Your toddler loves imitating what you do, so give her a bowl of water with some bubble bath in it and let her wash her doll blanket or toys’ clothes. Provide another bowl for rinsing and then let her ‘hang’ the clothes out to dry by stringing up a low-hanging washing line for her.
2 Make a pot-and-pan sandpit
“Sebastian loves playing with pots and pans in the garden – I give him about five old casserole dishes which are the perfect size for him to fill up with sand and water. They’re also a lot easier to clean and put away than a big sandpit.”
Rebecca, 28, mum to Sebastian, 15 months
3 Have a teddy bears’ picnic
Lay everything out as you would for a picnic, but invite all the soft toys to join in. Small plastic cups for your guests and little triangles of bread will complete the feast.
4 Have fun with feet
Broaden your toddler’s sensory knowledge by putting out different bowls. Fill one with jelly, one with wet mud, one with rice, one with sand and one with whatever you can think of. Ask her to close her eyes and dip her feet in, and describe how it feels.
5 Play push and pull
Sit on the grass face-to-face with your toddler with legs spread and your feet touching. Join hands and do a gentle back and forth stretch. You can sing while you do it and finish off with a kiss.
6 Play squish jelly
Make up a washing-up bowl full of jelly to play with outside, where there won’t be any mess. It’s fun to mould, squish and throw, and if some goes in your little one’s mouth it’s perfectly safe.
7 Cool off with hose dodgeball
Most toddlers enjoy being splashed with a hose. The ‘targets’ have to avoid being splashed, while the person who is ‘it’ tries to ‘catch’ a target by splashing them.
8 Have a water-balloon fight
Throw the balloons at your toddlers’ feet rather than their bodies, so they don’t get hurt, and make sure you pick up all the burst bits so your toddler isn’t tempted to eat them later.
“We invited one of Tom’s little friends, Sam, around, and they had a water-balloon fight instead. It was a great way to get outside, let off steam, cool off and water the plants into the bargain!”
Rebecca, 33, mum to Tom, 2
9 Blow bubble pictures
Stir some non-toxic liquid paint into a bottle of bubble mixture and show your toddler how to blow coloured bubbles onto a sheet of paper.
10 Paint footprints
Lay out several pieces of newspaper and then squeeze a few different colours of non-toxic liquid paint into paper plates. Let your toddler stand in the paint and then walk over the paper. Remember to keep a bowl of clean water handy for washing feet in between each go.
11 Colour the pavement
This works on quiet pavements, patios and driveway. Use coloured chalk that will wash off, and get creative. Make giant hand and footprints, or draw a traditional hopscotch grid.
12 Blow dandelions
“This is easily Daniel’s favourite garden activity – he absolutely loves blowing dandelions and it gives me a great excuse not to cut the grass! It’s also a lifesaver for keeping him amused when I’m trying to hang up the washing.”
Jane, 28, mum to Daniel, 3
13 Make a veggie patch
Give your toddler his own space on your veggie patch and don’t be afraid to let him get dirty – if he wants to make mud pies first, let him! Try planting vegetables that have big seeds, such as butternut squash, as your toddler will find them easier to handle and plant. Your toddler won’t have the patience to wait for months for plants to sprout, so opt for veggies that will appear quickly, such as red lettuce.
Mix flowers in between the veg, as they’re fast-growing and good for the environment. Encourage your toddler to look at the wildlife while he’s planting. Share in his excitement of finding bugs in the soil – he’ll find them fascinating even if you’ve seen them all before.
14 Try bucket gardening
While you’re working outside, give your toddler a small bucket or raffia bag and let him help with jobs like picking up cut grass or old leaves. He’ll relish the responsibility.
15 Bake mud pies
Tip some earth into a bowl (check for stones and insects) and add a little cold water until it’s a good, thick texture (if it’s too wet, it won’t be mouldable). Fill some yogurt pots or flowerpots with the mud and leave to dry. Then gently tip out and, hey presto, you’ve got baked mud pies.
In this forerunner to hopscotch, use chalk to draw flowers, stars or whatever you like at short but varying distances apart and see if your toddler can jump from one to the other.
17 Play the aim game
Place a bucket on the ground and get your toddler to take five steps back. Then see how many balls she can throw into the bucket. If she gets all of them in she takes another step back.
18 Play What’s the time, Mr Wolf?
Mr Wolf is ‘it’ while the rest of the children stand at the far end of the garden calling, “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” ‘Mr Wolf’, who’s standing with his back to the players, replies with a time, such as “4 o’clock”, for example, and the players take four steps towards him. The children ask again, and this time Mr Wolf might say, “10 o’clock,” at which point all the players move ten steps closer.
After a few calls, Mr Wolf suddenly answers, “Dinnertime!” and turns around and chases the players. Whoever is caught becomes the wolf the next time round. The game ends when everyone has been caught and had a chance to play Mr Wolf, or when they’re all exhausted.
19 Water spraying
Save old spray bottles from toiletries, rinse them out well and let your little one use them to water the garden. Do it from different distances to see where the spray goes.
20 Play the hot and cold game
Hide a little prize in the garden and let your toddler go off hunting for it. Use clues like ‘you’re too cold,’ to ‘warmer’ and ‘boiling hot’ when he finds the prize.