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With all the hype surrounding high-tech toys, not many folks are thinking about playing with their toddlers outside. Well, I’d argue that’s a mistake! Besides supplying a dose of fresh air, outdoor games promote a valuable sensory experience. Think back to how you played when you were young: the games may have been simple, but they were memorable (and a ton of fun!). Trust me, it’s time to harken back to old-fashioned play. Here are ten clever ways to get started:
Show your toddler that there’s so much more going on in your backyard than meets the eye! Call yourself explorers and seek out creepy-crawlies and flying creatures in the grass, trees, and plants. Explain that no harm should come to the critters, but go ahead and examine your finds with a magnifying glass or binoculars. Discuss what you see and imagine what might be living underground or hiding in places unseen.
Arm your little one with pint-sized yard tools and let him take a stab at “tidying up” the grounds. For example, give him the task of raking leaves into a pile (and jumping in them), pulling weeds from the lawn (and getting his hands dirty), or watering the garden (and playing with the hose). These are all stimulating and satisfying activities that he’ll beg to do again and again.
Hot summer days are made for water play! Whether you fill a kiddie pool or water table (check out this one, shown in image below), set up a sprinkler, or play with the hose, you can’t go wrong with a water feature. Bring out waterproof toys to put in the pool, chase each other through the sprinkler, or water the yard (and each other) with the hose. As long as cool water is involved, any activity is going to be a tangible and exciting treat.
You and your toddler can pass several hours with nothing more than a box of colorful sidewalk chalk. Instruct your little one to lie on pavement and trace her outline and then ask her to do the same for you. Color in the figures, adding on hats, clothes, and facial features. Make a hopscotch grid and take turns jumping on different numbers. This activity is both physically and mentally challenging for your little one who is learning about numbers, sequencing, and patterns. You can also write your names and practice letters, draw faces with different expressions, and draw simple animal shapes and make their sounds as you jump on them. The possibilities are endless!
Hide and seek
This is a game that probably every toddler has enjoyed indoors, but it’s even better outside. You can play in your own yard or head to a park. If your little one is a bit cautious, make sure he has a partner at his side. Nothing beats the thrill of discovering clever hiding places and kids can’t resist an opportunity to “disappear” from the watchful eyes of a parent (even just for a few moments).
If you have a park nearby with a sandbox consider yourself lucky! Alternately they can be purchased online and installed fairly easily in your own backyard (complete with a cover to keep animals and neighborhood kids out). This is a great spot to indulge in imaginative play. Encourage your toddler to make sand-cakes; see who can build the tallest sandcastle; bury and dig; or just enjoy the feeling of the sand sifting between fingers and toes.
Catch and kick
Don’t underestimate the fun that can be had with a simple ball — whether it’s a beach ball, a tennis ball, or a soccer ball it’s classic for a reason. Playing catch or kicking a ball around is a super way to not only burn off extra energy but also hone coordination and build strength. If your toddler is struggling to master ball skills, it also becomes a perfect opportunity to show the importance of practice and patience.
Planting seeds and caring for a garden offers a chance to witness the natural life-cycle of plants and nature. You can start a plot in your own backyard or check if your area has a neighborhood garden you can participate in, but even small spaces and apartments can get in on the goodness with container gardening. Let your toddler be involved in the entire process, from choosing
which seeds to use (ensure success by offering appropriate choices), planting, watering, weeding, and even harvesting when the time comes.
Here’s something the whole family can do together. Plan a day trip to a spot with a variety of nature trails. Pack up provisions like snacks, water, sunscreen, bug spray, blankets or towels and sensible shoes. Feel free to discuss the idea of nature conservancy or just bask in the beauty of your surroundings. Foster an appreciation of nature and our planet, and build a thirst for adventure!
Wash and ride
How about a neighborhood “car” wash? Set up shop with a hose, a bucket, soap, sponges, and rags (or go crazy with a fun setup like this). It’s time to clean up the neighborhood tricycles, go-karts, scooters and more. Once the clean-up is complete, organize a quick parade around the block to show off everyone’s shiny-as-new wheels.
It’s time to unplug and play
Modern technology has changed the way we approach just about everything, from communication and education to entertainment. While this is mostly a positive movement, there’s something to be said for laying off the devices for a certain amount of time every day. In my mind, there’s no better time to unplug than when you’re playing with your toddler outdoors.