After a very long winter, the warm weather is just around the corner, and for anyone with kids, that means lots of outdoor playtime. Getting your kids outside, even if it’s just in your own backyard, is so important, but let’s be real: it can be kind of exhausting for you as the parent. So for those days where you don’t feel like donning a swimsuit to jump in the pool or you don’t have the energy to run after them, it’s good to have a list of outdoor independent play activities kids can do on their own while you watch from the sidelines. You get to relax in a chair while they get to have fun and get a boost of vitamin D. A win-win!
And, seriously, having them play on their own is never anything you should feel guilty about. Independent play is really important for your child’s development. Independent play encourages creativity, boosts imagination, helps them develop social independence, and can even relax them.
For some kids, independent play comes easily. For others... not so much. There are ways to encourage independent play, though, and it’s never too late to start. Make sure you offer independent play after a period of time of giving your child attention — that way, they get the attention they crave from you so they’ll feel ready to have some time on their own. Make sure they’re in a safe environment where they can’t get hurt, set up the appropriate toys or activities, and try to keep them from getting over-stimulated. Then, sit back with an iced coffee, and keep an eye on them while 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 developmental skills to solve problems, and, of course, to have fun. And it definitely doesn’t need to be fancy. There are little toys and accessories you can buy for an at-home obstacle course, but you can also get creative with what you already have. Move around lawn chairs, old boxes, a splash pad, or large toys. You can have them run under overturned chairs, etch out hopscotch with chalk, and then jump over toys... the possibilities are endless.
2. Turn On The Sprinklers
Water play is a great way for a kid to keep themselves entertained on hot days, but if they’re in a pool, you’ll need to be pretty close to them (in the case of toddlers, you’ll need to be swimming alongside them). For independent play, turn on the sprinkler or use a splash pad. They’ll love running around and dodging the water, and you can watch them instead of being right 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 turn on so it does all the work of churning out endless bubbles for them to chase after and stare at. You can also get a bubble wand that they can easily use on their own.
4. Have A Finger Painting Station
You might be hesitant to have your kids finger paint inside, but outside, the mess doesn’t matter as much. Set them up with paper, paint, and some other accessories, and then let them get as creative as they want without worrying about whether they’ll get their little paint-covered hands all over your couch.
5. Let Them Swing
A swing sounds so simple, but for kids, it can be incredibly entertaining. For older kids, you can set up a basic swing or disc swing from a tree in your backyard and let them swing to their heart’s content. For toddlers who would otherwise need help, a small toddler swing set (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 and go up and down something for a surprising amount of time! If you don’t have a full-blown jungle gym in your backyard (understandable), don’t worry: a small climber is really fun for a wide range of ages. Something like this Step2 Climber is fun for toddlers and young kids, leaving plenty of room for safe, creative play, but you can also make them their own little climbing area with things you already own.
7. Have Them Paint Rocks
Kids love to find rocks outside, but what are they supposed to do with them once they have a little collection going on? Get some paint and set up a station where they can paint and decorate their rocks. You can also add stickers to this for even more fun. It boosts creativity and they’ll be super engrossed in the activity.
8. Do Some Water Play
Tots love the simple act of getting water in one spot and dumping it in another. You can set up a water play activity area by filling buckets with water (or just partially filling up a kiddie pool), then putting out smaller buckets, shovels, and pails. A water table is also an excellent toy to have so that 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 a fun, inexpensive, and super easy activity. Get all different colors and encourage your kids to draw whatever comes to mind. You can also use the chalk to draw out hopscotch or other similar games to keep them entertained and active.
10. Get Them To Bounce
It might require a little bit of an investment, but having something bouncy in your backyard could pay off in the long run. A mini trampoline with mesh “walls” is a safe way for them to get their energy out, or you could splurge on an inflatable bouncer that they’ll probably want to use every single day.
11. Let Them “Garden”
If you don’t want to spend money on large toys, then encourage your kids to play with the best that nature has to offer: dirt and rocks, of course. Get them a kit of small gardening tools made for kids, with things like a small rake, broom, or shovel. Let them dig things up, sweep things away, whatever they want. It gets them active and makes them feel like they’re contributing and helping out, two things they love.
12. Put Together A Sandbox
You can buy a sandbox, of course, but you can also make one. Just dig out a space and have someone handy construct it for you, or do it yourself. Kids love to play in sand and you might feel more comfortable with them playing in sand rather than with dirt and rocks. With some pails, shovels, and maybe even some water, this can keep them busy for a while.
13. Set Up A Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt is a fun way to keep your child entertained and hone some of their developmental skills. Take some time to hide a few items (don’t make it too difficult, of course), then make a cute map they can follow. Offering a small prize or incentive if they find everything just might push them to really get into it.
14. Make A Sensory Bin
A sensory bin is great for toddlers, but can sometimes be a bit messy, so they’re fun for outside. Set them up on a blanket and make a sensory bin out of whatever is on hand. You can fill a plastic tin with cereal, sand, dirt, or balls (just a few suggestions!), then bury some toys in there.
15. Bring Out The Books
For kids who love to read, allowing them to sit outside with a pile of books can be enough to keep them busy for a bit. For older kids, you can also add things like activity books or coloring books.