Take It Outside :: Toys that Encourage Outdoor Play

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My kids love to be outdoors. They’ll take their books outside, spend hours creating elaborate games, and generally enjoy getting dirty with outdoor toys. They love it so much that we bought our current house because of the backyard.

A tree swing is a great outdoor toy.As a parent, I do my best to encourage their outdoor pursuits as much as possible. I know it helps build strength and coordination and that it is incredibly beneficial for mental health. So while mine are happy to play with sticks, rocks, and whatever else nature has to offer, I also look for toys and tools that encourage outside play. 

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Setting up an outdoor environment full of things to explore and ways to play can be a huge motivator for kids who may be a little less enthused about playing outside. While bikes, trikes, and other wheeled conveyances are always good options, there are tons of choices that don’t require a driveway, sidewalk, or street.

Here are some kid-tested, parent-approved suggestions:

Fun for All Ages

Climbing dome: We were gifted this when our oldest were three years old, and our youngest was one. Now at 10 and eight, they are still playing with it. It’s great for climbing, crawling, and pretend play, and they are adamant we’re never giving it away.

Gardening kit: Three years ago, my kids got a small raised garden bed for Christmas. Now we have that bed, added two bigger ones, plus three different levels for crawling plants. Kids love dirt and love to watch things grow. 

Kites: Keep a kite in the garage and in the car so you’re always ready when the wind calls. Kites are intriguing, spark great problem-solving and scientific discussions, and are filled with childhood wonder.

Nature figurines: These are too cute and perfect for taking imaginative play and creativity outdoors.

Sidewalk chalk: My kiddos love to draw, write, do math, etc., in sidewalk chalk, and we use every surface from sidewalks and brick walls to wood siding, tree trunks, etc.

Stomp rockets: These are a throwback to childhood for me, but they’re still just as entertaining for kids and an easy outdoor toy that doesn’t involve quite as much running around. 

Tree swing: This one has been popular for years, and while it’s easy to purchase on Amazon, you can also often pick it up at Costco or Sam’s Club. I love that many more than one child can swing on this to reduce fights.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Bubble mower: Combining bubbles, noise, and pretend play, this is a classic for younger kiddos.

Fisher-Price slide: A simple piece of playground equipment that doesn’t take up a lot of room but is tons of fun and encourages gross motor development and coordination for little ones.

Flexible play road: On the pricier side, this one is great for kids who love cars. You can use it indoors or out and don’t need a flat surface for it to function correctly. 

Water table: Geared toward toddlers, this water/sand table is definitely an outdoor toy that will make your child want to get wet and dirty, even more than usual. 

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Give a frisbee set to encourage outside play.School-Age and Up

Corn hole: It’s a classic for a reason! While there are all kinds of purchasing options for this game, it’s also something you could make yourself as a family project. 

Cross net: Volleyball meets four square in this game, and it’s a fabulous time. I especially love that the nets are shorter than volleyball, making it much more kid-friendly. 

Frisbee/balls: Frisbees, basketballs, baseballs, golf balls, and others are all truly open-ended play items in the hands of kids. I’ve witnessed everything from hockey sticks and basketballs on a made-up mini-golf course to the ball acting as a baby during imaginary play. They’re just good to have around!

Inflatable rolling wheel: A hamster wheel to run out my kid’s energy both in the backyard and the pool? Yup, I’m here for it.

Kan Jam: This one is new to me, but it looks super fun for multiple ages, which I love for outdoor games.

Ninja line: I LOVE America Ninja Warrior, and so do my kids. You can mix this set up to create new courses and add different items as your kids grow. Not included: The stopwatch; they’ll want to time themselves.

Stick-lets: I’m a huge fan of playing outside with what is already outside, and I love that this toy brings the creativity of sticks to a whole new level.

Tree climbing holds: Does anyone else have a climber? One of mine ends up many feet off the ground in almost any situation, but these are great for creating new avenues of play for more hesitant climbers.

What do your kids love to play outdoors?

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