Best Toys for Outdoor Play to Help Development
Updated: Nov 24
Now that Fall weather is starting to roll in, it is a great time to encourage outdoor play with your kiddos. Little ones enjoy getting sunshine and fresh air and these outdoor toys make outdoor play time even better.
I have a huge passion for child development and I thought it would be fun to share some of my top picks for the best toys for outdoor play that help development. However, remember these are just suggestions. You know your child best, and what is developmentally appropriate for their current stage. All play should be supervised to ensure child safety. Be aware of sun safety (sunscreen & shade) and be sure to stay hydrated while playing outdoors, but most importantly of all, have fun!
Best Toys for Outdoor Play Toys that Help with Development
This is a childhood classic! The sandbox is good for sensory development. Sand offers a tactile sensory experience and is a good way to work on fine motor skills by scooping and creating shapes in the sand. even helps with gross motor skills when kids balance or walk on sand. Remember to keep sand out of their mouth though. It can be really tempting for little ones. (For indoor sensory fun, try our DIY Moon Sand)
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Drawing and writing with chalk is so much fun. Help kids develop those fine motor skills and creative thinking by drawing letters, shapes, and artwork. Kids will experience their proprioceptive sense by learning how hard to press down to write with the chalk. Work on communication skills by asking "What letter is this" or taking turns naming and drawing different shapes or animals. Take your chalk to the next level by making our Puffy Sidewalk Chalk Paint.
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Swings are great for a full-body sensory experience. While swinging, kids are learning balance and body awareness which are both important senses for core strength and staying upright. The repetitive motion of swinging can provide some social-emotional benefits as well, that help calm the nervous system. Be sure to use an age-appropriate swing (especially with babies) as well as one that is secure and can't tip over. If you don't have space for your own swing, many local parks have swings.
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Water tables are especially popular on warm days. Kids can cool off in the water while playing safely. Pouring water, measuring, and watching water paths and droplets are all fun ways to play with water. You can even add a few drops of dishwashing soap and have kids wash all their little figurine toys in the bubbles. Water play promotes fine motor skills while standing at the water table and moving around it helps with gross motor skills.
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Help promote executive function with imitation toys for "grown-up " outdoor activities. Toys like gardening sets, playhouses, push lawnmowers, and bug-catching kits help promote problem-solving and mental flexibility. You can help kids build their social-emotional connection by playing with them like working in the garden or building a container fairy garden.
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I love bubbles, especially for toddlers! I often give bubble machines as gifts because toddlers love making and chasing bubbles so much. Following bubbles helps strengthen their tracking skills as well as attention. Running after, catching, or stomping bubbles helps those gross and fine motor skills. If kids are using a wand and creating their own bubbles that's even better because they have to figure out what angle and how much to blow to make the bubbles. Discourage tasting or eating bubbles though because while bubbles are minimally toxic, they can cause stomach upset if ingested.
As kids get bigger and more steady on their feet, they can start adding wheeled toys to their outdoor play. Scooters, wagons, play cars, and tricycles are great for vestibular sense (balance) as well as motor development and strength. Learning a new skill like riding a tricycle can sometimes require some problem solving which is great for executive function. Always remember to wear a helmet and other safety gear while riding a wheeled toy.
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Different sizes and shapes of balls can provide a variety of entertainment for outdoor play. Beach balls are a fun option for babies. They are lightweight, so they are easy to hold and toss with both hands. They can roll them around and crawl after them. Other balls such as tennis balls are good for as kids get older. Test skills like, can they throw them overhanded? Can they catch a beach ball with 2 hands? Even yoga balls and hopper balls can be fun to roll around or bounce on in the grass. Promotes stretching and can increase core stability by bouncing and balancing on it. Overall, balls promote body awareness and motor skills.
Kids can start getting introduced to sports equipment at a young age and start learning the basics while having fun. Providing small, child-friendly sports equipment can be fun for both parents and kids. Things like basketball hoops, soccer balls, lawn bowling, and a baseball bat and tee set, are all great things to help with so many types of development. From motor skills, vestibular (balance), as well as executive skills by learning how to play a game. Kids oftentimes will even expand their vocabulary by learning new words and phrases used during sports.
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No worries! Always remember unstructured play outdoors is great too! Just running around a park or exploring a nature trail, encourages kids to use their imagination and creativity while they play! Have fun playing and exploring the great outdoors!