Outdoor Games for Toddlers

Toddler play in mud

It’s warm. You’ve got your natural sunscreen ready. And, your toddler is itching to go outside.

What to do? Especially if your toddler is solo, you might want to start with everyday games that are interesting and engaging. Reinvent the familiar in an unfamiliar space. Create an opportunity for hours of open play.

Open-ended play works well as toddlers are learning to push the boundaries very quickly. So, I have come up with a few prompts that encourage your toddler to play without much structure.

Inside Out

Take your inside play things outside. Do you have a play kitchen? Take it outside. Do you have a bunch of stuffed animals? Outside they could become wild animals for your budding young Jane Goodall to meet and study. Musical instruments—or even a collection of pots and spoons—outside become very interesting because little people can make big sounds.

Mudpie Kitchen. You don’t need a specific piece of play kitchen equipment to set up your own mudpie bakery. Set up a work space at toddler arm level with a variety of containers within reach. Provide a bucket of dirt and a basin of water. Go exploring for rocks, sticks, flowers, leaves, and other decorations, and it’s time to bake.

Outside Already

What do you already have outside? Is there anything that could be transformed? Your sandbox could become a treasure chest or an archaeological dig. Your furniture could become an obstacle course when extreme running, jumping, and climbing is called for.

Tricycle Obstacle Course. A toddler who has already learned the basics of peddling a trike or some other wheeled contraption might be looking for a new place to practice this skill. Set up your outdoor furniture, a tree stump, a collection of 5-gallon buckets, and whatever other large treasures you find in your garage. Leave plenty of space to get between the obstacles. Make it interesting enough that there is more than one way to get through. My mother’s method with games like this was to start my children at the beginning and tell them she would count. They would run or ride far away then rush back to her to hear how far she had counted. Both my mother and my children seemed to find this very engaging. They could occupy themselves for an hour as the numbers themselves became part of the exploration when they ask, “If I do this, does it make my time faster or slower?”

Color

Sometimes painting can be messy business. Outdoor painting is a worry free business that can get as messy as it needs to get. Finger painting? That’s for indoors. Outside, how about toe painting–or belly painting for extra giggles. Sidewalk chalk gives a great big canvas. My children loved to use sidewalk chalk on our dark brick house

Big Paint. Sometimes a paint brush just isn’t big enough to capture the wave of color we need. Giant sponges and cleaning brushes, however, make nice, big paint brushes for little hands. Mix sidewalk chalk or powdered paint in buckets of water, making very thin paint, and you have color that your toddler can spread all over the sidewalk, driveway, or wooden fence.

Water

Most outdoor painting leads to outdoor water because it will get messy. Water can be big with a hose or a sprikler or small with a water wall. A water wall is a collection of old containers and tubes screwed onto a back board. When the child pours water in the top, the containers dump water into other containers. What makes a water wall or any outdoor day even better is bubbles. Bubbles are very nearly a requirement for toddlers. Big snaking bubbles and tiny, foamy bubbles.

Car wash. Did your mudpie bakery or your big paint get combined with your tricycle obstacle course? It might be time for a car wash. Set up a bucket of soapy water and a big sponge then line up the trike, toy cars, and anything on wheels that won’t suffer too much from some attentive cleaning. Drive the vehicles to a pile of rags for the final stage of drying. You might call it clean up, but your toddler doesn’t need to think of it that way.

Open Play

Whatever you are doing outdoors with your toddler, don’t fill in time so tightlythat you create stress. Toddlers have new-found ideas and physical abilities to explore. They are driven to explore. Sometimes just going outside together and looking around is enough to spark a deep need in a toddler to explore.

A couple of my favorite gentle reminders for open play and open exploration are:

“Summer in Nature for Your Children” – How simple prompts can launch a child into their own explorations.

“Make Sure You Leave Space” – Importance of our role as parents in doing little or nothing as our children find their way, including finding their own play.

Image © Liseykina | Dreamstime.com

Every Kid Needs Puzzles & Games

Mosaic wooden puzzle gift for child

Puzzles and games are essential for every kid as holiday gifts. Where to find a game that doesn’t encourage competition and bad feelings, though?

Growing up in my family, every person had to receive at least one puzzle for the holidays. As I grew older and more smart alecky, I gave my mother puzzles with thousands of pieces, or glowing pieces, or same on both sides, or some other nearly impossible puzzle. She still worked her way through every one. Now that my mother is gone, I still need to give my mother-in-law and my children puzzles. They drive me crazy, but everyone else loves them. I realize more over time that putting together a puzzle is a meditative activity, and it has always been one of those essential holiday activities in my family.

If you find that your children need that quiet time during a busy holiday season, consider encouraging down time with a puzzle. Also, if they see you doing a more difficult puzzle, they will get more and more curious until they take over. That’s my experience, anyway!

Another of those essentials for my family both growing up and now with my children is board games or card games. My children love playing my old games, and we still add several new games a year to our game closet. Over the holidays, we give small gifts over several days, and one day is always a game for the whole family. Since there are no other gifts to distract us, we have a family game day.

There are a lot of classic games available, but I find that my children become more competitive when they see the opportunity to win. That isn’t really the feel I’m going for with family game day, so we favor the cooperative games. At bynature.ca, we carry a lot of cooperative games and puzzles to fit your family’s interests.


Puzzles for Children


Port Side Pirates Puzzle

Port Side Pirate Puzzle for Children

Looking for an interlocking puzzle? Set sail with these two puzzles based on the Port Side Pirates sing-along book. The 12-piece puzzle shows the pirate crew discovering a treasure chest ashore the tropical island. The 24-piece puzzle shows the pirate crew sailing the high seas aboard their ship. The two puzzles allow for a range of difficulty included all in one box.
Age: 3+


Wooden Mosaic Puzzle

Rainbow mosaic wooden puzzle

If you are looking for a puzzle that will last longer than an interlocking puzzle that is used a few times, try our high quality wooden mosaics. Our large puzzle has 192 colorful triangle an trapezoid-shaped pieces. Arrange them in the bamboo tray or go rogue and put the rainbow of colors together any way that suits you. Includes a travel and storage bag.
Age: 3+


Cooperative Family Games


Elves and Ogres

Ogres and Elves cooperative game for kids

The Royal Elf Family is coming to visit their Mountain Kingdom. They want the Elves (players) to fill their treasure chests with the different gems they mine. Ogres, however, have heard about the visit and plan to grab all the valuables for themselves. Work together to get Royals & Ogres alike to share the goodies. The game requires lots of tricky teamwork, increasing in difficulty with rules for 3 games based on age (ages 5-7, ages 7-12 & ages 12+).
Ages: 5+


Snowstorm

Snowstorm cooperative game for kids

When a winter storm hits the city, the players help out residents by completing their tasks. The weather is constantly changing so players must keep on top of errands by paying attention to weather reports and moving through snow and ice with cars and service trucks. The game is different every time you play.
Ages: 5+

Last-minute Travel Games for Kids

Child in a car seat

If you don’t have a quiet book, and there isn’t time to sew a homemade bingo game or buy a nice travel toy before you head out onto the road, try a few of these quick-fix car games to keep your child engaged and happy through a long Labour Day drive.


Licence Plate Hunt

It’s a classic. Games involving license plates are an obvious favorite when you are driving with children. The way to play depends on your child’s age and ability. Before a long trip, I went to a school supply store and bought a large stack of black-outline maps. When the children saw a license plate, they had to be able to read the state name then figure out where it was on the map. The goal was to fill in the whole map.

NOTE: To make writing and drawing easier in the car, we grab a serving tray for each child to give them a hard surface. Trays store easily under the seat or next to a child, so they won’t add bulk.


Are We There Yet?

On the long trip when I had 50 blank maps, I came up with all sorts of map games and projects. We were driving from one side of the country to the other. Every day, I had the kids start out with the same map and draw in a line showing our progress. Your map could be as large or as small as you like, depending on your trip. You can even draw your own map that shows you going over a river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. When you get to the river, mark the path that far. Once you reach the woods, keep marking your progress.


Rainbow of Cars

For a younger child who can’t yet read province or state names, you can play a similar scavenger hunt game by starting with a blank color wheel and a pack of crayons. When your child sees a red car, fill in the red section of the wheel, and so on.


Color Switch Drawing

While you have the crayons out, try a game of Color Switch. Ask your child to draw a house (or a lion or a scene of fall leaves), but they can only use a crayon the same color as the car in front of you. For a faster-paced version, they must use the color of the car next to you. Those cars change frequently, so you could find that they are switching colors every few seconds.


Hi, Cow!

For an easy game that encourages everyone to look out the window, try Hi, Cow! Every time your child sees a cow, they could eat a peanut (or a wasabi pea, in my children’s case) or put a penny in a jar to save for a souvenir. It’s a flexible game, far less about what happens inside the car than about seeing what is outside of the car.


Name that Tune

I play 80s songs from my iPod, and we quiz our children on the titles and bands. Some things are important to know. Everyone in the family could also play this from the radio, but someone has to have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of popular songs. If you already sing a lot of songs together, you could sing the songs rather than using the radio or a music player.


Sing Off

My extended family plays a game at holiday parties where we divide into teams and each team sings a Christmas song then the next and the next until a team can’t think of any more Christmas songs and they drop out. To adapt this game for the car and for a young child, have them sing any song they remember. Everyone can join in and sing. Then ask the next person to sing a song and go around until no one can think of more songs—or until you arrive without your child really noticing the trip.


Rest Stop Olympics

Young children can get especially restless on a long drive. Did you children watch the Olympics last month? A game of Rest Stop Olympics can keep them focused on the next leg of the trip as well as giving them the physical activity they need. The event at one rest stop might be A Timed Tree Running. This was one of my kids’ favorite games at the park. They run to a tree, ane I time them. Simple. The stop after that could be a 20 Cartwheel Marathon or Roll Down the Hill Like a Sausage. If you tell them in advance what the event will be, they can train in the car. This is a fun way to add some physical activity when you have a day of sitting a lot.


Puppet Show

For a very small child, give them a puppet show, or have them give you a puppet show. Use seats as stages and make a show of any story


Endless Stories

My family loves telling stories. My husband started before the children even remember telling them adventure stories starring themselves. He always added heroic versions of recent activities. After they went digging for rocks, for example, their adventure heroes had to cross an ocean and fight pirates to get to a rock quarry, then they had to figure out how to get back home. They had read Odysseus, so every story became a heroic adventure. My children, now teens, still tell one another stories. They call them Option Stories, and they have several accounts (storylines) going at once: one in Avatar (The Last Airbender) world, one on a desert island, one as a Greek god, and so on. The teller frequently comes to a point when the listener has to make a choice: will you take the plane or fly, will you go right or left, will you where the cloak of invisibility or the wings. You could do a short, one-trip-long version of these stories, but part of the reason they are so important to my children is the fact that it is all the same decade-long story. It’s one continuing adventure. So, if you start a story, you may be committing to it long-term.

You don’t need to rush out and buy new toys or games for your car trip. Grab some paper and crayons, a few puppets, and you are ready to make your own games, even when you have to sit in the car for hours.

Image © Greenland | Dreamstime.com

Summer Water Games for Children

Child playing in the sprinkler

Every day in summer for my kids has to include water outdoors. When they were little, I tried to keep it interesting by suggesting water adventures and games. These are a few of the summer water games my children love.


Tips Before You Start

Have your child wear a swimsuit or swim diaper. It’s going to be wet and probably dirty, so just keep it simple.

Remember the sunscreen and sun hat. If your child is particularly sun sensitive, you might even consider a sun protection suit.

Before you start, talk together about the rules of play and make sure your child understands. With any water games, always supervise. Don’t leave young children alone in the water even for a minute.


Water Games and Adventures

Bucket Splashing
My daughter’s absolute favorite summertime activity during her first year was sitting in front of a bucket of water and splashing. No extra structure required. The anticipation of a cold splash in the face was irresistible. As your child gets older, you can expand on this activity to experiment with cupping hands and creating rhythms. Since my children and I saw Vanuatu water music in a documentary on volcanoes, we always start pool activities with water drumming.

Giant Bubbles
A yard full of bubbles is fun, but why only tiny bubbles from tiny wands? We like huge bubbles. We create our own bubble wands with string and sticks then we fill up a wash basin with bubble solution. You can sometimes create a giant bubble snake a dozen feet long chasing screaming children around the yard. This is a noisy activity.

Sponge Catch
Grab your biggest, wettest sponge and head outside. Soak it really well in water and play catch. With little kids, be sure that they know to put their hands out so they don’t just feel like they are a target. We practiced with the sponge dry before wetting it. If you get the sponge wet enough, it will spin and spit water everywhere with every throw. While you have the sponge out, you can play different games with sponges. Toss the wet sponge into a bucket for target practice. Experiment with transferring water from the full bucket to an empty bucket with just the sponge. Paint on the sidewalk with sponges and try to finish the painting before it dries up and goes away.

Jump Rope Splash
Add a splash to three-person jump rope by giving the jumper a (non-breakable) cup of water. The more gently they jump, the less water they lose. When they bounce hard on the ground, they get wet. You could make the object of the game to keep as much water as possible, to lose as much water as possible, or just to see what happens.

Adventure Course
Child's dragon costume
Does your child love dress up? If you have a little dragon or knight, set up the backyard with a castle (picnic table), woods, mud holes, waterfalls (a running hose over a wall), and any other fun hazards. Either plan an adventure or just set the dragon free to roam.

Mud Dancing
If you have an area of your yard that won’t be completely destroyed by creating a mud pit, add water until it is thick and sticky then turn on the music. If the mud is thick enough to suck the feet as you move around, it is perfect. The mud will add sound and sensation to the dance. If you child loves dirt, check out the book I Love Dirt for more dirty play ideas. Follow dirty play with a quick trip through the sprinkler, and you’re all set.

Sprinkler
Every kid I know loves the sprinkler, especially if the sprinkler moves. There is no structure necessary at all. Just turn on the water and see what happens. Leave a bunch of boats, balls, cups, buckets and sponges nearby, and your children might pull those into the fun.

For more summer fun ideas for children, see Let’s Go Outside.

Let's Go Outside book

Image © Sergey Mostovoy | Dreamstime.com

Freeze Tag and Other Outdoor Winter Games for Children

Children playing outside in the winter

I woke up to 3″ of snow on the ground, and I’m thinking about how to make sure my children continue to play outside.

Usually, my children entertain themselves outside. They build forts and pile up snow to create high vantage points—and giant snowmen. Sometimes, though, they thrive on a little bit of structure. When I say, “Let’s go outside,” it can take some extra incentive to encourage them to leave their warm cocoons. I can usually get their attention by saying, “Hey, I have a great idea. Let’s play a game.”

Freeze Tag seems like a completely obvious winter game. A lot of other games transfer just fine to winter. You can play Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, Capture the Flag, and most other games you love in the summer. With the addition of some squeeze bottles of colored water, you can add Hopscotch, Tic Tac Toe, and drawing. If you have enough space, you can go Sledding, Cross Country Skiing, or even create your own Rope Tow with your little kids holding on to end of a rope while you drag them screaming and laughing through the yard.

There are a few activities you can do in the winter that you can’t do in the summer. If you need to entice your children with something special, these are a few ideas.


Blowing bubbles

When the temperature goes below freezing point, go outside and blow bubbles. The results are fun and surprising, though it really should be obvious. For bubble solution, just mix water with a little dishwashing liquid. Even big kids love this. My children experiment making bigger and bigger bubbles with string and ropes.

Snow sculpture

If you have snow, you are surrounded by art materials. Mold it, sculpt it, and build shapes big and small. If you can stand to take your kitchen implements outside, gather up big cookie cutters, cake molds, and big bowls. You can build a foundation with bigger molds and decorate the creation with the cookie cutters. This is a scalable activity that works for very young children as well as for teenagers and adults.

Flashlight tag

It is getting dark earlier, which means nighttime walks for dogs. Our dogs are part beagle, so they are born to track. They like to chase children. The kids run out of the house first then the dogs follow their trails in and out of the trees. We put red flashing lights on our dogs’ collars, which means we can see them as they run free. The children also carry flashlights on nighttime walks.

These walks are fun enough as they are, but what if you don’t have tracking dogs? You can still play an active nighttime game in the snow. Play a version of tag with flashlights. The person who is IT has their flashlight on. When their light hits someone else, the person lit up is IT. Their light goes on and the first person’s light goes off.

The fun in the game is trying to use the other senses than just seeing. You have to listen carefully. Make sure children know the boundaries. If they are running in the dark, they can run into hazards more easily. We only go out just as it is getting dark rather than in the dead of night.


Don’t forget to have a hot drink ready
when your red-cheeked little people come inside. I love hot chocolate, but milk doesn’t love me. We tend to have a pot of spiced cider on the stove most winter weekends. A lot of recipes suggest that you add sugar. Why?! Apple juice is super sweet already. Just add apple juice, orange juice, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, and you are all set.

Have fun, and Happy Winter!