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Healthy Outdoor Play Ideas By Age

​​Playing and being in nature is good for children's health and well-being on so many levels. Children play harder outdoors, and so getting them outside can help with motor development and overall physical health. Exploring nature is a way to nurture children's curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. Spending time outdoors can help children lower their stress and increase their focus.

Here are some outdoor play ideas to try, based on your child’s age:​​

  • Outdoor Play Ideas for Babies & Toddlers


    • ​ ​​Take story time outside.

      Reading ​with your child is one of the best ways to develop strong emotional bonds, helping build a sense of security is essential for growth and development. Grab a blanket and a few books and find a shady spot for outdoor story time. Ideally, bring along books that are set outside so you can help your child make connections: "Oh, look, a picture of a cloud. Let's look up in the sky to find a cloud!"

    • Go on a guided tour.

      Put your baby in a carrier or a stroller and head out for a walk. Pretend you're a tour guide; try to see your neighborhood through the eyes of someone who has never been there before. Describe out loud all that you see in as much detail as possible: "This is where your big sister skinned her knee learning to ride her bike. That's the apartment building where our friend lives. I think it was built a long time ago..." If your baby is in a stroller, stop and squat down to their level, see what is getting their attention and talk about it. This kind of running commentary helps kids learn vocabulary and communication skills.

    • Break out the bubbles & balls.

      Blow bubbles and challenge kids to chase them and either catch or pop them. Who can make the biggest bubble? Who can make a double bubble? A fun activity for toddlers is to fill a bucket with water and some dish detergent. Give the child a whisk to stir up the bubbles and explore their properties. Ball play is another great way to engage this age child outside. Sit on the grass across from one another and roll a ball back and forth. This not only builds motor planning and balance skills, but also helps teach social turn-taking and watching each other's body language.

  • Outdoor Play Ideas for Preschoolers


    • ​​ ​​Start a nature collection.

      When outdoors with kids, encourage them to look for wonder in the natural world! Rocks, acorns, leaves, pinecones, seashells, vials of sand from beaches visited—these all make for great collections for kids! And collecting helps build focus, patience, and commitment as kids learn to discern what makes an object worthy to be added to their treasures. Find a place in their bedroom or outside where they can safely keep these items, and return to them again and again.

    • Go for a silly stroll.

      Take a cue from Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks​ skit​ and go for a silly stroll. Challenge kids to tiptoe for half a block, turn in circles as they walk, march with high knees, or wiggle their hips and shimmy their shoulders. Then let kids call the shots! It might be fun to trade off being the "leader" with each block!​

    • Take imagination outside.

      The wonders of the outdoors can inspire new ideas. Trees and bushes can become hideouts, rock walls can become mountains for favorite figurines, while flowers can become jungles for toy animals. Let children draw make-believe worlds on the sidewalk in chalk, or creative obstacle courses to run! If your children tell you they don't know what to play, then think up something you played as a child.

    • Raise a yardwork helper.​​

      Many children may groan when asked to help out in the yard, but preschoolers are just the right age to give small, helpful tasks such as watering flowers. Preschoolers love to feel like helpers, and many yardwork tasks provide sensory input that can be calming.

  • Outdoor Play Ideas for School-Age Children


    • ​​ ​​Leave a trail.

      Help kids maintain important friendships by coordinating with the parents of your children's friends to send kids on "secret spy missions." The way it works is one family goes on a walk with some sidewalk chalk, drawing arrows and letters along the way to spell out a secret message. When that family returns home, they call or text the other family with the coordinates of the starting location for the "mission." That family follows the arrows and records the letters to spell out the secret message.

    • Take a walk-and-talk.

      School-age kids may find it easier to share how they are feeling while walking side-by-side with you rather than a face-to-face conversation. A short daily walk can be a great time for an emotional check-in with your child. It lets you see how they are handling any changes and challenges in their life and to let them know how you are there to help them through it all. Some children also open up while tossing a baseball or kicking a soccer ball back and forth.

    • Make a birdfeeder.​

      Birdfeeders are great ways to attract wildlife to your window or yard. It can be fun to look up the birds you see, keep a list and watch what time of the year different species come around.

    More information

    ​Playing Outside: Why It's Important for Kids
    Playing in the Yard: Tips to Keep it Safe and Fun for Kids​
    Ask the Pediatrician: What's the best way to protect kids' skin from sunburn?
    Monthly Play Printables​—Free activity sheets you can print for your child​​​​

Last Updated
Adapted from Melissa & Doug: Our Blog
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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