Outdoor play promotes kids’ well-being and social and physical development. Enjoy some fun in your own backyard, on your baby’s terms, in a familiar territory. Use these ideas to get started.
1. Sandbox Diving
Gather ahead of time: A bucket of sand (order the sand online or pick up at a craft store), shovel, colander, pail, and child-safe animals or plastic figures.
How to get started: Pour sand into an empty large container. Round 1: Encourage your child to scoop up and play with the sand, using a pail or shovel. Round 2: Show her how to transfer sand from the pail to the bucket, and back again. Round 3: Repeat with the colander and share a giggle. Round 4: Bury toys in the sand and help your baby or toddler find them. (She can dig on her own if she’s able to). Optional: Combine water and sand to change the texture.
What she learns or develops: Object permanence, cause and effect, fine motor skills, and hand-eye coordination.
2. Outdoor Concert
Gather ahead of time: Scratch-proof pots, pans, lids, pie tins, baking dish, and wooden and metal spoons. Find an outdoor space large enough to house your makeshift orchestra. (Set aside stuffed animals or dolls to create an audience later.)
How to get started: Place the pots and pans—the make-believe instruments—in a line or semi-circle near your pint-size composer. Give your baby a spoon and show him how to produce sounds by tapping utensils on cookware. Optional: Sing along while he bangs out a tune so he makes the connection between vocals and instrumentals.
What he learns or develops: Cause and effect, hand-eye coordination, and large and small motor skills.
3. Homemade Bubble Bonanza
Gather ahead of time: Dishwashing soap, a tub of warm water, glycerin (to make extra-strong bubbles), a rimmed baking sheet, a wand (a plastic hanger, chenille sticks, straws, or a child-size hula hoop).
How to get started: Add one cup of dishwashing soap to a gallon of warm water. Mix in two or three tablespoons of glycerin. Pour into tray. Show your little one how to dip the wand into the solution, lift it out, and slowly release a giant-size bubble. Pop it together. Option: Add food coloring or use a variety of wands in different shapes and sizes to give each bubble its own look and personality.
What she learns or develops: Sizes, shapes, colors, and hand-eye coordination.
4. Mud Handprints
Gather ahead of time: Water, soil, sturdy plastic or paper plates, a plastic knife or spatula.
How to get started: Coat a plate with a thick layer of mud (a combo of soil and water). Skim to make it smooth and even. Show your child how to press an open hand into the mud and remove it gently, without smudging the handprint. Air-dry the masterpiece to use for an at-home show-and-tell or decoration.
What he learns or develops: Hand-eye coordination, motor control, and cause and effect (combining soil and water).
5. Water World
Gather ahead of time: A large bucket or plastic pool, plastic bottles with caps, bowls, toys, measuring cups, and measuring spoons. Also: A change of clothes or swimsuit.
How to play: Fill basin with water. Show your aqua-explorer how to scoop water and pour it back into a container. Float or dunk objects. Let her experiment with large and small containers or empty and full bottles, or help her step into a full pool to splash around, create water waves, and make hands or feet water prints. (Note: never leave your child unattended around water.)
What she learns or develops: Cause and effect, motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and comparisons (warm, cool, large, small, wet, dry, full, empty).
6. Patio Toy Toss
Gather ahead of time: Stuffed animals, stuffed balls, other soft objects, a laundry hamper, toy basket or bucket, and masking tape.
How to play: In an open space with no obstructions, have your toddler stand behind a line of tape. Place a hamper full of child-safe toys beside him. Demonstrate how to toss toys into the bucket with underhand and overhand maneuvers. Cheer for hits and misses. Optional: Increase the challenge with an over-the-shoulder throw or a between-the-legs toy toss.
What he learns or develops: Large and small motor skills, strength, accuracy, and hand-eye coordination.