I remember the days when playing outside was one of the most fun things about being a kid and we loved all types of outdoor play.
Nowadays, the world is a very different place and although advances in technology are great, they’ve also led to kids spending less and less time playing outside. That doesn’t mean that outdoor play is any less important now than it was years ago. But it does mean we all need to figure out ways to get kids out of their online virtual world more and into the real world more.
And one great way to do that is to encourage them to play outside.
Outdoor play is extremely important for kids and this article will explain how outdoor play helps your kids develop, give you some ideas for things your kids can do outdoors, some fun family outdoor activities and lots more.
- Why It’s Important For Children To Play Outside
- Outdoor Games And Activities
- Outdoor Play Toys
- Outdoor Play Area Ideas
- Benefits of Outdoor Play
Why It’s Important For Children To Play Outside
Outdoor play helps your child develop in many ways including physically, intellectually and emotionally. While kids will develop naturally to some degree, they also need to exercise their minds and bodies and make real-life connections with friends and peers in order to reach their full developmental potential.
In order to for your child to adequately develop their gross motor skills, they need to have space to exercise their large muscle groups by engaging in activities such as running, jumping and hopping. Many times playing inside just doesn’t give them the room they need to really get into more physical activities.
Playing outside on a regular basis, even if it’s in a small area, is a great way to help your child develop physically. Overall, playing outside allows kids to be more active than playing inside and that increased exercise can not only help prevent obesity, it can also keep blood pressure and blood sugar levels within normal ranges.
On top of that, the sun helps stimulate your child’s body’s production of Vitamin D which is essential for healthy, strong bones. In addition to the physical benefits, studies show that children who are encouraged to spend time outside are less stressed, feel more balanced emotionally and have greater self esteem.
Other studies done specifically on children with ADHD have proved that allowing kids with this condition to have access to green areas on a daily or frequent basis helps calm some of the child’ hyperactivity.
If outdoor play can help calm a hyperactive child, think of how a child not suffering from hyperactivity can be benefit from the calming influence of playing outdoors!
There are even studies and anecdotal evidence that suggests that spending time outside in the fresh air sunshine helps improve mental focus and recharges the mental batteries of both children and adults.
All things considered, it’s easy to see that outdoor play is important to your helping your child grow up healthy and happy physically, intellectually and emotionally.
Outdoor Games And Activities
If you leave your child to their own devices outside, they’ll have no trouble finding all kinds of games and activities to amuse themselves. From cloud watching (a childhood favorite of mine) to make believe adventures to bird watching to catching butterflies; the sky is (quite literally) the limit!
While structured play is important, keep in mind that when it comes to playing outside, it’s also essential to allow your child to have some free play time. That’s when their imagination and creativity really soars and they learn that they can do for themselves which, in turn, increases their confidence and self esteem.
But at different stages and ages or if your child is easily bored, they may need help coming up with ideas for outdoor play.
When they’re younger, playing with them is a wonderful way to help them enjoy being outside. And as they get older, giving them suggestions and even joining in the fun can really help your child get the most from playing outside!
With that in mind, here are some ideas for games and activities for various age groups:
Although infants can’t play games with rules or use equipment, there are still lots of ways you can help your baby have fun outdoors.
Spending a few minutes in a shaded area or infant play yard playing with their toys or simply observing nature is wonderful stimulation for your baby. And if you want to actively engage with your infant, classic games such as peek-a-boo or singing songs such as ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ are great ways to help your baby enjoy being outside.
1-3 Year Olds
Outdoor games for toddlers should be simple and have few rules. Games such as tag, Duck Duck Goose and Red Light Green Light are great fun to play outside in wide open spaces. And at this age many toddlers love large balls of any kind so they’ll enjoy rolling, catching and kicking different types of balls with you or friends and siblings.
Other outdoor activities for your toddler include going on nature walks, trying to catch bugs with a net. playing in a sand box or frolicking in an outdoor kiddie pool.
4-5 Year Olds
Preschoolers are a little more steady on their feet and have better developed motor skills. In addition to the games they played as toddlers, your preschool age child may also enjoy playing such games such as follow the leader, leap frog, monkey-in-the middle and races of any kind.
By the time your child starts kindergarten, they are really beginning to enjoy playing with other kids.
While kindergarten age kids enjoy playing many of the same games as preschoolers, this is also a great time to introduce your child to organized outdoor sports such as T-ball and soccer.
Other games and activities that tend to be big hits for kids this age include ring toss, hop scotch, jump rope, hide and seek, Red Rover, flying kites as well as all types of races.
6-9 Year Olds
In addition to many of the games they played when they were younger, elementary age children often enjoy engaging in more physical games such as dodgeball, football and basketball. Kids this age also love to engage in squirt gun and Nerf gun fights and sword fighting.
Also great fun for kids between the ages of 5 and 10 are all types of sports including soccer and baseball. All types of Frisbee, lawn darts and lawn bowling are also lots of fun for kids this age. And what kid this age doesn’t love riding their bike?
And winter brings on a whole different world of fun outdoor activities including sledding, skating, hockey, skiing and the age old favorite – a snowball fight!
10-12 Year Olds
By the time your child gets to be this age, they’re probably spending more and more time hanging out with their friends. So they enjoy participating in outdoor games they can play with friends such as pick-up basketball or baseball games.
They also enjoy sporting activities such as skiing, skating, sledding, snowboarding and, of course, bike riding.
Many kids between the ages 6 and 12 years join organizations such as the Boy or Girl Scouts and enjoy group activities such as nature hikes, camping, canoe trips and rock climbing.
Teenagers love playing outside every bit as much as younger children do, and there are lots of outdoor activities and games that hold their interest. Basketball and volley ball continue to be classic favorites, as well as soccer, touch football, skateboarding and bike riding.
Teens who love the water enjoy surfing, paddle-boarding, swimming and snorkeling.
In the winter, teenagers enjoy a variety of things including snowmobiling, sledding, ice skating, snowboarding, snowshoeing and skiing.
At this age, a lot of teenagers prefer group sports where they get to hang out with their friends. Some teens also like solo sports, especially if they are trying to focus on improving their skills and becoming the best that they can be.
Family Outdoor Games And Activities
It’s wonderful when families spend time together outdoors and there are lots of fun things to do as a family. Picnicking, camping, fishing and boat rides are great fun in the summer and winter activities include making a snowman, sledding parties and family ski trips.
That being said, there’s plenty of fun to be had without even leaving your own backyard. Some excellent outdoor games for families include baseball, Frisbee, ring toss, croquet, football and many other games where rules can be modified to meet the needs of younger or older players.
Whether they’re by themselves or with family or friends, there’s simply no end to the fun outdoor activities and games that kids can play. And kids are given lots of time to play outside, it’s remarkable what kind of fun and games they can make up.
Outdoor Play Toys
Outdoor play toys run the gambit from extremely inexpensive to top of the line. There are toys made to play outside with that fit every kind of budget and every interest your child has.
The list of toys that are suitable for outdoor play is practically endless and we’re happy to give you these suggestions:
Outdoor Toys For The Home Environment
When it comes to toys that your child can play with outside at home, there are plenty of great ones. Sand box toys such as buckets, shovels, rakes, sand molds, dump trucks and other construction vehicles such as excavators all make wonderful for toddlers and preschoolers. They’re tons of fun and will keep your little one happily engaged for hours!
Toy cars and trucks, all kinds of balls, Frisbees, boomerangs, jump ropes, hula hoops, any kind of push toy such as a toy lawnmower, a trampoline and bubble blowers are just some of the great outdoor toys for kids of all ages.
If your child is into toy weapons, there are all kinds of Nerf guns, crossbows and other toy weapons that are ideal for outdoor play. An added bonus is that this type of outdoor activity allows kids to get some exercise and burn off a ton of excess energy while they’re chasing each other around!
Tire and rope swings as well as climbing ropes are inexpensive toys for yards that have a large tree with a sturdy branch. Backyard playsets are always a big hit with kids as they usually have more than one fun activity that kids can do.
These playsets come in several varieties containing more or less features so most families can choose the play set that best meets their budget. Plus they’re usually designed to be suitable for preschool age kids right on up to middle school age kids.
Wading pools and sprinkling systems for kids to run through classic favorites of many kids on hot summer days. Plus they offer a opportunities for children to play in a variety of different ways.
Yard games such as ring toss and darts that can easily be set up and taken down offer entertainment for older kids and work well in smaller yards. A volleyball net and ball, tetherball, a basketball hoop or a badminton set are also great ideas for older kids.
So no matter what size of outdoor space or backyard you have or what your budget is, there are tons of enjoyable outdoor toys for kids of all ages!
Outdoor Toys For Kids On The Go
Of course not all outdoor toys are meant to be used in your backyard. Many toys are best suited for parks, sidewalks around your neighborhood, pools and beaches.
Ride on toys are tons of fun for kids of all ages and there are many great options including electric cars, trucks, tractors, quads and motorcyles. There’s something for every age group and budget!
And then there’s all the different types of outdoor equipment for summer including wagons, trikes, bikes, scooters and skateboards.
Pool or beach-time outdoor equipment include squirt guns, noodles and other flotation devices, masks and snorkels, beach balls and dive toys that sink when thrown into the pool are all a blast during the summer months.
When winter sets in, it’s time for to bring out sleds, ice skates, toboggans, skis and snowboards.
Other outdoor toys kids really enjoy include remote controlled vehicles such as cars, trucks, planes, helicopters and drones.
Kid Made Outdoor Toys
Not all of the toys and games your child plays needs to be bought at a store. When I was a kid lots of families didn’t have much disposable income so store-bought toys were a luxury, not a given. But we didn’t mind – we just made our own toys and games.
We’d throw an inexpensive hula hoop on the ground and take turns seeing who could get their rocks inside or closest to the hoop.
At Christmas time we had tons of fun using the empty wrapping paper rolls for sword fights and other pretend play.
Since we had a large yard, most of the neighbors came to our house to play and we would enjoy games such as dodgeball and Red Rover. And we loved staging all kinds of dramatic play from being pirates looking for treasure, to building forts using snow in the winter and cardboard boxes in the summer.
Or we’d make our own bean bags simply taking scraps of cloth, filling them with rice or beans, taping or pinning them shut. And then we’d use them to knock down cans we’d set up on fences or stumps.
And then there were times we’d turn our backyard into a pretend jungle. We’d take plastic peanut butter jars, poke holes in the lids and then go see what little creatures we could capture and bring back to our jungle!
For water play fun, even the kids whose parents didn’t allow them to play with squirt guns joined in the fun by filling cans and buckets with water and chasing each other around. And since we always had balloons in the house, filling them up and having balloon water fights was easy and great fun!
And everyone always wanted a turn with the Big Kahuna itself…the much sought after garden hose! When somebody else got a hold of that baby, you knew you had to skedaddle or end up soaking wet!
So even without many store-bought toys we still managed to make our own toys and games and had tons of fun with them outside, no matter what the weather was like.
While buying outdoor toys and play equipment for your child is awesome, it’s also good to simply provide them with a few raw materials and allow them to make their own outdoor toys. You’ll be amazed at the things they come up with!
Outdoor Play Area Ideas
Today with more and more parents living hectic lives and working indoors, many people love to get outside in their free time. Getting outside in your spare time is one of the most wonderful ways for a family to bond. Depending on what kind of yard or outdoor space you have, you might want to designate certain areas of it to specific uses.
One of those uses might be an outdoor play area and there are many ideas for creating a fantastic space that both you and your kids can enjoy.
Outdoor Play Areas For Infants And Toddlers
Many families make a special effort to create an outdoor play area for babies and toddlers to help keep them safe while spending time outside. Having a designated area such as this also makes it easier for parents to keep an eye on a infants and toddlers.
Some parents simply take their indoor playpen outside and set it up in a convenient location while others purchase infant play yards with shade. Many of these play yards offer extension pieces so that you can increase the size of the play area as your child grows.
Play areas for older children often spring up organically when parents purchase play forts and other playsets for their children. Many playsets include swings, slides, climbing ladders or climbing walls, a built in fort on top and a sandbox all in a compact area.
This establishes a play area simply because there are lots of different activities that your child can do all in one place.
Outdoor Play Structures
Outdoor play structures can offer your child a variety of imaginative ways to play. Some parents are surprised at how a child can take a simple play structure such as a slide and use it in ways they would never have imagined.
Here’s a look at some play structures that are offer kids a number of fun, imaginative and creative ways to play:
Natural Play Structures
While some people think of play structures as purely man made, there are a number of natural play structures that kids can enjoy.
For example, a weeping willow tree with branches that reach the ground makes for a great play cave or play fort for all different types of adventures.
A rock pile can be turned into a mountain and a tree provides great climbing adventures for an active child. Hedges can serve as walls and a circle of trees or shrubs can hold a tarp to make a open-sided play house.
When Mother Nature is the canvas, the choices are limitless!
Commercial Play Structures
There are all kinds kits you can buy to build play structures you can buy for your child to play in. Here’s a list of some of the options you have when it comes to commercial play structures:
- Playgrounds: With swings, slides, monkey bars and other built in activities. These structures are great not only for playing with the equipment in the manner it was designed to be played with, but also for more imaginative ways. For example, kids can turn a slide into a mountain to climb up or use a sand box to dig for buried treasure.
- Playhouses And Forts: Playhouses and forts are great when played with as intended. But they can also be turned into hideaways for bandits, a drive through burger joint and many other things by creative and adventurous minds.
- Tents And Tunnels: There are a variety of different size tents and play tunnels you can purchase for your child to play in. These structures are ideal for smaller children and can be used as forts, play houses, caves and lots of other things during your child’s pretend play fun.
- Tree House Kits: If you’re not into building a tree house from scratch, there are many different types of kits you can use to build your child a tree house. These kits range from quite simple to more elaborate ‘Robinson Crusoe’ types of tree houses.
Kid Made Outdoor Play Structures
Keep in mind that providing outdoor play structures for your child doesn’t have to break the bank. In many cases giving your child a few simple materials can allow them to make their own outdoor play structures.
For example, providing your child with rope, some type of stakes and an old sheet will allow them to make their own play tent. They simply tie the rope between the stakes and spread the sheet on top, securing it to the stakes using more rope.
With some old two by fours, a couple of cement blocks and some used tires your child can make an obstacle course that they can share with their friends. Or a few long poles and a tarp will give your child everything they need to build their very own teepee.
So as you can see, with just a few simple materials and their imagination, your child will be able to make all kinds of fun home made outdoor play structures!
Benefits of Outdoor Play
There are many benefits of outdoor play for kids of all ages. Here’s a look of some of the benefits for different age groups:
Infants from birth to 1 year of age can get many benefits from spending a bit of time outdoors. Some of these benefits include:
- Stimulation of Their Senses: In their first year of life, your baby will use all 5 of their senses to learn about their environment and the world around them.Spending time outdoors with your baby will give them an opportunity to use their sense of sight, smell, touch and hearing to explore the natural world.
- Improve Overall Health: Exposing your infant to small amounts of sunshine and fresh air can result in healthier infants, compared to babies who spend most of their time indoors.Spending just a few minutes each day outside in the sun isn’t harmful for your baby and allows them to receive a nice dose of Vitamin D. If you’re worried about exposing your baby to direct sunlight, cover their skin and head and keep them out for 15 or 20 minutes.
1-3 Year Olds
Toddlers need to be supervised when playing outside. As a parent you want to provide your toddler with a safe area for them to play, away from the road and other dangerous things. But, as you can see, the following benefits your toddler gets from playing outdoors are well worth your effort:
- Development of Gross and Fine Motor Skills: Allowing your toddler space to run, opportunities to pull a wagon or push a toy lawn mower, giving them opportunities to dig in dirt or sand will help your child exercise their muscles and develop both fine and gross.
- Discovery of Nature: Playing outside allows your toddler to explore and discover nature on their own terms. If you watch your child wander around the lawn you’ll notice that they’re fascinated with the simplest acts of nature: ants building a hill, bugs crawling or birds in the trees.Or they’ll delight in picking some flowers, running barefoot in the grass and splashing around in puddles after a rain.
- Begins To Learn Safety Rules: Spending time with your toddler outdoors allows you to start teaching them safety rules that will prepare them to be more independent later in life. Spending time outside also lets your toddler learn to stay away from animals they are unfamiliar with, not to talk to strangers and to stay away from streets and roads.
- Practice Independence: Toddlers who are allowed to explore their own yard freely under parental supervision begin to experience feelings of independence and start to gain self confidence.
4-5 Year Olds
By the time your child reaches preschool and Kindergarten age they’re already becoming quite independent.
They are more likely dressing themselves with very little parental assistance and some preschoolers even choose the outfits they like to wear. They also engage themselves in more independent play by either entertaining themselves or playing with siblings or friends close to their own age.
Some of the benefits for outdoor play for 3 to 5 year olds include:
- Improved Socialization Skills: Engaging with others in outdoor play often requires your child to take turns, share their toys and to negotiate what and how they’re going to play. These are all great and important lessons that will help your child learn the socialization skills they will be using for the rest of their lives.
- Calming Effect: Studies show that when children spend time outside they are calmer and more relaxed. This can lead to better sleep habits and improved behavior. Children who feel calmer also are able to concentrate for longer periods of time and overall tend to be more cheerful.
- Stronger Body And Mind: Kids who play outdoors have more opportunity to run, jump, tumble and even roll, all of which helps strengthen their body physically. On top of that, exercising outside also helps improve your child’s thinking and early reasoning skills.
- Exploration Of Nature: Spending time out in nature allows your child to explore nature’s bounty such as different plants, insects, clouds, weather conditions and rocks. This helps them learn first-hand about nature and the world around them.
6-9 Year Olds
By the time your child reaches Elementary School they have already made friends and enjoy participating in group activities both indoors and outdoors. Spending time outdoors both alone and with friends offers several benefits for kids between the ages of 6 and 9 including:
- Improved Negotiation Skills: When children play in groups there are bound to different ideas on what and how to play as well as the rules of different games. This requires your child to engage in negotiations in order to get some of their views or ideas heard and used.In addition, there will be disagreements that your child will be engaged in and will need to learn how to handle.
- A Better Understanding Of The Natural World: Elementary school age children learn about the parts of flowers, the different seasons, why leaves change colors and a multitude of other things involving natural science.By spending time outdoors your child can see and observe what they are learning first-hand, which will help them better understand what they’re studying in school.
- Acquire A Wider Range Of Skills: Children develop certain skills from playing indoors, using computers, learning to talk softly and play quietly.When they play outside, they acquire other skills such as how to throw and catch a ball, how to navigate cross walks, a variety of skills associated with outdoor sports and lots of other skills that they simply can’t learn without the opportunity to play outdoors.
10-12 Year Olds
Middle School children also get many benefits from playing outside. Some of the benefits children ages 10 to 12 gain from outdoor play include:
- Exercise: Making sure that your child gets some exercise each and every day will help keep them fit and lay the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. It will also prevent them from developing health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease in the future.
- Socialization Skills: In order for your child to continue to be well socialized and get along with others, they need to experience all different types of social situations. Just like engaging with others in outdoor play helped develop their social skills when they were younger, it also helps as they get older.
- Opportunity To Develop Life Long Interests: Many adults who spent a lot of time outdoors during their childhood develop life-long hobbies and interests such as camping and birdwatching. These hobbies and interests simply make life more enjoyable.
As your child moves through their teen years, friends and peers have probably become just as important in their life as family. They’re thinking is evolving to include more of the world around them and they’re starting too look to their future.
Outdoor play for teens will build on the benefits they’ve already acquired in earlier years, including:
- Increased Physical Fitness: There’s a good chance that if your child continues with a healthy lifestyle during their teen years, it will carry through to their adult years. This will decrease the risk of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Reduced Stress: Teen years usually equate to more physical types of outdoor play and that can lead to reduced stress levels for your child. Running around the soccer field, playing football – any kind of physical activity is a great outlet for teens and an excellent way to decrease stress and anxiety.
- Enhanced Social Interactions: Outdoor play, especially team play, goes a long way to your teenager’s continued social and emotional development. Among other things, team sports teach teens about sportsmanship, healthy interaction with others and cooperation.Being outside in nature is an excellent way to enhance your child’s social interactions and bonding with their neighborhood and community. All these skills are really valuable and can make your teen’s transition from adolescence to adulthood smoother and more enjoyable.
There’s no doubt about it: Outdoor play time opens up an entire world for your child to enjoy and explore.
It also keeps them healthy and happy by allowing them to participate in a variety of activities they don’t have access to inside.
We hope we’ve given you some awesome suggestions for types of outdoor play so you and your kids can get out and enjoy the great outdoors!