations grow in this roomy, exciting fire truck! Made out of sturdy corrugate, the playhouse stands over three feet tall and has vibrant colors made just for little ones. The playhouse includes back doors, warning lights on the roof, a gas tank that opens for pretend fill-ups, and several windows for light. One of my kids’ favorite aspects of this one is the free-standing cardboard fire hydrant, so they can pull the truck up to it and pretend to save the day. Sometimes children just need a little encouragement, such as a firetruck playhouse, to launch some great imaginative times.
Keep in mind: Even though this playhouse is a simplistic cardboard design, it is best put together with two adults. I recommend doing that before giving it to the child, to avoid their impatience!
Good for: Children who love firetrucks and/or want to be a fireman or firewoman when they grow up!
FAQs about Best Playhouses for Toddlers
1. I’m going to put the playhouse outside, so should I spray it with pesticides to make sure creepy crawlies stay away?
You sure can, but be careful to choose a pesticide that is safe for use around children. Little ones constantly put their fingers in their mouths and rub their eyes. There are several sprays on the market that are child-friendly, or there are even some essential oils that you can use to deter insects from making the playhouse their house, too.
2. I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old. What is the best material for the playhouse I choose?
Plastic, fabric, and cardboard playhouses are the best choices for these ages. Wooden structures, playhouses with slides/swings, and anything with small pieces is best saved for the older years.
3. Should I choose an outdoor or indoor playhouse for my toddler?
Outdoor playhouses are good when the weather is mild. If you live in a very rainy place, or a very hot place, this is not a great option for you. You won’t want anything slippery or too hot to touch. You could always put it outside on the patio if there is good coverage. Otherwise, opt for an indoor playhouse.
4. We live in an apartment and don’t have a lot of space. What would you suggest?
Several of the playhouses we recommended are space savers. Try a blow-up play fort like this one by The Original AirFort, which you can store between uses. You could also choose something that pops up, such as this Kiddey Play Tent. You won’t want to choose something permanent if you are really low on space.
5. What can I put in my child’s playhouse?
You can make your child’s playhouse more fun by adding toys, arts and crafts supplies, kid furniture like small chairs and tables, a book, a pillow for a nap, etc. When choosing items, consider whether it’s an indoor or outdoor space, and don’t overcrowd the environment.
6. Why are playhouses a great buy for kids?
Playhouses of all kinds have many benefits for the development of the children using them. When playing with other toddlers, playhouses promote social skills. When playing alone, children get some creative independent playtime that is necessary for learning to keep themselves entertained and exploring ideas. Overall, they instill independence and responsibility, and of course, provide much-needed entertainment!
7. My child often goes to grandma’s house. Are there any portable playhouses?
Luckily, some playhouses can ‘pop up’ or be inflated. Those can easily be taken to grandma’s, to the park, or even on a vacation! In fact, it’s a great way to keep the kids entertained when they’re in a place where all the usual toys are not available to them.
Several playhouses on the market engage creativity, increase motor skills, and motivate socialization, all under the guise of child’s play. If you have space (either inside or outside), getting one is a great way to promote free play and help burn off excess energy! Also, toddlers are obsessed with imitating the adults all around them. Watch as they show you what they’ve learned from observing you! It’s adorable to see the little ones so eager to role play, play knights in shining armor, or hide out in a fort.
The top seven playsets we’ve highlighted should provide choices for everyone. From something you can quickly set up in the living room, to a permanent outdoor structure, there is something that not only works for you, but for your little one. Think back to the fun days of old, when you threw blankets over chairs to create an imaginative space that captivated you for hours. Now you have the ability to provide something just as transformational for your child. You can’t help but smile when you see the joy it brings…you’ll have to resist the urge to climb into the playhouse yourself!