You’ve been practicing getting outside with your toddler. Great job! But now you’re worried they’ll get bored or you’re unsure what to do. That’s ok! If you’re trying the 1000 hours outside challenge like my family, boredom is inevitable. But that’s okay! A lot of creativity and “adventure” can be created out of boredom!
I’m currently eight months pregnant with my third child in three years, so while getting outside in the fresh air is a priority, going further than our front porch is not. It can be a hassle getting my almost-3 & 1.5 year old dressed and out the door, even if I weren’t pregnant! So I’ve gotten really creative in keeping outdoor time fun and engaging for my children. Hopefully these activities will give you some inspiration to keep getting outside with your toddler or preschooler!
Be prepared with an “get outside basket”
Last summer, I started using a large bin to gather things I might need to get outside with my toddlers. To start, I keep a rolled up blanket, some sunscreen, a bubble wand, some chalk & a book in there. These are all items we tend to use over & over, again.
However, my “get outside basket” materials can often rotate based off of my children’s interests or my wanting to try something new. It’s simply something I can easily bring with me to the front or back porch!
Materials to Encourage Outdoor Play with Toddlers
Chalk. Children love chalk and can begin using it around one year old. It’s easy and relatively mess free (a little dusting and it’s all gone). It’s also an activity that older children enjoy, too! (This Crayola Chalk is amazing – it doesn’t break as easily as others.)
Bubbles. It doesn’t matter if they’re in traditional packaging or wands, kids love bubbles. You will have to teach your toddlers how to hold the bubbles upright, but this activity is worth it. Bubbles are often an activity that can get countless minutes of outside time in. Also, they provide a speech benefit. Blowing bubbles is a great speech therapy tool to help toddlers learn to round their mouths for the “o” or “oo” sounds!
Books. Picture books, poems, or short stories, it really doesn’t matter. There’s nothing quite as nice as soaking in some sun and reading a book with your babies. Of course, don’t be upset if they want to play after too long – reading still has benefits even while they are hard at play!
Sensory Bins. Honestly, anything that tends to make a large mess turns into an “outside activity” simply because cleanup is much easier. Sensory bins are a great activity to play with outside. If some beans or rice end up overboard, it’s much easier to sweep them into the grass than cleaning them up inside. However, if you want to save sensory pieces, lay out a towel underneath their space to catch what falls!
Playdoh. This is another great activity that you can do outside to avoid the mess. Children can also incorporate outside elements into their sculptures, like twigs, rocks and flowers to bring it to life. Need a play dough recipe? Here’s my favorite playdough recipe.
Paints. We love painting! But this is often an activity that I encourage on our back patio instead of in our house, especially since my second child is a little wild. Besides acrylics on canvas, we have also had a blast with finger paints on large cardboard, too (thanks, Amazon packages!).
Outdoor Activities for your toddler
There is so much your child can do in your backyard. Just take a deep breath & let the mess commence!
Mud Kitchen. You don’t need to invest in a mud kitchen for your child to have a blast. All they need is dirt, water & loose parts like rocks and leaves. It’s a great sensory experience for them to play in the mud and dirt. (And quite honestly, one of my 1.5 year old’s favorite things to do!)
Dinosaur Wash. All you need is a bin of water, some soap and maybe a sponge. We have toy dinosaurs we keep outside, but your child could wash any toy they want! If you put the soap in a push bottle, it’s a great way to strengthen little hands.
Car Wash. You can use small toy cars or rideable cars. Give them a wash as if they were mom or dad’s car. My three year old absolutely loves this idea and will often extend the activity with his imagination to include full service oil changes, too. 😉
Sand Box. Sand boxes are a great item to have in your backyard. I highly recommend one with a cover to keep bugs and cats out, but it’s a toy that gets used by both of my toddlers repeatedly.
Sports balls. You can never have too many sports options when it comes to outside. We were gifted a lot of sets, but I’ve also seen them in discount stores like Marshall’s. Have your children practice kicking a soccer ball or hitting a T-ball.
Balance bikes. Bikes are such a great way to get outside. We have a street full of families and recently upgraded our 3 year old from his balance bike to a bike with training wheels. However, bikes have been something that even our 1.5 year old has been able to spend time outside mastering.
Thrift outdoor structures. I love browsing Facebook Marketplace for larger items we can add to our backyard. Currently, we have a swing set & a play house that are often played with. We have also been thinking about getting a climbing dome in the future, as well.
Bring the Inside Outside with your Toddler.
Eat a meal outside. Eating our meals outside is a great way to get fresh air. I often set out a small table for the kids for lunch or bring high chairs outside when we eat dinner with my husband. However, you could also lay out a picnic blanket for a special treat, too!
Printable Activities. I mentioned earlier you can read outside. You could also bring any printables or activities you would normally do inside, out! So any printables or schooling they may need to do can easily be brought to your back patio!
Rotate toys. Besides my “outside bucket,” I will often grab a bin of materials that are normally up in the closet. Magnatiles, wooden blocks, maybe some extra hotwheels. . . Whatever might spark creativity in my children while enjoying the fresh air will find it’s way outside. Of course, for these toys I do keep special rules (mainly, keep them on the patio) so I can bring them back in without too much cleaning.
The Important Thing is to Get Outside with your Toddler.
It can be easy to rely on screens to help entertain our children if we are indoors. I noticed that it’s often something I do when I’m given the choice. However, being outside forces us to get creative with the time we have. There are no screens to rely on, just time with each other. Children are able to get dirty, practice their play skills and get copious amounts of Vitamin D.
I give my children plenty of opportunities to play outside and find that they often are able to entertain themselves. Just last night, my 3 year old initiated bird watching with me. We would count the birds atop our brick wall and count them again when one would fly away. No forethought involved, but it was absolutely magical to step into his world with that activity.
With that, I hope this list helps spark some ideas to get you and your littles outside. May your time together be magical, as well.