After a very Long winter, warm weather is just around the corner, and for anyone with kids, that means plenty of outdoor playtime. Getting your kids outside, even if it’s just in your own backyard, is so important, but let’s face it: it can be quite exhausting for you as a parent. So for those days when you don’t feel like putting on a bathing suit to jump in the pool or don’t have the energy to chase after them, it’s good to have a list of activities. independent outdoor games that kids can do on their own while watching you from the sidelines. You can relax in a chair while they have fun and get a vitamin D boost. A win-win!
And, seriously, having them play alone is never something you should feel guilty about. Independent play is very important for your child’s development. Independent play encourages creativity, stimulates the imagination, helps them develop their social independence and can even relax them.
For some children, independent play comes easily. For others, not so much. There are ways to encourage independent play, however, and it’s never too late to start. Be sure to offer independent play after a period of attention to your child – this way he will get the attention he needs from you so that he feels ready for alone time. Make sure he’s in a safe environment where he can’t hurt himself, set up the right toys or activities, and try to keep him from being overstimulated. Then sit down with an iced coffee and keep an eye on them as they entertain themselves. Here are some ideas to set you up for success:
1. Set up an obstacle course
An obstacle course is a fun way for your little one to get active, use their developing problem-solving skills and, of course, have fun. And it certainly doesn’t have to be fancy. There are small toys and accessories you can buy for an obstacle course at home, but you can also get creative with what you already have. Move around lawn chairs, old boxes, a paddling pool or large toys. You can run them under overturned chairs, chalk hopscotch, then jump over toys…the possibilities are endless.
2. Turn on the sprinklers
Water games are a great way for a child to entertain themselves on hot days, but if they’re in a pool, you’ll need to be quite close to them (in the case of toddlers, you’ll need to swim at their sides). For independent play, turn on the sprinkler or use a wading pool. They’ll love running around and dodging the water, and you can watch them instead of being there with them.
3. Use a bubble machine
Little ones are fascinated by bubbles, especially toddlers. Find a fun bubble machine that you can fill up and light up so it does all the work of producing endless bubbles for them to chase and stare at. You can also get a bubble wand that they can easily use on their own.
4. Have a finger paint station
You may be hesitant to let your kids finger paint indoors, but outdoors the mess doesn’t matter so much. Set them up with paper, paint, and other accessories, then let them get as creative as they want without worrying about whether they’ll get their little hands covered in paint all over your couch.
5. Let them swing
A swing seems so simple, but for children it can be incredibly fun. For older children, you can set up a basic swing or disc swing from a tree in your yard and let them swing to their heart’s content. For toddlers who would otherwise need help, a small toddler swing (like this one) is a great idea. They can pump their little legs on their own or they can go up and down the slide.
6. Encourage them to climb
Little kids can climb up and down something for a surprising amount of time! If you don’t have a full-fledged jungle gym in your backyard (understandable), don’t worry: a little climber is really fun for a wide range of ages. Something like that Step2 Climber is fun for toddlers and young children, leaving plenty of room for safe and creative play, but you can also make it their own little climbing area with things you already own.
7. Ask them to paint stones
Kids love finding rocks outdoors, but what are they supposed to do with them once they have a small collection going? Get some paint and set up a station where they can paint and decorate their rocks. You can also add stickers to it for even more fun. It stimulates creativity and they will be super engrossed in the activity.
8. Play water
Toddlers love the simple act of scooping water from one place and dumping it in another. You can set up a water play activity area by filling buckets with water (or just partially filling a kiddie pool) and then putting in smaller buckets, shovels, and pails. A hydrostatic level is also a great toy to have so you really don’t have to lift a finger.
9. Let them draw with chalk
Sidewalk chalk has been around forever for a reason: it’s fun, inexpensive, and super easy. Get all the different colors and encourage your kids to draw whatever comes to mind. You can also use the chalk to draw hopscotch or other similar games to keep them entertained and active.
10. Make ’em bounce
It may require a small investment, but having something bouncy in your garden could pay off in the long run. A trampoline with lattice “walls” is a surefire way for them to get their energy out, or you could splurge on a inflatable bouncer that they will probably want to use every day.
11. Let Them “Garden”
If you don’t want to spend money on big toys, encourage your kids to play with the best nature has to offer: dirt and rocks, of course. Give them a kit of small gardening tools designed for kids, with things like a small rake, broom or shovel. Let them dig things up, sweep things up, whatever they want. It keeps them active and makes them feel like they’re contributing and helping, two things they love.
12. Set up a sandbox
You can buy a sandbox, of course, but you can also make one. Just dig a space and have someone build it for you, or do it yourself. Children love to play in the sand and you may feel more comfortable playing in the sand rather than dirt and rocks. With buckets, shovels, and maybe even water, that can keep them busy for a while.
13. Organize a treasure hunt
A scavenger hunt is a fun way to entertain your child and hone some of their developmental skills. Take the time to hide a few things (don’t too difficult, of course), then create a nice map for them to follow. Offering a small prize or incentive if they find anything might get them really into it.
14. Make a sensory bin
A sensory bin is great for toddlers, but can get a little messy at times, so they’re fun for the outdoors. Set them up on a blanket and make a sensory bin with whatever is close at hand. You can fill a plastic box with cereal, sand, dirt, or balls (just a few suggestions!), then bury toys in it.
15. Get out the books
For children who like to read, allowing them to sit outside with a stack of books can be enough to keep them busy. For older children, you can also add items such as activity books or coloring books.