Discover: 10 Clever DIY Pretend Pet Play Ideas for Kids

Kids will love this collection of DIY pretend pet play ideas that you can make together, then use over and over for veterinarian or animal adoption dramatic play or as a pretend family or classroom pet!

DIY Pet Play Ideas for Kids – Table of Contents

I spent the better part of my childhood longing for a family pet, and while a puppy topped the list, I would have settled for just about ANYTHING.

In lieu of actual pets, my sister and I had a zoo of stuffed animals, animatronic pets that walked and barked, toy farm animals, our fair share of Pound Puppies, every My Littlest Pet Shop accessory that ever existed – even little clay figurines became treasured family pets to take care of. Don’t even get me started about how excited we were when Tamagotchis hit the scene.

Quite a bit of family playtime revolved around the care of our pets and constructing the necessary pet services and play accessories we needed to live our best pretend pet owner lives. From animal dens to play vet offices to pet grooming – we made it all.

As a nod to those simpler days before real pets came into the picture, I’m sharing a few of the DIY play pet setups we’ve created here at b&b over the years, along with a household supply list you can use for easy INSTANT dramatic pet play with stuffed animals.

The Benefits of Kids’ Dramatic Pet Play

  • Imagination-building
  • Practical skill development
  • Encourages empathy
  • Teaches responsibility
  • Helps develop problem-solving skills
  • Fosters independent play
  • Calms and relaxes
  • Increases focus
  • Stimulates learning

Household Supplies for Pretend Pet Play

  • Blankets and towels – for cozy pretend pet bedding.
  • Baskets, crates, and boxes – instant play pet beds or carriers!
  • Baking dishes or plastic tubs – use as play aquatic habitats.
  • Shredded paper or raffia – cage lining for small pretend pets.
  • Plastic bowls and bottle caps – play food bowls for pets of all sizes.
  • Recycled containers – pretend food, bath supplies, or water drips.
  • Dry beans or dry pasta – makes great pretend pet food!
  • A clipboard – useful for veterinarian and pet adoption dramatic play,
  • Tweezes, popsicle sticks, and cotton balls – vet play accessories.
  • Cardboard tubes – cut apart lengthwise and use as pretend casts on stuffed animals for vet dramatic play.

Creative DIY Play Pet Craft Ideas for Kids

Our upcycled pretend pet tank sitting in front of a light pink backdrop

A Dramatic Play DIY Pet Aquarium

Claiming the top spot on our list (in part because of its popularity!) is our recycled cardboard box DIY play pet tank! This combination art, craft, and play project has been a reader favorite since we first posted it.

As someone who has a hard time giving our cold-blooded friends the appreciation they deserve, this cardboard reptile aquarium was my attempt at creating a space where we could house a few paper versions to learn more about reptiles and their habitats. Once you have your play pet tank, head over to my friend Arielle’s eye-popping site ART CAMP to grab the cereal box lizard DIY.

One of the reasons this particular project is such a favorite? This play aquarium works well for a huge variety of pretend animals – from paper peepers, tree frogs, and colorful chameleons, to aquatic life like fish, pretend sea stars – even handmade sea slugs!

Our DIY needle-felted hamster sitting in our recycled play pet hamster cage

A DIY Play Hamster Cage and Felted Hamster

The newest addition to our play pet menagerie, this DIY play hamster run is made entirely of recycled plastic food containers and water bottles! You can make yours as big or small, simple or complex as you like! And the cherry on our hamster play sundae has got to be the handmade needle-felted hamster – a wonderful way to explore a new sculptural art medium.

Our cardboard pretend play bunny hutch and no-sew sock bunny kids crafts sitting in front of a blue and white background

A DIY Play Bunny Hutch and Sock Bunny

A neighbor of mine had a pet growing up, and I was so insanely jealous of their floppy-eared friend and cool wooden hutch setup. Inspired by those backyard bunny memories, I put together this cardboard box play bunny hutch you can make in an afternoon then fill with accessories and a soft, cuddly no-sew sock bunny.

Craft an adorable floating duckling out of an egg carton and a baby food jar lid! It couldn't be easier and is perfect for pretend play, sensory bins or small worlds! | via barley & birch

A DIY Duck Pond with Egg Carton Ducks

Raise your hand if you have a similar story…once upon a time (I was probably about 6 or 7) and I was just desperate for a little pond of our own. Unbeknownst to my parents, I dug a little hole in the corner of the backyard, lined it with tin foil, surrounded it with rocks, filled it with water, and patiently waited for the wildlife to come flocking.

Of course, by the next day, the “pond” had dried up, pieces of tin foil were scattered around the yard, and my dad was none too pleased with the big-ish small hole he had found while mowing.

Avoid the same fate by making this DIY tabletop duck pond – with egg carton ducks that actually float!

Make a cute recycled DIY bug observation box with your kids this summer! Perfect for STEAM learning and nature play. | from barley & birch

A Recycled Bug Box and Play Cicada Craft

Turn a slew of recycled items into a clever cardboard bug observation box that you can use to observe real insects (it’s bug-friendly!) or house crafty pretend insects. For a handmade bug that’s perfect for interactive play try our clothespin clip-on cicadas or melted crayon butterflies.

This adorable baby turtle play dough invitation only uses a few basic materials and encourages kids to explore nature, patterns and forms! | via barley & birch

A Turtle Habitat with Egg Carton Turtles

Looking for a simple play pet project that you can pull together in just a few minutes and will compliment the attention span of your toddler or kindergartner? Look no further than this invitation to build playdough turtles and their habitats. The perfect pet-for-a-day project!

Our recycled juice carton birdhouse decorated with egg carton flowers hanging from a small branch.

A DIY Birdhouse with Egg Carton Baby Birds

You can make this lovely little birdhouse from a milk carton or juice box. The best part of this upcycled craft is that there’s a wonderful little surprise inside, in the form of a kid-made bird’s nest with egg carton baby birds.

Our DIY cardboard play pet carrier sitting against a white background

A DIY Cardboard Play Pet Carrier

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts, Etsy, Blick Art Materials, and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

Here’s a fun DIY your kids can use over and over to transport their pretend pets of any size from one play adventure to the next. This cardboard carrier was made by hot-gluing pieces of produce boxes together and can safely carry fairy large stuffed animals, but there are lots of ways to easily make your own – including converting a pre-made gift box with handles into a quick carrier by cutting a couple of holes in the side and adding a pet name tag!


Using Play Pets in the Classroom or Library

Over the years I’ve received the loveliest messages detailing the many creative ways teachers and librarians have used some of our pretend pet DIYs in their classrooms. For educators with already-hectic schedules, endless commitments, and many kids to care for, adding a living, breathing animal to the mix just isn’t feasible. And therein lies the joy of play classroom pets! It’s all the joy of a classroom pet without concerns like, “how the weekends will work…?”.

If you’re a teacher looking to add all the fun of a classroom pet without the hassle, here are a few ways you can incorporate play pets in your lesson plans…

  • Try classroom take-home pets. Play pets, like the DIY kind above or stuffed animals, are a perfect solution for sharing classroom pet care experiences through a take-home pet. Assign each student their own week with the class mascot, and send it home with them in a cardboard carrier (along with any little “supplies” they’ll need for care). They can record how they spent their time with the pet, or you can ask them to write a creative story, or research five facts to share when they return the play pet to the classroom.
  • Make desk pets. Here’s a classroom trend that’s been all the rage on social media lately – desk pets! Instead of one shared pet, invite kids to make their own little play pets like our DIY play hamster above, or use small plastic animals or erasers. For more ideas about how to use these itsy-bitsy toy animals for learning, read about how classrooms are using desk pets as a positive reinforcement strategy.
  • Adopt play pet reading buddies. Not only do budding readers get a great excuse to practice their reading skills, but it’s also a calming activity that can take the stress out of a day, help soothe and relax nerves before a test, or help students reset and find their focus.
  • Use across all scopes of study. You can incorporate play pets in so many areas of your curriculum. Use pet store play to practice math skills. Hold an election and put pet names up to a vote. research the biology of your play classroom pet or study their significance throughout history. Though it’s developed for use with live pets, the site Pets in the Classroom has free printable classroom pet lesson plans you can use for a variety of play animals and subjects.

*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Blick Art Materials, Amazon, Etsy, or Woodpeckers Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click through to make a purchase we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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