Whatever time of year, whether it’s throwing it down with rain or basking in warm sunshine, there are always plenty of outdoor activities for toddlers in the garden, and we think you’ll love them as much as they do.
Here is a collection of some fun things to do with your toddler, while getting closer to nature, developing their early years skills and giving them plenty of opportunities to try new things.
1. Paint with water on the pavement
You don’t always need paint to create a masterpiece – a dry day is the perfect time to get creative using nothing but a paint brush and a tub of water.
Try different techniques – splashing, flicking, smoothly painting…
2. Digging for treasure
Collect together a few small objects and bury them in a sandpit or a small box filled with soil. Encourage your toddler to uncover the treasure using different tools such as spoons, spades and a collander for sieving sand.
3. Bake with mud
Use old pots, pans and cutlery and cook up some delicious mud cakes using mud, seasoned with flowers, stones, leaves and seeds.
4. Treasure hunt
Hide some brightly coloured toys around the garden and ask your little one to see if they can find them – make sure you remember which toys you’ve hidden, and most importantly, where! Don’t make it too tricky or your finders will quickly lose interest.
5. Make fairy soup
Collect leaves, petals, seeds and grass from outside and mix them together into a small bowl of water. Use scissors to shred the ingredients, crush them using spoons and mixers, and experiment with textures and colours.
6. Lie on the ground and look for shapes in the clouds
Look up and watch the clouds blowing across the sky – what shapes can you see? What stories can you tell about the shapes in the clouds?
7. Draw shapes in the dirt with sticks
Use sticks to draw shapes in the dirt – fun and a great way to encourage early writing skills.
8. Hunt for mini beasts
Look high, look low and see what little beasts you can find in the garden and around your neighbourhood. Don’t forget to peek under stones, in the grass, and behind rocks…
9. Make a mobile
Not the kind that needs wifi and four bars… the kind that blows in the wind, produces the sounds of nature and looks beautiful.
10. Hide and seek
Play a traditional game of hide and seek using the natural environment. Take care but let your little one discover new hiding places then use the opportunity to practise counting together before the search begins.
11. Noughts and crosses
Paint Os and Xs on pebbles then play noughts and crosses, using a homemade board – sticks can be used to make a simple grid.
12. Building with mud bricks
Create your own building bricks using mud. Using three parts dirt to two parts water, set the mixture in an ice-cube tray, leave to dry in the sun and then build structures in the garden with the bricks.
13. Hold a nature scavenger hunt
Cut out pictures (or if you’re really good, draw pictures) of things to find in the garden – head outside with your toddler and use the pictures as a scavenger hunt list. Cross them off as you find them and see which is hardest to spot.
14. Plant something
Whether you used seeds, cuttings or fully grown plants moved from somewhere else in the garden, this activity will provide enjoying for months to come as you check back to monitor progress if your plants.
15. Leaf printing
This one’s great for Autumn, but you’ll find leaves blowing around at any time of year so head outside and gather as many different types as you can find. Paint one side and use them as stamps to create beautiful works of art.
16. Make acorn shakers
Another Autumn activity – collect acorns after they’ve fallen on the ground and use them to create music by popping them inside a plastic bottle. Glue the lid on with care to ensure they can withstand even the most enthusiastic musician!
17. Tell the story of the Gruffalo
One of our favourite books at Naturally Learning, The Gruffalo tells the story of an adventurous little mouse, who uses his brain to outwit the many creatures who are hoping to eat him for their tea!
A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.
A fox saw the mouse. And the mouse looked good.
Use the story as inspiration for your own woodland adventure.
18. Where’s it gone?
Ask your toddler to pick three objects for this game – favourite toys, teddies, or household objects such as a wooden spoon would be perfect. Then take them into the garden, along with a blanket. Lay the three items out on the ground, then ask your little one to hide under the blanket while you take one away.
Which one is missing?
19. Roll down a hill
No explanation required – find a hill, lie on your side at the top and roll!
20. Make tree spirits
These are easy to make using homemade clay – give your child a small ball of air-drying clay and work with them to create expressive tree spirits.
Push the ball of clay onto the trunk of a tree and shape it into a face, using natural items such as leaves, flowers, twigs and stones to add features. These will dry naturally and wash away when it rains.
21. Build a den
Den-building isn’t just great fun – it also develops children’s creative thinking, builds their confidence and offers plenty of opportunities for learning. Gather sticks together and use them to test our different structures for your den.
Who doesn’t love clambering on stuff?
23. Build a fire and toast marshmallows
Let your nature lovers gather some twigs and sticks and then build the fire together before taking charge and lighting it from a safe distance. Cover basic fire safety before settling down to toast marshmallows on sticks.
24. Create a garden sensory tub
Wander around the garden with your little one and see what catches their eye – acorns, leaves, seeds, pinecones, sticks…. store what you find on your nature walk in a large box or bowl for you to explore indoors on a rainy day.
25. Sensory exploration
Feel the bark, the leaves, the grass – how does it feel? Is it warm or cold? Smooth or rough? Soft or hard?
26. Bake mud pies
We love mud at Naturally Learning – not just because it feels good but because it’s good for you! Here’s another way to have fun with the sticky stuff.
27. Homemade ribbon sticks
Make your own twirling ribbon sticks by collecting sticks and tying ribbons securely to one end. Your little one will have a wonderful time watching the ribbons blow around in the breeze as they wave them in the air.
28. Chase bubbles
Make your own bubble mixture and chase bubbles around the garden, popping as many as you can as quickly as you can.
29. Make a head-dress
Collect sticks, leaves, seeds and anything else that catches your eye and use them to create beautiful woodland headwear.
30. Go puddle jumping
There’s no such thing as bad weather – just inappropriate clothing. Embrace any wet days by slipping into the wellies and going in search of puddles.
31. Make nature wands
So simple but such fun.
32. Create a magical fairy garden
Small world play opens up a world of possibilities – use miniature items to create an inviting scene which your child will love to explore. This activity is wonderful for building imagination as children chatter away with their characters and imagine them having real life adventures.
Mud isn’t just fun for stomping through, digging in and ‘baking’ with – it’s also perfect for painting! Use paintbrushes to create elaborate masterpieces on the paths, trees and ground around your home.
34. Make log stepping stones
Place logs in a row and use them as stepping stones to practise balancing.
35. Practise counting
Encourage your little one to become more familiar with numbers by collecting items from outside and then counting and lining them up below numbers one to ten.
36. Make a nature collage
Nature offers some of the best art supplies around. Collect as many resources as you can find and use them to create a beautiful collage.
37. Add secret ingredients to playdough
Make use of the natural resources around you and use them to add interesting texture and smells to playdough.
38. Make tree rubbings
Collect leaves from the garden then place them underneath a piece of paper on a flat surface – rub over them using a crayon to reveal the rich textures beneath.
39. Hula hoop jumping
Lay hula hoops on the ground and encourage the children to jump from one to the other, on one leg and two legs.
40. Make shapes on the ground
Collect sticks and leaves and use them to create different shapes on the ground – a square with a triangle on top looks like a house. Experiment with different shapes to see what your inventors can create.
41. Make music
Create instruments out of anything you can find in the garden. Try using sticks to play the ‘drums’ on the ground or on a wooden fence and listen to how the sounds are different. You could even create your own music station using old tins and pieces of wood suspended from a tree or bush.
42. Make nature ice
Collect leaves, seeds, flowers, pebbles, anything that catches your eye in the garden. Fill a tub with water and place the items in the water before freezing. Once it’s frozen, bring the block out and talk about what has happened to the items. How does the ice feel? Leave the ice outside while you’re playing and check back to see what’s happeneing.
43. Make mandalas
The calm and systematic process of creating a circular mandala using natural elements will calm even the most energetic child. This relaxing activity is the perfect end to a busy day of playing and involves simply collecting the different ‘ingredients’ and then creating your mandala on the ground. There are no rules so don’t worry about what should or shouldn’t be included.
44. Make gifts
Collect sticks from outside and use them to create beautiful natural stars to give as gifts at Christmas.
45. Make a giant tree painting
Wrap a tree trunk in bubble wrap and then little hands can create a beautiful work of art!
46. Tell the story of Owl Babies outside
Where has mummy owl gone? And will she be home in time for breakfast? The wonderful story of three little owl babies who wake up to a mystery will have your little ones gripped. Tell the story outside and use the trees and the leaves as props in your tale.
47. Draw round your shadows
This works best either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky – find your shadows and take it in turns to draw round each others’ using pavement chalk.
You could also outline the shape of a shadow using sticks, leaves and grass. Just be sure to work fast before the shadows move!
48. Dig in the dirt
Does this need any explanation? Playing in the garden develops a wide range of skills including creativity, fine motor skills and an understanding of weight, pressure and balance.
49. Hula hoop target practice
Ready, aim, THROW! Hold a hula hoop up in the air and encourage your little one to throw a bean bag through the middle.
50. Messy painting
For this, you’ll need washable paint, large piece of paper, old clothes, cotton pads and a rubber mallet. Squirt dots of paint on the paper, place the cotton pads on top, and let the children take turns to splat different circles with the mallet!
Encourage them to guess which colour is hiding under the pad before they whack it and find out.
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