Best Outdoor Toys for Kids– yard or no yard

outside toys baby water table

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I don’t know about you, but 2020 quarantine has me itching to get outside. Recently, I have been on the hunt for the best outdoor toys for kids– since our patio is one of the easiest place for us to be outside. Below are some toys that can spice up outside play time, no matter what size your yard is. 

Table of Contents

How can we go about outside play time, anyway?

Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we make opportunities for our children to have outdoor play. Though it may feel like we are stuck inside (because, largely, we are), there are still so many ways we can get outdoors with our kids.

Now that we can’t go out and do our activities, it’s vital that our children have enriching time to connect with nature and get their wiggles out.

Where we live, we can no longer visit parks, trails, or beaches. This put me in a bit of a panic a few weeks ago. Being inside our small home for weeks on end made my head spin. But, then I remembered that we can maximize our outdoor space and still get outside. As explained by Claire McCarthy, MD, the Senior Faculty Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, playing outdoors gives children (and adults) the opportunity to get vitamin D, exercise, strengthen executive functions, fall in love with nature, and take risks.

Of course, we need to follow local guidelines. But, it is possible to set up our outdoor spaces to promote the all important outdoor play in our homes. And now that life outside our homes has screeched to a halt, we have the opportunity to get more time outside.  Outdoor play is essential for physical development and growth– it allows children to develop their gross and fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and balance, among countless other things. Further, unstructured outdoor play also promotes creativity, problem solving, and body awareness.

American children spend four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play compared to seven or more hours in front of a screen.

Sanford Health

Best outside toys for kids when you have a small yard or patio

We don’t have a front yard or a backyard where we live, but I really wanted my son to have an opportunity to get that “playing outside” experience fully. These items allow for us to have high-quality time soaking up Vitamin D, but are easy to store. We do these on our front porch!

This is a toy that can be used long term and with many different age groups. You can throw water, dirt, sand– you name it– in.

Most water tables are large and require storage space. I like this one because it has a cover, is very easy to clean, and has two separate compartments. It is one of the smallest ones on the market, currently. Because of that, it is perfect for younger children, probably ages 3 and under or so. It wouldn’t hold up well with older children. This one is a little bit larger, but also more sturdy so it could be better for older children and longevity.

You can also put together your own outdoor sensory station. If you’re short on space and have younger kids, grab a watering can, a plastic bin, and a waterfall toy and jump right in to water play. These items can easily be dried on your porch or patio after play, and then stored inside. You can also throw in some kinetic sand for more fun. Note that this sand is recommend for kids over age 3, and should be used dry (not wet).

Mom Hack

You can bring out the various beach toys/sand toys/miscellaneous bath toys that you have collected over the years to mix it up.

Sidewalk chalk

This classic toy promotes creativity and literacy, all while being outdoors. This is something best bought in a store, as it’s much more affordable there.

Bubbles

I’m somehow always surprised at how much joy bubbles bring kids! They can have kids jumping and running and squealing with delight.

If you’re looking to buy a large amount of bubble-making juice, this solution is a great option. It pairs nicely with this bubble wand set. These wands are pretty small, but can be perfect for little hands.

Another fun option is a bubble machine!  This is a very sturdy one. It has a plug but can also be run on batteries, so it can be used outside! It is more expensive than others on the market, but it is known to be sturdier. You can use any bubble solution with it.

Planter boxes full of dirt with gardening supplies

planter box with dirt
I filled this planter box with topsoil so my son could (literally) get his hands dirty, even though we don't have a yard.

Naturally, we needed some dirt for our outside play. But, there isn’t any on our porch. So, I emptied out one of the planter boxes in front of our house, hosed it out, and filled it with topsoil. Topsoil doesn’t have pesticides or fertilizers in it like other bagged soil does, so it is safe for kids to play with. Then, I emptied out another one of our pots and filled it with a few rakes and shovels (let’s be real, potted plants don’t live very long if I’m in charge of them, anyway). Sometimes I even bring out a watering can and let him dump water into the soil. It’s a great way for us to play outside and get our hands dirty, even sans yard.

I suggest going to Home Depot or Lowes or your local neighborhood outdoor shop to find these. Topsoil is very affordable there (when you don’t need to pay for shipping), and then you can find a planter box that fits your outdoor needs. I recommend looking for a sturdy one– my son often climbs in mine, and a lightweight plastic one wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of play. I also recommend getting one that has some sort of holes or drainage from the bottom. That way, rain water can drip out of the bottom and won’t build up inside the planter and mold. You should change the dirt periodically, since it will be sitting outside.

You can also get some kid-sized gardening tools, a watering can, a spray bottle, or our personal favorite: bulldozers. You don’t need to plant anything in the box– we actually had more fun just playing with the dirt, and using the tools is great fine motor practice.

This activity keeps us busy year round.

Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.

Edward Abbey

Best outside toys for kids when you've got a larger backyard

If you’ve got dedicated outside space, these toys can really spice up outdoor play. 

These can be great if you have a backyard, especially when local pools are closed.  This one is small but sturdy– it is sure to last longer than the plastic or inflatable ones. Plus, it comes with an umbrella for shade, as well as a few water toys.

We love making mud! This Mud Kitchen is easy to clean and sturdy, and can promote endless creative play in your very own backyard. 

You don’t need a whole lot to get this going– just dirt and water. You can also add things such as stainless steel bowls, various plastic or silicone kitchen tools or a watering can. This set is all inclusive and everything can go in the dishwasher!

Play houses can help kids’ imaginations spark and provide children a special place of their own outdoors. As stated by Nicole Roberts, “Playhouses for children allow them to explore the aspects of science that surround them. Feeling the cool breeze on their face, the rain drops fall on their skin, and even the heat of the sun will provide a young child with the ability to learn more about the world that surrounds them on a daily basis.”

Another unforeseen benefit of playhouses may also be that they become the perfect retreat for children to complete their schoolwork. As explained by Gary Whipple, many children will likely be more excited to do it there than inside their actual house! Whether they’re sitting in a kid-sized table with chairs or curled up in the corner, a playhouse could help a young child settle into their own rhythm and clear their mind enough to focus.

This picnic table could also be perfect to sit next to the playhouse for snack time, outdoor arts and crafts, or just more pretend time! It is sized for children ages 2-7, though it is geared towards the younger age group. Note that the manufacturer recommends storing it inside during inclement weather to protect the wood.

If you’d like one that can stay outdoors even in in-climate weather, this one is a great option. It’s easy to assemble and comes with an umbrella.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

Albert Einstein

These play domes were in many of our local playgrounds when I was a kid, and now you can assemble one to have permanently in your yard. This one is rated to hold up to 1000 pounds, and reviewers call them “Solid as a rock after tightening” and “very sturdy.” I do want to note that many reviewers stated that this dome does take a long time to put together, but it was worth it to them in the end. 

Structures such as these ones allow children to engage in risky play– play, that is, play where they determine their own limits. As explained by Dr. Peter Grey in Psychology Today, risky play has countless benefits. “In risky play,” he explains, “youngsters dose themselves with manageable quantities of fear and practice keeping their heads and behaving adaptively while experiencing that fear.  They learn that they can manage their fear, overcome it, and come out alive.” So while they may fall, they also learn about their body’s limits, how they can adapt to maneuver a different way, and how they can get back up again if they fall. This is one of the main benefits of outdoor play– as it is a lifelong lesson they can keep inside them throughout their lives.

These can be wonderful outdoor toys you have a big family or live with extended family. With 4 or more people, there are so many games you can play with parachutes! This one is 6 feet long, but here are others that are 8 feet, 12 feet, and even 20 feet long that you can get if you have a large family or are heading to a group outdoor event.

This silly twist on a family classic is perfect for older kids and adults! It can be enjoyed at BBQs, family gatherings, or just good ol’ fashioned outside play time.

Note that it stands at over 5 feet tall and will actually fall over when playing, so this activity is geared more towards older children. However, the pieces can easily be enjoyed as building blocks for younger kids.

It also comes with it’s own storage bag.

If more than one child is going to play and storage isn’t an issue, this is a bigger option that could also be used for many years. These toys can lead to hours of outside time. I bought my son a water table for his first Christmas and two years later, he still loves it!

This table has two sides so you can play with two different mediums (water and kinetic sand, for an example). It also comes with an umbrella for shade and a cover for when it’s not in use.

However you choose to get outside, your kids are sure to make lasting memories.

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best outdoor toys for kids

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