1 Build your own Formula One track
Unravel a ball of string and lay it around a random pattern in the garden ending back where you began. Repeat the pattern so you’ve made a race track. Then send your toddler round on his ride-on car or trike.
2 Ladybird spotting
These gorgeous spotty creatures will really capture your tot’s imagination with their colourful shells and small bods. Hunt on leaves and patios for ladybirds and if you find one, let her gently hold it in her hand – she’ll love her new, exciting friend.
3 Play ice dancing
Play some music and pop a couple of ice cubes down the back of your child’s T-shirt. Then watch as he tries to make the ice cube fall out by wriggling around in time to the song.
4 Build a tee-pee
Find a handful of sticks and make a tepee for your child’s toys, tying the sticks together at the top with string. Or hang an old sheet or travelling rug from a tree to make a real-size tepee that your toddler can use as a tent.
5 Make your own ice lollies
You can buy lolly moulds quite cheaply, but if you don’t have any to hand, small, freezable plastic cups and teaspoons will do. Make some squash or fruit juice, pour into the cups (or moulds), stick in the teaspoons and freeze.
6 Float or sink
Fill a washing-up bowl with water and bring out different weight items for your toddler to experiment with, seeing whether they float or sink in the water. If your child’s older, he can divide the items into two piles. Those that drop to the bottom and those that stay on the water.
7 Paint with water
“For fun in the garden I give my boys a bucket full of water and a big paint brush and let them ‘paint’ the fence. They love drawing patterns on it and ‘painting’ the panels. A few hours later the sun dries it and they have no idea that they weren’t using real paint.”
Carol, 35, mum to Ben and Tom, both 4
8 Create arty rubbings
All you need to make great rubbings are chunky crayons and large sheets of paper – even old newspaper will do. Put the paper over any item that has a texture – leaves and bits of tree bark are perfect – and then rub with the crayon to produce a print. Use the rubbings to make wrapping paper for presents – the perfect way to show off your toddler’s art work. If your garden doesn’t have any trees, plant some coins out in the garden before you head out as these make excellent rubbings, too.
9 Make leaf and grass art
“A great way to spend time in the garden with your toddler is to take her out with her own bucket so you can help her collect some nature bits. Holly loves picking up petals, grass and leaves which we then bring indoors and use glue to make a picture with.”
Jessie, 33, mum to Holly, 3, and Jack, 6 months
10 Create funky T-shirts
For natural dyes, simmer one red cabbage for an hour to get a purplish colour, or the skins of about five big yellow onions for a browny yellow. For more vivid shades, use a cold-water dye, such as Dylon.
Take an old white T-shirt and tie bits of string tightly around it in clumps. Try bunching some of the cloth around a stone and tying it in place tightly. Submerge it in the dye solution and leave for an hour (simmering for home-made dyes or using according to the instructions on the shop-bought ones). Leave to dry, undo the string and rinse. Hang out to dry again and you’ll have a new T-shirt with lots of patterns.
11 Make a nature table
From pieces of tree bark to flowers, leaves to bird’s feathers, or just plain old pebbles, there’s a wealth of things to find when you go exploring together. Set up a table to display your treasure on and help your toddler label them with sticky notes. Add to your table throughout the summer. Let your toddler show off with a show-and-tell session to any visitors.
12 Plant hanging baskets
“Elysia and Amelia love helping me move their favourite plants from the garden borders into hanging baskets for the summer. Pretty pink ones are their favourite, and we all get messy planting them.”
Rozel, 36, mum to Elysia, 6, and Amelia, 3
13 Open a butterfly garden
Your toddler will be fascinated as the crawly creature turns into a butterfly or moth before his eyes. And it’s a great way to teach older toddlers about nature.
June and July are the best months to find a caterpillar, so start looking now. It’s worth noting here that you shouldn’t pick up a caterpillar you’ve found on the ground, as you won’t know what plant type to feed him and they often only eat one variety.
Once you’ve found your caterpillar, put it in a plastic container with holes punched in the lid, and take a few stems of the plant you found it feeding on.
As it grows, transfer the caterpillar into a bigger plastic container with holes punched in the lid, and with some more plant stems, as well as some earth and twigs. Feed it every day with the same plant type. Once it’s in the chrysalis (for butterflies), or cocoon (for moths), it’ll take a month or so to hatch. When it hatches release it in the same spot you found it, involving your toddler in the big release.
14 Make a nature park
Take a piece of string that you’ve tied into a circle and place it on the grass. Then get your toddler to lie face down and talk about what he can see within the circle. Move the circle to different areas of the garden to compare.
15 Play Nature Sleeping Lions
This take on the classic Sleeping Lions is great for calming down after a hectic day in the garden. The twist is, after a spell lying still, ask your toddler what nature sounds he’s heard.
16 Play Avoid the Crocodiles
Tear newspaper into sheets and arrange them randomly around the garden to make stepping stones. In the centre put a few more sheets to make the island. Tell your toddler he has to jump on the stepping stones to avoid the crocodiles but when you shout ‘crocodile’ he has to get back to the island as quickly as possible.
17 Hunt for treasure
“I set up treasure hunts for Gemma, which she loves. I give her garden clues such as ‘look under a plant pot’, or ‘find a clue under a yellow flower’, and the last clue leads her to a prize. We have great fun doing it and it keeps Gemma occupied for ages. It’s really easy to set up too – it takes a matter of minutes!”
Kate, 24, mum to Gemma, 3, and Jacob, 1
18 Homemade swing ball
Using one leg of an old pair of tights, put a tennis ball down into the foot and use the waist end and other leg to tie it to something pole-like (a rotary washing line is great, or even a slim tree or park lamppost).
With a tennis racket or a plastic bat, hit the ball round one way and then the next (make sure you change direction each time the ball is hit or you’ll end up winding it around the pole in seconds). This can be played by one or two children. The idea is to hit the ball back and forth for as long as possible. The loser is the one who can’t return the ball because it has wound itself too tightly around the pole.
19 Play balloon tennis
For this fun version of tennis you’ll need two wire coat hangers, a pair of tights (cut into separate legs and with the waist taken off), cotton wool, masking tape and a balloon.
Bend each coat hanger into a diamond shape and squash each hook in on itself so that it’s closed. Using the hook end as a handle, push the coat hanger down one leg of the tights to the bottom, so that the nylon is stretched and covering the wire frame in a bat shape. Knot the rest of the leg of the tights around the hook.
Take a handful of cotton wool (or a longish strip of loo roll) and clump it around the hook to make a squishy handle. Wind the tape round and round the end to secure, and you’ll have a tennis racquet. Using a balloon as a tennis ball, one child can try to keep the balloon in the air with the coat hanger ‘racquet’, or two can play a game of fun tennis.
20 Throw a wellie or two
A wellie-throwing championship is perfect if you have more than one little person to entertain. Mark out a circle in the garden and get each tot to throw a wellie boot to try and get it to land in the hoop.