Your 3 to 5 year old loves getting outdoors for active play – and there are lots of fun games you can play together in the garden, the backyard or the local park without too much prep or faffing around for materials.
We've pulled together here some of our favourite preschooler games for playing outside – from making a nature table to playing Avoid the Crocodile to balloon tennis, mud painting, making teepees and hunting for dinosaur eggs.
Here's our pick of 20 amazing outdoor games to play with your preschooler...
1. Ride to the number
Your child will need a ride-on toy, balance bike, micro scooter or trainer bike for this one. Make a number of chalk circles on on a driveway, patio or pavement and chalk a different (simple) number inside each one. Call out 1 of the numbers and see how fast your child to zoom, scoot or pedal their way to it. Repeat, with a different number – for as long as you and your child like. If your child's not old enough to recognise numbers yet, you could chalk colours inside the circles instead.
2. Colour in chalk shapes
Use some masking tape or parcel tape (or sticky tape) to mark out simple geometric shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, quadrilateral) on your patio, fence, shed or wall. Give your child some coloured chalks and get them to colour in the shapes in different colours – it won't matter if they go over the edges. Then peel off the tape together to reveal the perfect shapes – and talk about the names for the shapes you can see, and which ones are bigger and smaller, and so on.
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3. Play Float or Sink
Fill a washing-up bowl with water and give your child different items to place on the water in turn – to see if they float or sink. Help your child to group the items into 2 piles: those that drop to the bottom and those that stay on the water. What do the items that sunk to the bottom all have in common?
4. Find and hatch dinosaur eggs
This one needs a little prep the day before with some balloons and a freezer (see our step-by-step guide to making dinosaur eggs for all the instructions you'll need). But it's so worth it for the sheer thrill on your child's face as they discover the nest in your garden or backyard. And, once the eggs have been found, your child can have fun slowly pouring warm water from a bowl or jug – or even squirt warm water from a squeezy bottle or meat baster – to slowly melt away the frozen egg casings and reveal the dinosaurs inside.
5. Build a toy teepee
Help your child find a handful of sticks to tie together at the top with string. Drop a tea towel or two or over the top to make a tepee for your child’s toys. Enjoy the pretend-play that follows: who knew Teddy was so bad at going to sleep properly?!
- Rather buy a play tent instead? See our pick of the best kids' teepees and play tents
6. Create arty bark (or coin) rubbings
All you need to make great rubbings are chunky crayons and large sheets of paper – old newspaper is fine. Put the paper over a lovely gnarly bit of tree bark and then rub with the crayon to produce a print. If you can't find any suitable trees in your garden or park, your child could make rubbings, in the same way, with coins from your purse. The finished rubbings make great wrapping paper for birthday presents – a lovely way to show off your child's artwork.
7. Do some mud painting
Find a patch of dry earth. Fill a bowl or jug with water and let your child pour it onto the earth to make a little mud puddle. Or, for a slightly less messy alternative, you could add the earth to the bowl and mix your mud in there. Lay out a large piece of paper on the ground (you can weight it down with stones at the corners) and let your child paint with the mud – either using their fingers or paintbrushes or even nearby twigs.
8. Play the Spotting Game
Download and print out our free 'Today I have seen' template and take it with you as you and your child go on a walk round your neighbourhood. What can you spot while you're walking? Can you tick off any of the things on the list?
9. Make your own ice lollies
What makes an ice lolly even more lovely than usual? When you've made it yourself. And your child can do just that – with a little help from you. Put some squash or fruit juice into a jug and show your child how to pour it out gently into separate plastic cups or (empty) yoghurt pots or shop-bought moulds. Add small slices of banana or strawberries, if you like, stick a teaspoon in each one (unless your mould has a 'stick' included), pop in the freezer – and stand impatiently in the kitchen until they frozen enough to eat.
10. 'Blow out' dandelions
This is such simple thing but it's a source of endless preschooler joy – and a lifesaver if you're pegging out the washing! Pick some dandelions and show your child how to blow on them and send the fluffy seeds flying. If they have difficulty grasping the idea of blowing (rather than blowing raspberries!), you could try giving them a straw to blow through at first. Once they've got the idea, you can challenge them to see how few blows it takes them to blow all the seeds away.
11. Play the balloon toss game
Fill a few (uninflated) balloons with a few spoonfuls of rice (use a funnel or a thin cardboard tube to make this easier). Knot one end of a longish piece of string or ribbon around the balloon neck. Now make your 'targets': chalk a few biggish, separate circles on a pavement, backyard or driveway. And then, a little distance away, draw a 'launch line' for your child to stand on. Hand your child a rice-filled balloon to hold by the end of the string or ribbon and see if they can toss it so it lands in a target circle.
12. Make a nature table
From pieces of fallen-off tree bark, twigs and flowers to leaves, bird’s feathers and plain old pebbles, there’s loads of natural treasures to find and collect when you and your child go exploring together. Give your child a bowl to collect things in and then, when you're both home, set up a little table to display found treasures on – and help your child label them with sticky notes. Add to your table over several weeks, even as the seasons change, and encourage your child to show off their finds to visitors with a little show-and-tell session.
13. Make leaf and grass art
For a slightly different twist on nature-collecting, gather up all of one day's collected petals, grass, leaves, flowers, seed pods and twigs, find a big piece of paper (or 2), and let your child glue their nature treasures into a picture collage.
14. Hatch a butterfly
Find a caterpillar that you can watch turn into a butterfly or moth. June and July are the best months to for finding them: don't pick up one from the ground – you need to find one on a leaf, so you know what to feed it (most caterpillars only eat 1 type of plant). Once you’ve found your caterpillar, put it in a large plastic container with holes punched in the lid, and add in a few stems and leaves of the plant you found it feeding on. Feed it every day with the same plant type. Once it’s in its chrysalis (for butterflies), or cocoon (for moths), it’ll take a month or so to hatch out. When it hatches, you and your child can release it in the same spot you found it – and watch it flutter away.
15. Play Listening Lions
This take on the classic children's game Sleeping Lions is great way to calm down after lots of running around. Lie down on your back and get your child to do the same. Tell your child you're both sleepy lions who need a rest, You're both going to close your eyes and see you can be still for the longest – no fidgeting! Play the game this way a couple of times so your child gets the idea – then introduce the twist: next time, you'll both close your eyes and lie still for 30 seconds and listen to the sounds around you. When the time's up, tell each other what you heard.
16. Play Nature Circles
Take a piece of string, tie it in a medium-sized circle and place it on the grass. Then get your child to lie face down and talk about what they can see within the circle. Move the circle to different area of grass – can they see anything the same? Anything different?
17. Do some ice painting
Fill a bowl or plastic crate with ice cubes. Put some red, yellow and blue paint into (separate) squeezy bottles, with a little water to make the paint a bit more fluid. Let your child squeeze some paint from 1 of the bottles onto the ice cubes and watch them change colour. Then they can squeeze another colour in – what happens to the colours in the crate of ice? Repeat with the 3rd colour. By this time, your ice may be melting: but that's fine – time for some (colourful) water play!
18. Play Avoid the Crocodile
Tear newspaper into sheets and arrange them randomly around outside to make stepping stones. In the middle of your stepping stones, arrange several sheets to make a larger island. Tell your child their challenge is to jump from 1 stepping stone to the next until they've visited them all but, when you shout 'Crocodile!', they have to jump back to the island as quickly as possible.
19. Play balloon tennis
Blow up a balloon and show your child how to pat it up in the air and over towards you – for you to pat back. See how long you can keep your balloon 'rally' going. You could even use your washing line as a 'net', if you like. If your child gets really into the game, you could even make 'rackets' – using 2 wire coat hangers and a pair of tights. Cut the legs off the tights, bend the coat hangers into a diamond shape (and squash the hook down into a short handle, then, holding the 'handle', push the rest of the coat hanger down the leg of the tights, so that the nylon stretches over the wire, knot the rest of the tights legs around the handle, pad with cotton wool and secure with sticky tape. Your serve!
20. Hunt for treasure
Treasure hunts are super-fun for preschoolers. Give your child simple picture clues to find or write short clues that you can read out, such as ‘Look under a plant pot’ or ‘Find the next clue under a yellow flower’. Don't forget to make sure that the last clue leads to a little prize!
- Free downloadable treasure hunt clues (they're mostly Easter-themed but 'toddler' clues are also great for preschoolers – and work all year round)
Tara is mum to 1 daughter, Bodhi Rae, and has worked as Content Editor and Social Media Producer at MadeForMums since 2015
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