- A good playhouse will be your kids’ hideaway for years, and it’s a great catalyst for the dramatic play that kids crave and need as they develop.
- We talked with a developmental psychologist as well as toy experts to learn about the benefits of playing in playhouses and to narrow down our selection to bring you the best.
- We have a playhouse option for every age and interest, from indoor teepees to a wooden cottage big enough to fit nine kids.
- Due to unusually high demand and supply shortage, many playhouses are out of stock at major retailers. We continue to monitor inventory and update this list accordingly.
- Read more: best kiddie pools, outdoor toys for kids, outdoor toys for toddlers, and indoor toys for toddlers
As a kid, it doesn’t get much better than having a miniature house to call your own. Kids love to imitate adults, and that pretend play is integral to their development and learning.
Whether it’s a simple cottage just big enough for two kids or a fantasy mini house that makes mom and dad jealous, a playhouse is a wonderful toy that will quickly become a staple in your child’s playtime.
What experts have to say about playhouses
We spoke to a developmental psychologist and a few toy experts to learn more about the importance of unstructured and pretend play as well as what to look for in a playhouse.
Developmental psychologist Helen Hadani works with children and parents to help develop toys and is a member of the educational advisory board at The Goddard School. Hadani explained how playhouses support different types of play for children.
She discussed studies conducted by Marianna Brussoni at the University of British Columbia that show many benefits of unstructured play. “Much of children’s play is structured or dictated by adults in a controlled setting, but research tells us that free play promotes creativity and gives children the opportunity to test the bounds of their imagination and adapt to their environment,” said Hadani.
I know with my daughter, it’s so much easier to send her off to play, get messy, and be creative when she’s doing it in her own playhouse instead of my living room.
“Dramatic or pretend play is how children practice their world,” said Hadani. “They act out social behaviors, express themselves, and learn to adapt as they test out what they see in the real world.” Playhouses give children a low-stakes environment to try out different skills.
She also spoke about the importance of play in general, regardless of where or how children do it. “Play is what children do. It is an essential part of learning. As children play they learn to collaborate, communicate, test out ideas, build vocabulary, create, solve problems and do much more,” she said.
In addition to Hadani, we also spoke to psychologist Daniel Marston, PhD, ABPP; pediatric occupational therapist Adriane Ransom, MA, OTR/L, SWC; and Laurie Schacht, chief toy officer of The Toy Insider.
We share their playhouse recommendations and tips along with our top picks below. With their help, thorough research, and my experience testing playhouses with my daughter, we bring you some of the best playhouses for kids.
Here are the best playhouses for kids:
- Best wooden playhouse: KidKraft Timber Trail Wooden Outdoor Playhouse
- Best playhouse for multiple kids: Backyard Discovery Spring Cottage Playhouse
- Best playhouse for toddlers: Little Tikes Go Green! Playhouse
- Best budget playhouse: Little Tikes Cape Cottage Playhouse
- Best playhouse with slide: Step2 Woodland Adventure Playhouse and Slide
- Best playhouse for pretend play: Step2 Neat and Tidy Cottage
- Best indoor playhouse: Antsy Pants Playhouse Kit
- Best teepee: Crate & Barrel Teepee
- Best play tent: Crate & Kids Palm Springs Playhouse
Best wooden playhouse
KidKraft Timber Trail Wooden Outdoor Playhouse, available at Wayfair and Birch Lane, $650
Wooden playhouses are extremely durable, and they look great in your yard. Schacht recommends this one from KidKraft. “It looks like a beautiful cottage, and it has so many elements that I love to see in a playhouse,” she said.
Just a few of those fun elements include a stove with utensils, a window seat, a grill, and a covered patio. It also has a storage area in the back for toys. It even has planter boxes for kids to grow real flowers, giving them a chance to bring their dramatic and pretend play to life. While KidKraft houses are a bit pricey, Schacht said that they “are made to last for generations.”
Recommended ages: 2 to 10 years old
Best playhouse for multiple kids
If you frequently have more than a few kids playing in your backyard, this is the ultimate playhouse for your crew. The Backyard Discovery Spring Cottage can accommodate up to nine kids, and it’s another durable wood option. It has several interactive features that encourage dramatic play, including pretend sliceable fruit, a working doorbell, a play phone, and a snack window with a bench.
Schacht noted that these are all elements parents should look for in a playhouse. She said that a playhouse “should also have some sort of seating, whether it’s inside, outside, or both. To foster open-ended pretend play, be sure to look for elements that let kids be the grownups (pretend grills, phones, etc.).”
Recommended ages: 2 to 10 years old
Best playhouse for toddlers
You’ll find plenty of interactive features that encourage toddlers to practice skills and activities they see in daily life. Unique features include a solar light, a working sink, and a solar-powered light. Parents who want to teach their kids what it means to go green will also delight in the working rain barrel and roof grass garden.
Marston recommends this playhouse because of the “go green” aspect. “Little Tikes makes good playhouses, and I also particularly like that they take an environmental theme to many of their playhouses,” he said. Toddlers certainly won’t run out of things to do with this playhouse.
Recommended ages: 2 years old and up
Best budget playhouse
While some playhouses are packed with fun and all the bells and whistles, the Cape Cottage Playhouse takes a less-is-more approach. Ransom thinks that’s the way to go with a playhouse. “You can add your own accessories that provide opportunities for dramatic play, such as some cute little curtains made from some extra fabric you have, play food and kitchen items, a small chair or two, maybe even a welcome mat,” she said.
Little Tikes sent this playhouse for my daughter and me to test, and it has undeniably been a hit. The first thing she wants to do every morning is go outside and play in her “clubhouse.” The house has two working doors and two windows with shutters that open and close, two mail slots, and two flag holders (flags not included). The fact that it’s such a simple house is what makes it fun and allows her imagination to turn it into whatever she wants it to be.
Recommended ages: 2 years old and up
Best playhouse with slide
According to Marston, “outdoor play is primarily beneficial for developing and increasing physical strengths and generally making children healthier.” Building that strength by climbing and sliding while also engaging in pretend play with a playhouse is a win-win.
This combination playhouse and jungle gym is mostly wood with some plastic components. Some features include a climbing ramp, slide, cooktop, sink, and a pull-out toy storage drawer. This is another option that is relatively simple and encourages kids to stretch their imagination and creativity.
Recommended ages: 3 to 8 years old
Best playhouse for pretend play
This small cottage gives young kids plenty of options to engage in pretend and dramatic play. Some features include a grill, sink, working doorbell, and mailbox. It provides just enough features to spark imagination, but it doesn’t provide so many that it’s overwhelming. This house is unique in that it has a built-in floor – most playhouses leave the bottom open.
“Dramatic play also helps children with something we call executive function,” said Hadani. This includes things like learning to self-regulate, practicing organizational skills, and strengthening working memory. When kids practice everyday tasks in this playhouse, they’re also practicing these skills they’ll use every day as an adult.
Recommended ages: 1 1/2 years old and up
Best indoor playhouse
This playhouse kit recommended by Schacht allows children to choose exactly what they want their playhouse to be, activating the creativity and imagination that Hadani mentioned is important in free play.
Kids can use the pole and connector set to create any structure they want, finishing it off with blankets, sheets, or other household items. You can also buy fabric covers for a specific look or play theme. According to Schacht, this is a “great way to change things up with just a single frame.”
The poles are color-coded and have snap-and-click connectors, making it simple to build strong structures, although younger kids might need some help. Note that you need to purchase the pole and connector set separately.
Recommended ages: 4 years old and up
This teepee will be a beautiful addition to the playroom or your child’s bedroom. It comes in different colors and prints, and can even be personalized with your child’s name.
Ransom recommended this teepee, saying “you have to consider your space. If you can handle having something ‘up’ all the time, check out the teepees or tents from Crate & Kids. They have some really unique ones that are cute and won’t cramp your style.” It has a cotton canvas cover with sturdy bamboo wood poles. This tent would also make a great cozy reading nook or place for your child to relax.
Recommended ages: 3 years old and up
Best play tent
This desert-themed indoor play tent has a beautiful design to inspire pretend play. According to Marston, playhouses give kids choices, but not so many choices that they don’t even know where to start. By providing a desert theme, this tent gives children a great starting point for their play.
It’s a larger indoor tent that isn’t designed to be taken down regularly. Ransom advises considering your space before buying an indoor tent. If you have a playroom or large area for this tent to call home, it’s an excellent option. The door can be closed or rolled up to stay open, and mesh near the top and in the ceiling allows for airflow. The base is made of metal poles, and the tent is cotton canvas fabric.
Recommended ages: 3 years old and up
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