There’s something truly magical about the days you take your toddlers outside to play. After a long, cold winter, our twins had a severe case of cabin fever. The first few days, they’re just happy with a change in scenery. Now is the perfect time for outdoor activities, because it’s too early for sunburns or most bugs. We have a very nice swingset, and it serves to entertain the kids for about fifteen minutes before they lose interest and want something new.
Here are ten fun outdoor activities for toddlers that we employ to keep them entertained.
1. Wagon Rides
Why is it that toddlers seem to cherish activities that require a lot of manual labor on the part of the parents? Wagon rides are a perfect example of this. We finally have a way to beat the system, though: a 4-year-old sister who’s strong enough to pull one or both boys around by herself. The twins get a free ride; she gets to be bossy and tell them what to do. It’s a match made in heaven.
A wagon is also very useful for taking walks around the neighborhood, because it keeps our toddlers contained. We have the Radio Flyer Pathfinder wagon which includes seats and harnesses. The boys are largely content to ride in it, as long as we provide a dozen or so leaves, gumballs, or pine cones for them to play with and toss out as we roll along.
2. Bubble Activities
Bubbles are a simple, cheap, and relatively clean source of entertainment whenever we’re outside. Come on, it’s literally soap and water, so how bad can it be? Our 4-year-old likes to be the bubble maker, and the twins enjoy being the bubble poppers.
Bubbles are great for walks or parks or just your backyard. It’s most fun if there’s a slight breeze to send the bubbles zooming around the yard.
When you let one of your kids hold the bubbles, though, you should know that:
- He or she will be the envy of all siblings, who will clamor for their turn
- Far more bubble water will be spilled or splashed on the ground than used to make bubbles
- Inevitably the wand will end up on the ground or carried off, leaving you to hold the bottle with no lid.
I should also note that “traditional” bubbles, where you have to reach in and find the little plastic wand, are not optimal for toddlers because they’re harder to use, but easier to spill. A super bubble wand or (better yet) the Gazillion Bubble Cannon make giant or tons of bubbles, respectively.
3. Plant Flowers or Vegetables
There is a simple pleasure in growing something from a seed. This is a fun outdoor activity that your toddlers can enjoy all spring and summer: planting the seeds, watering them, and checking their growth.
For toddlers and small children, you probably want to select something that has large seeds (easier to handle), doesn’t have special pest or disease problems, and sprouts/grows/blooms quickly. Here are some suggestions:
- Sunflowers. These have large seeds, grow quickly, and produce a stunning result. You can harvest the seeds for planting next year, or leave them for the birds to enjoy in the fall.
- Gourds. These are fascinating plants to watch grow. They have large seeds and sprout quickly. The plant itself is a vine that will cover a fence or trellis.
- Beans. Fast-germinating, large seeds make these easy to grow. Twirl the vines up a bamboo pole as they grow. Blue Lake, Derby, Romano, and Pencil Wax are some of the best edible varieties.
- Tomatoes. These have small seeds that your little ones can scatter in a pot or garden. They are fast and easy to grow, and cherry tomatoes are just the right size for toddlers to eat (once they’ve been washed, of course. The tomatoes, that is).
Many thanks to the Redwood Barn Nursery, whose great article on seeds that are easy to grow provided this and other helpful information.
4. Sidewalk Chalk
If you have a driveway, porch, patio, or other concrete surface, sidewalk chalk makes for a very fun outdoor activity. True, your kids will get chalky hands, but it cleans off easily (and rain usually takes care of the pavement). Some kids will be entertained for hours by this, some won’t last five minutes.
Sidewalk chalk is inexpensive and lasts a long time if you remember to bring it back inside. The Crayola Box of 52 sidewalk colors is about $10 on Amazon. You might also look into a set that comes with chalk holders, which keep your toddler’s hands clean and are easier to grip.
You can also use sidewalk chalk to decorate the driveway or patio in preparation for a child’s party — like dinosaur footprints for a dinosaur-themed party, or fairies for a princess party. For that, you might actually prefer the Crayola Sidewalk Paint kit with 3D glasses.
5. Build A Fairy House
Here’s a fun outdoor activity that also goes well with a girl’s birthday party: building a fairy house in the backyard. All you need is one or more girls and the following materials:
- A bird house kit, ideally of unpainted wood. These are inexpensive and easy to find (try the hardware store or craft store). A hollowed-out gourd works too.
- Craft paint and paintbrushes
- Doll furniture or other little decorations
- Flowers, stones, and other things collected from the yard
- A Barbie or Tinkerbell doll to try it out.
If you paint and decorate these little houses, maybe some little fairies or pixies will move in! At least, that’s what you and your little ones can hope for.
6. Sprinkler or Water Table
When warm weather hits, there’s nothing more fun or refreshing than water play in the backyard. When we were kids, that usually meant running through the sprinkler (which is still a fun outdoor activity) but I think that’s been eclipsed by something relatively new: the water table. These aquatic play stations are like knee-high miniature water parks, just the right height for your toddler to stand beside.
There are pools, cups, water spouts, little boats, and most importantly, plenty of water to splash around in. On a summer day, our water table literally provides hours of entertainment. It’s a bit bulky to store but still well worth it. Safety note: don’t leave the water in the table overnight or even alone for long hours during the day, because animals will drink out of it. We caught a deer and her fawn drinking from ours!
7. Backyard Camping
At some point your little ones will hear about camping, and to their naive little heads, it will sound like a wonderful idea. As many children (and adults) learn, the idea of camping out is often far more appealing than the action of camping out. Then again, some people love it. That’s why a backyard campout is a fun outdoor activity that serves as a trial run for your aspiring scout.
It doesn’t even have to be overnight — it could just be a fun afternoon or evening in the tent, with the agreement that when it’s time to go to sleep, everyone will return inside.
8. Kites and Pinwheels for Toddlers
Our backyard has trees overhead, but at the inlaws’ house it’s mostly open sky. On a clear, breezy day, flying a kite is one of our favorite outdoor activities. The right kite pretty much flies itself. Once you get it up, there’s not a lot of effort (or skill) required in keeping it there. The kids love watching the kite while it’s up, or running to save it when it comes down.
Side story: when our daughter was about 2, we flew a kite with her on a too-windy day and the string broke. That kite was gone, and she was rather traumatized by it. Months later, whenever we asked her about a kite, all she would say is “kite broke” with a sad little pout.
Another option for outdoor fun is a couple of bright pinwheels. Toddlers love these and are fascinated with them; they’re not expensive, and they really brighten up the yard. Don’t bother putting them in the ground until you’re ready to go in, because your toddler will want to carry around as many as his little fingers can hold. Then you can stick them in the ground or a flower pot in view of the window, so they can still see the pinwheels after you go back inside.
9. Nature Activities
There are plenty of ways to get your toddlers learning about and interacting with the natural world, and the backyard is a great place to start. Now is the time to inspire a love of the outdoors, before television and video games take hold of your child’s mind! Here are some ideas:
- Seed hunt. Here’s an excuse to have fun with your toddlers while cleaning up the yard a little bit. Give them a bucket or basket, and see how many pine cones, acorns, gumballs, or other things they can collect.
- Bug collection. Toddlers are fascinated with bugs, but occasionally can be frightened by them — probably the remnant of some ancient survival instinct — so take it slow. Butterflies, worms, and lightning bugs are safe and easy to collect and (when placed in a jar) may keep your toddler fascinated for a long time. Before you go in, let him or her release the prisoners: it’s a good exercise in “catch and release”.
- Animal watching. Birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other animals are busy this time of year. Point out these little critters as they appear. Give them names, and think about setting out a birdfeeder or bread crusts to keep them around. We have a regular squirrel visitor at the front window that our daughter named (for reasons still unknown to us) “Apple Dapple”. Whenever that guy comes around, the kids are enraptured and the parents get a few moments’ peace.
What’s Your Toddler’s Favorite Outdoor Activity?
Please leave us a comment and share your toddler’s favorite things to do outside!