Depending on the space, you can create up to five fun activity centers by rigging, investing in, or repurposing a few simple, low-cost, or forgotten toys and equipment. If you follow your baby’s skills and interests, the activity centers here can keep your little one busy for hours.
Babyproof Your Yard
You’ll want to begin, of course, by making your backyard space as safe as possible. Remove obstructions and lock up or fence off swimming pools, lawn equipment, poisonous plants, and other hazards. Make sure railings and gates on balconies, porches, and decks are both sturdy and up-to-date—slats should be less than 3.5 inches apart, or covered with a strong mesh or another safety device. Then add a few low-cost, high-engagement items, inspired by the ideas here, to create a kid-friendly zone for your outdoor explorer. Try one or two suggestions to start, and then switch it up once in a while, depending on your child’s mood, the weather, your time, and budget.
The Five Things Every Yard Should Have
A place to splash
You don’t need a large, built-in, or above-ground pool to excite young children. An inexpensive wading pool or just a big bucket or two of water can be endlessly entertaining. Provide float toys, scoops, strainers, colanders, and pitchers that little hands can grab. Your toddler will love squirting, pouring, and dumping water, and experimenting with objects that sink and float. Younger babies will enjoy just splashing the lukewarm water on a hot day. Do remember that small children can drown in even a few inches of water, so attentive supervision is essential (as is sun protection).
A place to swing
Most small children love the sensation of swinging. If your space and budget allow, you might invest in a sturdy backyard swing-and-climb play set your children will use for years. Or you may be able to hang a baby-safe swing (one with a high back and leg holes) from a sturdy tree branch—if you have an accessible one in just the right spot. A porch or tire swing, a freestanding hanging chair, or a glider you can use with your baby or toddler, are other great options. Settle in together and read. Your little one will enjoy the sensory experience, your company, and the language he learns while sharing a book or a conversation with you.
A place to dig
Set up a sandbox if you like (cover with a lid to keep it cleaner), but your baby will also enjoy sand play in a large plastic tote or on a small plastic sand table. Playing with sand is a sensory experience that most—although not all—little ones enjoy. Supply kid-size tools your toddler can handle, such as shovels, rakes, and buckets. Toy trucks and animal figures are also perfect for sand play. Just make sure they are not choking hazards.
A place to move
Encourage physical development with toys that help your child move large muscles (arms, legs, and torso). Doll strollers, shopping carts, and kid-size wagons or wheelbarrows are fun for pretend play. They help kids learn to walk and use their arms to push and pull. Soft, large balls help little ones learn to kick, throw, catch, and run. A small store-bought plastic slide gives tots opportunities to climb a ladder—over and over again!
A place to paint
Keep the messiest activities out of the house by bringing them outdoors! A kid-size, washable picnic table makes a great place for messy projects, like planting, painting, and pasting.
You can also sit on pavers, pull up a chair at your patio table, or plop down on the grass; use a large cookie sheet or plastic tray to give your baby a level work surface. Try letting your miniature artist experiment with washable paints, shaving cream, play dough, or squishy foods like gelatin and pudding—it’s a sensory experience. Discuss colors and shapes.
Also essential for outdoor play: Bubbles!
Use a wand to blow bubbles your toddler can chase. Or add a few drops of baby shampoo to your water play bucket and let your little one splash in the foam.