Toddlers need lots of active play – and, on a sunny day (and, frankly, even on a slightly murky day), it’s great to get out of the house and run around outdoors in the garden, the backyard or the local park.
There are lots of fun outdoor games you can play with your toddler that don’t involve expensive materials or loads of pre-planning. And it’s good to have quite a few up your sleeve because, as we all know, toddlers don’t have the longest attention span in the world.
We’ve pulled together here some of our favourite toddler games for playing outside – from making a teddy bears’ picnic and chasing bubbles to stacking pebbles, spraying plants, painting with your feet and collecting bugs and leaves.
Here’s our pick of 20 amazing outdoor games to play with your toddler…
1. Do some washing
Toddlers love imitating what parents do – even those daily chores we don’t love, like washing clothes. So, set your child up outside for a toy-clothes washing session in the garden or backyard with a couple of bowls and some pegs. Pour some water into both bowls, then add a little squirt of bubble bath or washing-up liquid to 1 of them, for a nice bit of froth. Then your child can ‘wash’ their toys’ clothes and doll blankets in the frothy bowl, ‘rinse’ them in the plain-water bowl and ‘peg out’ (with your help) the washing on the line to dry.
2. Make a pot-and-pan sandpit
Get some pots and pans – or even an old casserole dish if you have one – and fill them up (separately) with water and sand (you can buy bags of play sand for £3 to £4 from Argos and Tesco). Add plastic jugs or cups and some plastic toys to bury or float – and you’re all set for play.
3. Slot some flowers
This lovely activity, first shared with us by mayasmoonplay on Facebook, is perfect for developing your young toddler’s fine motor skills. All you need is a colander and some flowers from your garden or around your local area – dandelions or daisies work best as their stalks are thin enough to fit through the colander holes. Place the colander upside down in front of your toddler and show them how to post the flower stems through the holes – and then watch as they take over and create their very own flower-studded masterpiece.
4. Invite the toys to a 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. Encourage your child to offer the toys something to eat and drink – and talk together about which food the toys like (and don’t like) and what the toys are chatting about. Don’t forget to remind the toys to say please and thank you – and to share nicely!
5. Get sensory – with feet
Sensory activities for small children are often very hands-based. This game is all about feeling with your feet! Get several low-sided plastic crates (big plastic bowls will do if you don’t have any crates) and fill each one with a different texture. It’s up to you (and what you can get your hands on) what you choose but our favourite ideas are dry rice, pasta, flour, old pillowcases or blanket, water, jelly, wet mud, and sand. Ask your child to close their eyes, then dip their feet in a crate, and say how it feels.
6. Play hide the teddy
Hide a teddy bear in your garden (or corner of the park) and get your child to look for it. When they’ve found it, they have to chase you around until they ‘tag’ you (touch you on the shoulder with the teddy). Then, it’s their turn to hide the teddy and, once you’ve found it, you have to chase your child around and tag them. Play as many rounds as you can until you’re exhausted!
7. Play squish jelly
Make up some jelly and plop it in a bowl to play with outside. It’s huge fun to mould, squish, pick up and squeeze – and if some goes in your child’s mouth every now and again, well, there’s obviously no need to stress…
8. Do some ‘magic’ painting
On a nice, sunny day, give your child a jug, cup or bowl of water and a paintbrush – and go outside to ‘paint’ the fence, the slide, the gate, the back door, a pavement slab or two. You can just ‘paint’ water all over or make patterns with stripes or hearts or dots. And when it’s all dry, you can start all over again…
9. Catch bubbles
Open a pot of bubble mixture and blow bubbles for your toddler to chase after and pop. With older toddlers, you can encourage them to try to catch the bubble without bursting it – show them how to slow down and hold out an open palm under a bubble. You could also challenge your child to see how long they can keep a falling bubble up – by blowing it, waving their hand under it or fanning it with paper….
10. Build your own racing track
Use string or wool (or chalk if you have a patio) to mark a winding figure-of-8 path that ends back where it starts. Then make another path, exactly following the first one but 1 metre or so away, so you end up with a track. Send (or push) your toddler round on their ride-on car, balance bike or trike. Accompanying driving noises essential!
11. Make some eggshell splatter art
This one’s definitely best done on a sunny day when you’re feeling super-chilled about making some mess. You’ll need to have quite a few eggshells saved already – or resign yourself to a several days of scrambled eggs ahead. But the joy children get from throwing paint-filled eggshells at paper is so worth it. See our step-by-step guide eggshell splatter painting for all the instructions you’ll need.
12. Stack pebbles
Take your toddler on a pebble hunt, picking up small stones and pebbles of different sizes and shapes (make sure you collect at least a few wide, flat ones, if you can). Then spread all your pebbles out on the ground and see if you can stack and balance them on top of each other to build a little tower.
13. Play toddler hopscotch
This is a simplified version of the traditional game. On a flat paved surface, use chalk to draw flowers, stars or circles at short but varying distances apart from each other. Your child has to try to jump from shape to shape without touching the pavement in between.
14. Make footprint art
Lay out several pieces of newspaper and then squeeze a few different colours of non-toxic liquid paint into separate paper plates. Get your toddler to choose 2 colours. Put the paper plates holding the colours they’ve chosen in front of your toddler and encourage them to put a foot on each plate – and then walk over the newspaper. Remember to keep a bowl of clean water and a towel handy for washing and drying feet in between each go.
15. Spray the plants
Fill a spray bottle with water and let your child use it to ‘water’ the plants in the garden. You can suggest they ‘water’ from different distances – and see where the spray goes.
16. Colour the pavement
Find some coloured chalk, a quiet pavement, patio or driveway and create some quick-to-wash-off fun. You can just sit and make marks together and/or try to draw round each other’s hands and feet. Or you can mix it up a bit with something a little more structured. Here are some of our favourite toddler pavement-chalk activities:
- Draw a letter or a number in white chalk – for your child to trace over with a coloured chalk
- Draw a letter or a number and get your child to place stones or leaves on the lines, tracing the shape
- Chalk several rectangles of different block colours and set your child on a mission to hunt for things in the same-coloured rectangle
- Draw a maze or a track for toy cars to ‘drive’ along
- Draw a long loopy line for your child to walk along. You can make this more of a challenge by seeing if they can do this without putting a foot outside the line
- Draw a big circle and then draw squares of different colours around the outside. You child stands in the centre circle and when you call out a colour, they have to jump onto that colour square. You can make this more difficult by calling out a sequence of 2 colours each time
17. Hunt for treasure
Hide a little prize in the garden and let your toddler go off hunting for it. Use clues like “You’re cold” to “You’re warmer” to “Ooh, boiling hot!” to help them find the treasure.
18. Play hose dodgeball
It’s simple, it’s silly and it’s very splashy! Just turn on the garden hose (a gentle stream, rather than a power jet, mind!) and see if your child can dodge the water and avoid getting wet as you point the nozzle in their direction. Be warned that – fair’s fair – Mum and Dad may have to take turns at dodging the hose, too!
19. Go on a bug hunt
Talk together about the bugs that live in the garden: ants, worms, ladybirds, spiders, snails. Then assemble some creepy-crawly hunting gear (wellies, plastic spade) and go looking. Show your child how to inspect leaves for ladybirds and snails and turn over the soil to hunt for worms. You could take some paper with you and keep a tally of how many bugs of each sort you find.
20. Make sticky nature art
Tape a big square of sticky-backed plastic to an outside wall – sticky side facing out. If you don’t have any sticky-backed plastic, you could tape up some lines of sticky tape (sticky side facing out) instead. Then it’s your child job to collect leaves, flower petals, grass, bits of bark and stick them onto the square (or lines) to create some nature art.