Miniature Settings
Ready Made or Ready to Build and Play
Tags: miniature settings,dramatic play, story-telling,
Posted: 2013-11-25 10:16:45 By: Joanne Oppenheim


Garages, dollhouses, roadways all come ready for action. Slightly older pretenders like construction kits that give them the materials and plans to build a setting that can then be used for dramatic play. Either way, these are excellent toys that allow kids to express feelings as well as building language and story-telling.  We've found settings that will suit both boys and girls. You'll find others in our archives, as well.

Premade Settings



2013 Award
All Season Doll House
(HaPe $199.99 Score: )

Our testers really loved this multi-leveled home with a balcony and solar panels. We recommend buying it with furnished (includes bed, living room furniture, kitchen appliances, a toliet, bath and shower and even a flat screen tv!). The design of the house is very open (including from the sides of the structure) making it easily accessible to younger kids. While we had some trouble putting this together, our testing family (more adept with a screwdriver) had no complaints in getting it all level. It has a more modern feel to it than many traditional dollhouses.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Fairview Manor Dollhouse
(Big Jigs $184 Score: )

Players have full access to all the rooms of this splendid painted dollhouse. No decorator needed since it comes fully furnished with lovely painted furniture for every room plus a play family, including an oddly old-fashioned white haired granny and gramps. The staircase has a turned landing that took some figuring out and there is a back door that slides, but not too easily. This is one of those memorable play settings that will get long-term use.  3 & up.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Awards
Hape City Parking Garage
(Hape $99 Score: )

A handsome wooden parking garage with working elevator to lift vehicles up to the two level garage with ramps for coming down. Comes with three small vehicles and has a heliport with little helicopter up on top. This is larger than the older garage from Hape. There are miles of pretend play waiting to happen. Great for developing pretend stories

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
International Playthings Calico Critters Supermarket
(International Playthings $60 Score: )

Our brother/ sister tester team really loved all the details in this super elaborate supermarket. They spent hours putting the merchandise on display and then hours more playing pretend games. It comes with over 100 pieces including fruits, vegetables, bread, fish, canned food, drinks, cookies, ice cream, shopping cart, check-out counter with cash register, display stands, and more. However, like other sets in this collection, it does not come with critters, though they are shown on the packaging. So, be sure to add some critters for their dramatic play. Marked 3 & up, but we think older children will appreciate all the tiny pieces even more. Our testers were 6 & 8 and not too old for these settings.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Calico Critters Adventure Tree House
(International Playthings $70 Score: )

Get your critters ready for real adventure in this three level tree house with a two-story slide, a cabin on top, and ladders for getting up and down. There is a swing big enough for two to share as well as a bucket on a pulley for getting supplies up and down with ease. There is plenty of room inside for cozy living. You can combine this setting with the Lakeside Lodge vacation house. Like all settings in this line, the animals and furniture pictured on the packaging are not included in the set, but sold separately.

Our tester loved the little log cabin playhouse that is on the top of the tree house and the slide. She also likes the pulley for transporting small treasures to the different levels of the tree house.  The only negative comment was that the swing comes off the branch easily. This experienced 6 year old Calico Critters fan, incorporated her Tree House into her other settings to create a village.  Her mom noted that she would recommend Calico Critters to other parents because the line has lasting play appeal. 

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Neat-Oh Hot Wheels Crash Racer Backpack
(Neat-Oh $20 Score: )

A small backpack that is shaped like a racing car and unzips to become a race track. This is not a backpack for carrying lots of school books and such. It is more like a fun carry along to a play date. It comes in several color choices and with one hot wheels racing car to use on the small ramp. 3 & up

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on


Settings to Build and Play



2013 Award
Playmobil Large Furnished Hotel
(Playmobil $164 Score: )

A clever alternative to a traditional dollhouse, this large hotel has a grand lobby with check-in counter and a working elevator. There are two rooms upstairs, open the doors with key cards. The rooms include crib for baby, beds, chairs, side tables, phone, TV, and bathrooms with shower and toilet. Hungry? Go to the cafe where a waiter will provide you with all you need. Ready for a game? Try the playroom with lots of mini toys. The set includes, eight figures, luggage, food, dishes, and all the accessories you need for setting up a grand resort. 4 & up

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Deluxe Roominate
(Roominate $49.99 Score: )

Welcome to a new world of doll houses! It's a doll house for kids to design, build and electrify. This one is less about interior decoration and more about engineering. A terrific concept for getting girls involved with problem solving and spatial skills, and building circuits. The deluxe kit comes with a light and motor and tons of building pieces and craft materials. Elizabeth, our 8-year old tester, LOVES Roominate. Her mom reports, "She has created some really cool rooms--and I love that it's so open-ended. She loved hooking up the battery, doing the wiring - and using the paper to design the wallpapers. It's a great toy for girls because it encourages building, electrical and engineering skills and isn't too "girly." I would say that I think age 6 is probably too young for independent play with Roominate. At age 8,  Elizabeth read and followed the directions and had lots of ideas about what she wanted to build and how to do it. "

The company says 6, we agree with Elizabeth's mom and suggest you save this for 8's and up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2010 Award
LEGO CITY Fire Station
(Lego Systems, Inc. $79.99 Score: )

A multi-level fire station that also includes a ladder truck and a smaller vehicle. We love that the truck ladder extends and turns 180 degrees. The Fire Station is part of the LEGO CITY theme - a fun collection of rescue vehicles and figures. We also like the new Fire Boat. Our only complaint about this set is the scale- as with many of the new LEGO structures, they have gotten smaller over recent years.  Our testers, unaware of the skrinkage issue, have no complaints. In fact, he really loved working on this set.  His review was so detailed that we need to share the mini-interview he had with his mom in regard to this product:

1. The set is very easy to build.  (He is an 8 year old experienced LEGO builder--and felt this set was particularly easy. He had to be dragged away to go to a ballgame!

2. The "storage" spaces on the building where the accessories go click  in". He mentioned fire hoses, axes, fire hydrants. "It makes it less confusing because every little piece has a place where it goes."

3. "I never thought the Lego City stuff was cool,  but it actually is really AWESOME." (This from a die-hard Lego "action" afficionado. )

4. He likes the moving parts -- sliding garage doors, swinging doors, removeable "hatches," etc.

5. He  also really likes that the bunk beds and all of the spaces for the mini-figures.

What I really love about his review is that the Fire Station has now become a "base" for all of his action figures--including his Star Wars characters--they all think the base is a pretty cool place to hang out!

The Fire Station comes with lots of props for pretend play after the building is done (there's even a cat  and tree). Five year olds will enjoy playing with this set, but they will not be able to build it independently-there are 662 pieces! We recommend making this a parent/child project for less experienced LEGO builders. 

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2010. Click here to purchase the product on


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Products for Early School Years
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