41 Outdoor Activities for Toddlers – Get Them Exploring Their World

By  Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated - 29 January 2021

In this post, I'll share with you my top 41 outdoor activities for toddlers! Along with WHY they're so vital to raising a happy, healthy child!

We all benefit from spending time outdoors and doing outdoor activities.

Whether it be walking in the fresh air, playing a sport, having a picnic or just sitting outside reading a book, we all enjoy getting outside.

And toddler's are no exception!

Having the right tools on hand to encourage their love of the outdoors is vital & that is what this post is going to give you.

So, let's get started!

When Can I start Taking my Baby Outdoors?

I believe that you should encourage your baby to get outside every day from the day they are born.

If you have the luxury of a large enough pram and a garden, then I believe that babies should take at least one nap outside a day. 

When I was training as a Norland Nanny, we had a row of coach prams outside in which our charges (a child assigned to our care) would take their morning naps.

Suitably dressed, the babies would sleep outside even in winter, as these prams with their weatherproof covers or sun parasols were designed for all weathers.

(The only exception would be that we would not put them to sleep outside on a foggy day.)

Consequently, I have always made sure that the little ones in my care go outside at least once a day to engage in an outdoor activity as part of the daily routine.

Making this time fun and exciting while nurturing a love for being outside will ensure that they are keen to get out there every day and will hopefully help to establish a lifelong desire to have fun outside whenever possible.

Benefits of outdoor activities for toddlers

So what are the benefits of outdoor activities for toddlers?

Spending fun time outside is hugely beneficial to a toddler and the positives are endless.

Their minds are like sponges as they absorb and learn about the world around them, so nurturing an interest in nature is a great way to make them keen to get out there, explore and see what they can discover and find. 

Time in the fresh air will help them to sleep better, improve their appetite, encourage the development of gross motor skills, ensure they get enough daylight and so much more.

Outdoor activities with toddlers need to be fun so try to make the time spent outside something they look forward to and not a chore.

Some toddlers are naturally more active than others, but by making the outdoors activities more interesting and varied, you will help your average 2/3-year-old to want to go outside to play and explore.

Connect with nature

A very good reason to establish a connection with nature when doing outdoor toddler activities is that it is thought that connecting with nature may lower a child’s risk of behaviour problems later on in life.

There is good evidence that, as adults, those of us that feel a strong connection to nature are happier, suffer less stress and better adjust to life's challenges.

Here's the kicker... Motivated by the fact that they believed children were spending too much time indoors, led a sedentary lifestyle, ate badly and had insufficient sleep, a recent study of preschoolers in Hong Kong, (Sobko et al 2018) found that nature-connected kids were better-behaved, were less likely to suffer from emotional difficulties, and more likely to show kindness toward others. 

So, yes. Connecting with nature really is vital to your little one's well being! 

Instead of just sending your children outside to play by themselves (which is OK on some days), we should encourage and nurture our toddlers' interest in the natural world too.

You can do this in many ways such as pointing out birds, insects and other wildlife when out on a walk and noting the change in seasons such as the leaves changing on the trees.

Just walking, observing and listening whilst on a walk or playing in the garden can help your toddler develop an interest and connection to nature.

This can all be followed up by looking at books about wildlife and you can start to plant the seeds for them to understand how important it is to help preserve our planet and the natural world around them.

You can collect leaves, interesting stones, pine cones and conkers and when you get back home, you can do an activity such as leaf painting or set up a nature shelf where you display your discoveries.

connect with nature toddler playing with leaves crawling on a log

Outdoor Activities Encourage a healthy lifestyle

Outdoor activities for toddlers help encourage a healthy lifestyle that can hopefully last a lifetime.

Making sure your little ones go outside at least once a day even in the winter will mean that they will view it all as just part of the daily routine.

Therefore, it is important that you encourage them to go out for a walk, play in the park, kick a ball around the garden or engage in some other outdoor activity each day.

Some children require more encouragement than others to get moving, so it is best to have an organised activity or goal when you go out.

Keeping your toddler engaged and interested in outdoor activities is the key and, consequently, they will be nagging you to get outside rather than you having to drag them out. (Which sounds much better, right?!)

Reduces stress and improves mental health

We all want our children to be happy and stress-free (and that is no mean feat in this day and age), but outdoor activities for toddlers can play an important part in achieving this.

It has also been scientifically observed that spending time outdoors may help to reduce a child's risk of developing certain behaviour problems, like hyperactivity and attention deficits (Vanaken and Danckaerts 2018).

reduces stress toddler in pink jacket walking through woodland

Outdoor Play Is The Best Stress Relief

The best stress relief comes from spending time in nature and in green spaces so your garden or local park are ideal locations for some daily outdoor fun.

You will probably find that if your toddler has been unsettled or whinny and grouchy whilst indoors, then a good walk, play in the garden or park will most definitely improve their mood.

Getting rid of excess energy outdoors in a safe environment is essential to a toddler's well being and mental health.

Outdoor Activities Help To Develop social skills

Outdoor activities can also help to develop social skills in your little one.

As they move towards an age where they begin to play with each other rather than alongside each other, such as playing ball with another adult or older sibling, will teach them to cooperate and share.

Taking turns to go on a swing or slide will also teach patience and courtesy towards others.

Outdoor Time Helps with sleep

Outdoor play will not make your toddler sleep for longer but it will help them fall asleep more easily and help their brains synchronize with the natural rhythm of the day.

Exposure to sunlight even in cloudy weather helps the body to produce melatonin later in the day as your toddler approached bedtime, making them more ready for sleep.

It is important to note, however, that even if your child has spent a decent amount of time outdoors during the day, exposure to artificial light from electronic screens, for example, will suppress or delay the melatonin release and result in your toddler not wanting to fall asleep to readily.

Therefore, remember the Bath, Book & Bed Routine. Begin your wind down for bed at least 1 hour before your little one's bedtime and limit screen time and energetic games too.

Outdoor Activities For Toddlers Help with physical development

One of the more obvious benefits of outdoor activities for toddlers is that they help with physical development.

This is because your little one will have far more opportunities to run, jump, climb and perfect their balance whilst outdoors. 

Strengthening muscles and developing coordination are all important for your toddler's development as well as instilling in them a love for outdoor activities.

With greater freedom of movement outdoors, gross motor skills can be practised and experienced to the full and will give your toddler more confidence in their physical abilities.

It is natural as parents to want to protect our children but in today's age of extreme health and safety, sometimes we can sometimes become too protective.

And sometimes, our children never get the opportunity to feel that little thrill of climbing a tree or jumping off a log.

Toddlers and young children who are allowed to take small but safe risks are more likely to deal with frightening situations in other areas of life.

As long as the risks are age-appropriate and you are at hand to ensure they do not hurt themselves encourage your children to push the boundaries physically.

helps with physical development toddler in all-in-one on climbing frame

A daily dose of Vitamin D!

As well as helping with establishing the brains connection to the natural rhythms of the day, exposure to sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D which promotes healthy brain, bone and muscle development. Even on cloudy days sunlight can work its magic.

Outdoor play Teaches toddlers new words and helps enhance sensory development

Exploring the outside world gives your toddler great opportunities to learn new words and concepts.

Physically experiencing things that feel and look different like a puddle that is one day full of muddy water and another day is frozen help your little one start to truly understand nature.

New words have more impact if they can feel 'squidgy' mud, 'smell' yellow flowers or watch ice 'melt' in the hot sun.

Outdoor activities for toddlers can help enhance your little one's sensory development as they learn to touch, observe and listen to the world around them.

Point out birdsong or the sound of the wind in the trees, watch raindrops falling into a bucket of water, walk barefoot on the grass, blow dandelion seeds and watch them float away on the breeze.

All these things are opening your toddler's eyes to the wonder of the world around them while encouraging sensory development, curiosity, increased vocabulary and the beginnings of scientific concepts.

Outdoor Activities encourage Free play

I have mentioned a lot of ways in which outdoor activities for a toddlers can be of benefit when doing more structured activities, but sometimes it is just as beneficial to let your little one have free play.

In an age when we feel we have to make the most of every moment with our children, we can run the risk of over structuring their lives.

This may sound strange coming from someone who spends their time helping parents make sure they give their young children all the opportunities they can to learn through play...

But I am a great believer in the fact that, armed with the correct knowledge, we should aim to make our children's learning as natural and organic as possible. 

Free play is, therefore, an important part of your toddler's healthy development.

By providing the opportunity for free play you are offering your little one the ideal environment in which to develop their imagination and creativity.

It is important that young children are able to explore independently but safely and not always be directed and led by you.

As long as you are keeping an eye on your toddler, let them take the lead and watch them explore.

Let them try to climb over the log on their own or watch the spider spinning a web.

Leave them to make mud pies and jump in puddles, lie on the grass in the sunshine, play in the wendy house or paddling pool while you just sit and watch.

free play toddler on wooden tractor

So, How do I entertain my kids outside?

Here are some ideas for fun outdoor activities for toddlers that you might like to try.

Some are very simple while others are more structured so try and keep a balance between the more spontaneous and the more organised activities.

Obviously, outdoor play is very weather dependent but having a few ideas up your sleeve for all year round outdoor play is always useful.

41 Outdoor Activities for toddlers

Playing in nature activities

  1. Playing in puddles is a great outdoor activity
  2. Your toddler will love collecting leaves /stones/pinecones etc for a nature display shelf
  3. Collecting leaves in the Autumn to take home to make leaf prints
  4. Walk barefoot on the grass and sand (also very good for foot development!)
  5. Walk every day with your toddler in all weathers to learn about the seasons
  6. Make mud pies!
  7. Touch, look and learn (smell the flowers, blow the dandelion seeds, feel the prickles on a thistle)
  8. Get dirty.
  9. Catch falling leaves during Autumn.
  10. Play Pooh sticks.
  11. Build a snowman.
outdoor activities for toddlers playing in nature toddler throwing a stone into a puddle

Physical play activities

  1. Encourage your toddler to climb, run and jump - perhaps jump over a molehill? Or run to the tree and back as fast as possible?
  2. Play ball games taking turns to kick and catch.
  3. Introduce your toddler to the bat and ball to help hand-eye coordination.
  4. Have a mini-trampoline.
  5. Ride a trike or scooter.
  6. Have a swing and slide in the garden or go to the playground
outdoor activities for toddlers physical play toddler swinging in a swing

Activities for the garden or patio

  1. Take the indoor play outside - put out a blanket or outside table and chairs and do jigsaws, build block towers or read books together.
  2. Take messy play activities such as painting outside - then you don't have to worry about the mess!
  3. Foot painting is great fun ( place a long row of paper on the ground, and let your little one stand in some paint then walk along the paper... they will love it!)
  4. Set up water play - A garden hose and sprinkler never fails! Or even a bucket and a watering can!
  5. Take ice outside and watch it melt.
  6. Have a sandpit.
  7. Use sidewalk chalk to draw on the patio.
  8. Plant seeds to water and watch grow - sunflowers are great!
  9. Have a picnic in the garden
  10. Play hide and seek
  11. Pick fruit and veg you have grown to eat and cook. A great way to get toddlers to try new foods.
  12. Give them miniature gardening set to encourage them to help with the gardening
  13. Put up the paddling pool
  14. Plan a simple treasure hunt - try and balance food rewards with toys/collectables that they love too!
  15. Put up a bird table and feeder - get mini binoculars and a bird book to help them identify what bird is eating the food!
  16. Kids love a tent or teepee set up in the garden - a good old fashioned den will keep them entertained for hours. How about serving lunch there too?
  17. Blow giant bubbles
outdoor activities for toddlers Activities For The Garden Or Patio toddler playing with watering cans

Fun days out

  1. Go to a petting farmyard
  2. Go to a fruit farm and pick your own fruits to take home
  3. Visit the zoo
  4. Go to a wildlife park
  5. Go to the beach - play in the water, collect shells and explore the rock pools
  6. Teach your toddler to swim
  7. Visit nature reserves and parks
outdoor activities for toddlers reduces stress toddler in pink jacket walking through woodland

Remember, Don't Over Complicate It

So, now you know why outdoor activities for toddlers are so important and you have a great collection of ideas for when you need to get out and about.

Remember, don't overcomplicate it.

Your kids will love spending time outside, just make it engaging and fun and they'll be begging to go outside again in no time!

Now, go pop on your welly boots and get out there in the muddy puddles!

What activity will you be trying first with your little one?

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to give it a share with your friends! Thank you for your support!

Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula Mclaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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