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Free Outdoor Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers to Do in the Backyard

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Marissa is the writer of ThePracticalMommy and the blog Mommy Knows What's Best. She is a stay-at-home mom to four and was a teacher.

Climbing on a jungle gym or climbing up to a tree house can be great exercise for kids!

Climbing on a jungle gym or climbing up to a tree house can be great exercise for kids!

Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids

I was sitting outside, watching my son play in the yard, when it dawned on me: he wasn’t playing with his toys or going on his slide. He was pointing out clouds, bringing me flowers, and finding bugs. What a wonderful way to spend an outdoor afternoon, and it didn’t require any store bought items to do so!

Here is a list of fun, "natural," and free outdoor activities you can do with your child in your own backyard:

Cloud Watching—Any Age

Most people have the tendency to look down no matter what they are doing. If they only took the time to look up on a beautiful day! My son and I did just that. We watched the clouds roll by, and identified any shapes or forms we saw in them. It was fun to witness the vast horizons of his imagination, and what an awesome way to relieve stress for me.

Required: a nice patch of grass and a bit of imagination

Kids Playing Outside

I Spy with My Little Eyes... Great Game for Toddlers!

Find colorful objects, plants or animals, like this Cardinal, to play I Spy.

Find colorful objects, plants or animals, like this Cardinal, to play I Spy.

I Spy—Any Age

When you are outside, there are so many things to view and notice. A simple game of I Spy can open your eyes to even more that is seen by another’s perspective. I played this with my son on our nice spring day. “I spy with my little eye something that is red”, I called out. He went running through the yard, identifying all things red and kept going until he found the item. Then it was my turn. “I spy something that is green, Mama!” he giggled. Of course, he picks green, the color of all of the trees, grass, bushes, quite a few toys…

Required: knowledge of colors and a bit of patience

Rock Collecting and Digging in the Dirt: Fun for Toddlers or Preschoolers!

Find those rocks!

Find those rocks!

Rock Collecting—Ages 2 and Up

This isn’t an actual collection, per se. It’s more of gathering all sorts of rocks, making a pile and then sorting them out. I set a timer (on my cell phone), and we run about collecting as many different rocks as we can find. When the timer is up, we count the rocks to see who has the most. We also take the time to note the different shapes, colors and sizes, although my son always seems to like the red stones in our landscaping…For older children, actually identifying the types of rocks could be fun as well. That may require a trip to the library for an education on rock, but that's for a different day.

Required: rocks, counting skills, possible trip to the library

Water Painting—Ages 1 and Up

This is a fun activity to do on a patio or sidewalk. You simply dip an old paintbrush (my husband is also an artist, so we have those around), a small broom, or an old sock into a small container of water and paint a picture. It’s fun to watch it fade away and paint another picture, again and again. You can play a game of tic-tac-toe with this idea; play it fast, before the game fades away!

Required: water, small container, old sock or paint brush, imagination

Make Your Own Bird Feeder!

Bird/Plant/Tree/Bug Identifying—Ages 2 and Up

Ok, so I put these all in the same category since they basically consist of the same concept: find a bird/plant/tree/bug, and name what kind it is. This depends on the area in which you live and it too may require some background knowledge or some crafty names you and your children come up with on your own. My son and I come up with our own names, which makes it all the more entertaining, since he’s a silly little toddler.

If you're going to try bird watching, why not make your own bird feeder? The bird feeder will attract wild birds that are common to your area. It's a fun and easy project for your children to help with too! When the birds arrive, take pictures and name the ones you see.

Required: eyes, big imaginations or knowledge of birds/plants/trees/bugs

Excellent Resource for Identifying Birds!

Climb a Tree! (Adult Supervision Required)

Climbing shorter trees can be fun for kids!

Climbing shorter trees can be fun for kids!

Any Other Ideas for Outside Fun?

Is there a ‘natural’ or free game/activity that you play with your children? Please share in the comments below! Thanks for reading.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Marissa (author) from United States on October 10, 2013:

Pinkchic18, Glad you like the ideas! :)

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on October 08, 2013:

Nice ideas here. It is always a task to keep little ones busy. Especially boys with lots of energy!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 19, 2012:

Glad you love it, Kelley! :D

kelleyward on April 19, 2012:

I love this hub! Thanks for adding mine to your list! Have a great day! Kelley

Marissa (author) from United States on April 14, 2012:

ComfortB, I'm the same way with bugs-- mostly with the gnats and annoying ones. They would keep me indoors all the time if it wasn't for my kids.

Have you tried any methods for getting rid of the bee nests? I believe there are natural (or chemical)ways out there to either get rid of the bee nests or make them want to relocate (a hose or sprinkler comes to mind...). Google could probably help with that one. ;)

I hope you're able to get outside in your backyard and enjoy it someday! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 14, 2012:

Turtlewoman, isn't it amazing how kids see beauty and wonder in all things? I bet the twins loved those walks. My 1 year old daughter is the same way now. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on April 14, 2012:

I must confess that I'm a deterrent to my six year old's desire to playing out more. I can't stand bugs and worms. When we moved here (Georgia) from NY, it was a totally different experience for me. I'm surrounded by beautiful wildlife, have a backyard play area that costs us thousands, and it's laying waste 'cause we've got wasp and bees nesting in it, and they come back every year. Plus my garden has been abandoned because of these bugs. lol.

Thanks ThePracticalMommy for sharing this. For my kids sake, we need to get out more and enjoy the scenery.

Kim Lam from California on April 13, 2012:

I adore this hub! Kids are fascinated with everything so they're quite easy to amuse! When I used to be a nanny, I would take the twins on a stroll every day. They were about 2.5 yrs old so every rock, sidewalk, tree, lemon, squirrel was entertainment for them. Needless to say, it made my job easier. And I love ISpy!, voted up and beautiful and all the smiles. :-)

Marissa (author) from United States on March 05, 2012:

farmloft, that's great that Grandma plays outside with the kids! I bet they love it. :) Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

farmloft from Michigan on March 04, 2012:

I spy something with my little eye and it is "read". Enjoyed your hub! When my grandkids come over they know to wear old clothes because they're going to get outside and get dirty at Grandma's.

Marissa (author) from United States on March 01, 2012:

Kelleyward, glad you loved it! Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

kelleyward on February 29, 2012:

Love this! Voted up and Shared!

Marissa (author) from United States on February 21, 2012:

rlaha, I too remember being outside playing quite often. It was always so much fun! I'm glad you found the hub to be useful! Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

rlaha from Spartanburg, SC on February 21, 2012:

Children need to get out and play more. I remember as a kid I would be playing hide and seek outside or riding my bike. I would also have sprinkler parties where we would put the sprinklers out on our lawn during the summers and my friends and I would run through them. Those were fun times! Thanks for sharing! Voted up, useful and interesting!

Marissa (author) from United States on February 10, 2012:

tillsontitan, I love taking the kids outdoors. We've been loving this winter because we've actually been able to enjoy being outdoors without freezing or getting sick (although we do miss the snow...). Collecting lightning bugs was a favorite pastime of mine when I was a kid, and I'm sure some day my kids will like it as well. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Mary Craig from New York on February 10, 2012:

How wonderful to take advantage of the great outdoors. New parents need to read this so they can keep their kids away from video games. My kids spent entire days outdoors. Collecting lightning bugs (fireflies) was always a favorite of my kids but I made sure they let them go before they went to bed. Loved this hub and voted up and useful.

Marissa (author) from United States on February 10, 2012:

Ruchira, your son sounds like my youngest brother who loves to find creepy creatures and keep them in a jar! That's a fun age too. For now, I'll stick with the I Spy and other simple games. I'm not ready to have any more 'pets' to take care of just yet! ;)

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

Ruchira from United States on February 10, 2012:

Hi Practical Mommy,

Such a beautiful hub. I remember playing most of the above with my once upon a time he 9 and loves to dig and find snails and caterpillars and all sorts of small creepy animals inside the

And then he will put them in a jar and bring them in the house...gross!!

This hub made me go back in I am still in AWE of it :) voted way up as beautiful :) Thanks! Gotta share it now and get all mom's to awe about it as well ;)

Marissa (author) from United States on January 31, 2012:

Nell Rose, I bet it was so much fun to live near a river when your son was little. I would have loved it! We take my kids to the local ponds and lakes to have fun like that. It is so much better than watching Tv or sitting in front of the PC all day. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

Nell Rose from England on January 31, 2012:

Hi, these are all great ideas, so many children these days just stay inside and play with the pc or watch tv, and of course these can be done mostly for free, and they learn so much. I remember when my son was small, we live near a river, and we always went fishing with the little nets on the end of the pole, I had a fishtank full of tiddler fish! lol! great fun!

Marissa (author) from United States on January 31, 2012:

arusho, I'm glad you like the ideas! It would be so much fun playing I Spy on a road trip, but we never could since my son and I get carsick so easily..we like to sing silly songs instead, and it keeps us busy. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Marissa (author) from United States on January 31, 2012:

Sunshine625, it's only just about 50* here, but it's soo nice! I'm glad you still have fun doing all of those things. They keep us young! My son wanted to play with his chalk today, but it was ruined from being left out in the rain/snow. We opted for a walk with his scooter. He was even more adorable with his little helmet on, trying to keep up with his sister and me.

Have fun! Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)

arusho from University Place, Wa. on January 31, 2012:

Good ideas. My daughter already does the rock collecting thing and I spy, which is great to play on long car drives. Great hub!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on January 31, 2012:

I still like doing all the activities in your poll...chalk is my favorite though:) Your son is adorable! Your ideas were very creative! It's 80* today and I'm looking forward to going out to play soon!:)

Marissa (author) from United States on October 23, 2011:

prektjr.dc, this time of year is perfect for collecting leaves and making crayon rubbings! Thanks for reading, commenting and voting up. :)

thefamilytoolkit, fort-building is fun as well. That's at the top of my son's list now-a-days. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

thefamilytoolkit on October 23, 2011:

Great ideas, thank you! I also think fort-building is a fun activity.

Debbie Carey from Riverton, KS, USA on October 22, 2011:

LOVE it!! Great ideas! I also love collecting leaves and putting them in clear contact paper (or laminating is best) and they can look at them, do crayon rubbings, use magnifying glass, etc. with them Voted up and useful!

Marissa (author) from United States on October 12, 2011:

ajaodegaard, raking leaves and jumping in them is an awesome free and natural activity that is perfect for this time of year! And you're right: these activities would be fun to do as adults, and might even be stress relievers. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

ajaodegaard on October 12, 2011:

I think these activities can be great no matter what your age, sometimes its fun to do the little things like this when you are older. Another great free activity that is fun this time of year is raking leaves and then jumping in the piles of them :)

Marissa (author) from United States on October 12, 2011:

jacqui2011,the best things in life are free, right? :) Thank you for reading and commenting!

jacqui2011 from Norfolk, UK on October 11, 2011:

Great ideas that children will love. Fantastic and especially great that not all things cost money to do. Well done. Voted up and useful.

Marissa (author) from United States on August 20, 2011:

a herdman, I'm glad you enjoyed this hub! After cleaning up the yard today, my son and I once again will be entertained by some of these activities. Thanks for commenting! :)

a herdman from In the South - USA on August 19, 2011:

Enjoyed your hub and the good ideas. Outside activities are so great for children.

Marissa (author) from United States on July 29, 2011:

frugalfamily, my son LOVES bugs, so collecting them is fun (for him!)! I love the idea of the shadow pictures made from objects, construction paper and the sun. My son would really enjoy that! Thanks for sharing :)

Marissa (author) from United States on July 29, 2011:

Sinea Pies, I wish I lived near a beach! Collecting shells is a lot of fun, and I like your idea of painting them and making pictures out of them. Thanks for sharing!

Brenda Trott, M.Ed from Houston, TX on July 29, 2011:

I love the description of your son collecting bugs! Here's another outside activity. Find several different items like a key, a spoon, and a fork. Place them onto a series of sheets of construction paper and let them sit in the sun. After naptime, go back and see the shadow picture the sun made of your object.

Sinea Pies from Northeastern United States on July 29, 2011:

I love it! Are you anywhere near a beach? I live near Lake Ontario and there is one beach where small seashells wash on shore. Not only can you collect them and have fun wading in the water but you can bring them home and paint them. I remember gluing them on paper, inside out, and painting them to look like flowers. Voted beautiful.

Marissa (author) from United States on June 22, 2011:

Thank you, Alvin for reading and commenting!

alvinalex on June 21, 2011:

Nice Hub! With Great suggestions I just love it:) Thanks to Share.



Marissa (author) from United States on June 21, 2011:

Scavenger hunts are so much fun! I like your idea of using pictures of items and taping them around the yard. Thanks for reading and sharing your idea. :)

mommyloves2write on June 21, 2011:

These are terrific suggestions. We go to parks and go on long walks or bike ride.

When my kids were younger, I would hide picutres of items in the yars (with tape). Then they had list and had to go on a scavenger hunt and find them. We would repeat it while they hid their eyes.

Marissa (author) from United States on June 02, 2011:

I like that activity too, SharkFuel, since it's a teaching opportunity. :)

SharkFuel on June 02, 2011:

Most of all I like Bird/Plant/Tree/Bug Identifying activity in this hub. It allows kids to get more information about the nature and very helpful for child development.

Marissa (author) from United States on May 30, 2011:

Sharkfuel, thanks so much for your kind comment! I appreciate your feedback. :)

SharkFuel on May 30, 2011:

Great parenting advices and very valuable information on activities for children. I hope that experienced parents would agree with me that all these activities have a very positive impact on development of children. So, that's why both existing parents and parents to be should pay a special attention to this hub.

Marissa (author) from United States on May 10, 2011:

RTalloni, mini picnics are a great idea! Perhaps I'll have one today since it's so nice outside. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

RTalloni on May 10, 2011:

Very nice and very important activities. Good for you for posting this reminder to do these things with children!

I think that regular mini picnics are important, too. They should be on the schedule for at least once a month--once a week if possible.

Marissa (author) from United States on May 04, 2011:

No problem, nicolerkilpatrick! Thanks for reading. :)

nicolerkilpatrick on May 04, 2011:

Great suggestions! Thanks.

Marissa (author) from United States on May 03, 2011:

I hope you have many fun afternoons, tammybarnette! Thanks for reading. :)

Tammy Barnette on May 02, 2011:

I have a 3 year old and she has taught me so much. Thanks for more ideas of how we can enjoy our afternoons:)

Marissa (author) from United States on May 02, 2011:

Thank you Maggie.L, for commenting and reading! :)

Maggie.L from UK on May 02, 2011:

These are lovely ideas for having fun with your child outdoors.

Marissa (author) from United States on April 28, 2011:

Thanks for the vote, Laura! And I'll be sure to check out your hub. :)

Laura du Toit from South Africa on April 28, 2011:

Thanks for the great tips. Playing in mud is another favorite among young children and I have a hub on this subject. "How-To-Love-Mud-as-Much-As-Your-Toddler". Mud pies and building dams can keep them occupied for hours.

Great hub - voted up.

Marissa (author) from United States on April 28, 2011:

You're welcome, mama_em! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! :)

mama_em on April 28, 2011:

Great ideas - thanks so much!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 28, 2011:

Samantha_Marie: Thanks for the comment and for reading! These activities are fun; I was happy to share them. :)

Marissa (author) from United States on April 28, 2011:

Kaye: The rock gathering can be a lot of fun, especially when it's turned into a competition of sorts. Thanks for the comment and reading! :)

Samantha_Marie from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on April 28, 2011:

Great hub and great suggestions! Thanks.

Kaye McCulloch from Australia on April 28, 2011:

What a great hub. I too love those moments when i realise my children are completely enthralled in their own imaginative or inquisitive world outside, with not a toy in sight! I love your rock gathering idea, I will have to try that one I think.

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on April 27, 2011:

You are very welcome.


Marissa (author) from United States on April 27, 2011:

Thank you very much, JS Matthew, for your kind comment and for reading!

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on April 27, 2011:

You have wonderful suggestions! Thanks for posting this article. Very informative! Voted up!