It’s SUMMER! Does anyone else immediately think of your toddler singing Olaf’s summer song whenever you think about summer?
My favorite… “Just imagine how much cooler I’ll be in summer”.
Soooo Olaf obviously didn’t do his research because outdoor activities can be difficult on a hot day.
But, young children love spending time outside in a natural environment.
And those sunshine rays are excellent for everyone’s mental health!
In the book Balanced and Barefoot, Angela Hascom, a pediatric occupational therapist tells us how important outdoor play is for children and that it is necessary for a truly balanced childhood.
“In recent years, a new nature movement has emerged that… gives special attention to the right of every child to the benefits that nature brings to children’s physical and mental health and their ability to learn and create” (Hascom 2016).
Let’s face it— kids play better, nicer and more cooperatively when they are outside.
And double whammy because then as the parent, you don’t have to do so much entertaining!
So let’s get into some fun creative play ideas for easy outdoor activities to do with your kiddos that will keep you busy all summer long!
If you’re in need of a great activity for the whole family, then check out this post on outdoor activities.
For now, we will focus on activities for our little kids.
Outdoor Activities For 1-2 Year Olds
1. Complete A Physical Activity Challenge
Here is a great physical activity challenge to try with your young toddlers!
Physical activity is so important at this age (especially if you want them to sleep good at night).
Get them moving to engage multiple parts of their brain all at once when they are outside.
The challenge even comes with these adorable printable badges that your toddler can earn upon completing each task!
You can do this in your backyard or head over to a local park!
2. Play Red Light, Green Light
This is one of those great activities that never gets old!
And it’s best done outside anyways so kids aren’t running into each other.
Toddlers love pairing a color with an action (such as red for stop and green for go).
This is a great physical development game that will ensure a good nap for both you and your little one later.
3. Play In Water
Kids love WATER PLAY!
I don’t know about you, but I find more water on the outside of the tub than the inside when I bathe my kids.
Simply because they are having too much fun splashing around and pouring water everywhere!
So… why not try the splash pad?!
If you don’t have one of your own yet, now is a great time to invest.
My daughter got a splash pad for her second birthday and used it almost daily in the summer.
If you don’t want to spend the money, then look around your community for a public splash pad.
Another great idea is doing backyard water games.
Use sensory bins and fill it with different size containers along with measuring cups to pour. (For added fun, you can use food coloring and practice mixing different colors).
Add a syringe to the mix and your child will think you’re the greatest for letting them be the “doctor” who administers the “medicine” to the pretend patients.
Another good idea is using a sponge.
Make your own DIY sponge bombs by helping your child fill a sponge with water and then drop them from a balcony or porch.
Watching the big splash will bring lots of giggles.
You can also help them practice transferring water with a sponge.
Fill up one bucket with water and have another empty bucket sitting a few feet away.
Have your tot fill up a sponge in the first bucket and then run it to the other bucket, squeeze it out, then repeat until all the water from one bucket is gone.
Then do it again with the buckets further apart this time!
A water table is also a fun way to play with water outside!
You can create your own simply by putting your sensory bin on a small table for your child.
Or find a water table on Amazon. This is definitely one of our best outdoor toys!
4. Have A Picnic
Picnics with your toddler can be so fun! (Unless you have a busy toddler).
Lay out a large piece of paper (butcher paper preferably) and color on it while you eat your lunch together.
Try going to a park for a change of scenery.
5. Water The Flowers
If you don’t have flowers to water, you might consider planting some just for this activity!
Teaching 2 year olds to be helpful is a great idea and watering the flowers is a good “job” for them.
Our children’s museum in downtown Phoenix has a whole courtyard with plants and flowers planted for kids to fill up watering cans and practice taking care of them.
My girls could stay there for hours!
6. Do A Nature Scavenger Hunt
This one takes a little bit more effort to put together, but is one of those great outdoor learning activities.
Print out a few pictures of things you can find outside (or draw them if you don’t have access to a printer).
They can be simple. For example: a flower, tree, bird, grass, swing set, a stick, dirt, rock, etc.
7. Set Up A Tent
Want to go camping but don’t want to pack everything up to go into the mountains and the great outdoors?
Why not set up a tent in your own backyard?!
Your kids will love you forever for doing this with them!
If you have older kids, let them help to set it up.
Otherwise, you could have your kids tell you the “instructions” while you do the work (they’ll feel super helpful).
When you finish, find different sounds that you would hear while camping and play it in the tent.
You could even have s’mores while you’re at it!
8. Play With Ice
Ice Ice baby! Ice is a great way to do sensory play.
And the best part is, it just melts and you don’t have any clean up!
This sensory experience is great for little hands because they can usually fit the ice cube in their palm.
Tip: if it‘s too cold for them to hold, you can put a paper towel around it.
Or prep them the night before with popsicle sticks in the ice cube tray before freezing the water. It will act as a great paintbrush the next day!
Have them use their ice cubes to “paint” a picture on the sidewalk or driveway.
Then count how long it takes for the picture to “disappear” and do it all over again!
The fun never ends with this one!
9. Set Up A Mini Obstacle Course
My kiddos LOVE obstacle courses… especially when it’s a race!
It can be as simple as running from one spot to the next to the next and then back to the start, or you can make it more complex.
Use cones for them to run around, hula hoops that they have to jump through, and a slide with hose water running down it.
Make sure you participate in the obstacle course for toddlers too for optimum laughter 🙂
10. Plant A Garden
Similar to watering flowers, planting a garden with your young one allows them to feel fulfilled and like they are helping out the family.
Have them choose which kinds of fruits or vegetables they want to plant and then go to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot to get the supplies.
They will love seeing that the tiny seeds can grow into something that they can eat for a meal!
11. Count Items You See
Counting is a great learning activity that doesn’t just have to be done inside!
Help your child count animals that they can find (bugs, birds, dogs, etc).
Or even try counting different types of trees and flowers.
Challenge their thinking by asking them which category has the most and which has the least.
12. Blow Bubbles
What child doesn’t LOVE bubbles?!
You can grab some from the dollar store, or make your own using this recipe here.
Simply pour it on a cookie sheet and then use cookie cutters to dip in and blow out the bubbles.
13. Roll A Ball
If you have younger children, then rolling a ball back and forth to each other on the grass is a great way to practice those gross motor skills.
For older toddlers, you can practice kicking the ball back and forth and helping them learn how to stop the ball with their foot.
This is a challenging skill for a lot of kids as it requires hand-eye coordination.
So be patient with your little one if they don’t pick it up right away.
You can always sing them a little Daniel Tiger song if they start feeling frustrated that they can’t do it!
14. Play With Water Balloons
Check out these fun water balloon activities for your backyard that will be engaging for you AND your little one!
I just got these reusable water balloons for my kids and they definitely live up to the hype!
15. “Wash” The Car Or Bikes
How fun would it be for a kid to go through a pretend car wash?!
Especially if your child is scared of the real car wash (like mine are), then doing an at home “bike wash” is a great way to help them become more familiar with it.
Switch off roles by being the “car washer” and the “car driver” so that your child gets a turn to ride his or her bike through the wash as well as direct and spray YOU through the wash.
You’re bound to end in soapy bonding laughter together!
16. Play In The Dirt
Who needs a sensory bin when you have dirt!
Kids don’t need a lot to challenge their cognitive and imaginative skills.
Add in a shovel and a few toy trucks to make a construction site and they’ll be set for hours on end.
If you’re feeling brave, you can also add in some water to help them learn about mud.
(Just make sure to have old towels and the hose ready to go for when they finish).
17. Ask Some Questions While Your Toddler Is Playing
When kids play outside, they tend to get so immersed in their imagination that they don’t necessarily ”need” you to be playing right next to them.
However, they do love it when we as adults engage with them in their world.
So as they play, try asking them questions.
If you need a great place to start, check out these summer would you rather questions.
18. Play Laundry Basket Basketball
Here’s a simple activity!
Take a laundry basket out to the middle of the yard with some balls of various sizes.
Have a fun afternoon shooting some hoops with your toddler.
19. Take The Messy Toys Outside
Who here likes to clean up paint on the table?
What about play doh in the carpet?
Or kinetic sand in between every kitchen tile?
Ok. Yeah. NOBODY! Sometimes I wonder why I buy these things for my kids.
BUT. Let me tell you a secret… outside doesn’t have to be clean!
Take all of these things outside and solve a whole bunch of your clean up problems.
No more stressing about the paint getting on the new couch!
Even if it is raining, getting outside to do these activities can be a great way to break up the day.
Simply sit on the covered back patio or put an easy up out for a change of scenery.
20. Read Outside On A Blanket
Brain activity increases in the left hemisphere of our brain while reading.
This, combined with the serotonin release from being outside in the sunshine, is bound to produce significant results for both you and your toddler!
After you finish reading, take time to lay down together and look at the clouds in the sky. Point out the pictures that you see!
21. Simulate Rain With A Hose And Umbrella
Toddlers love to watch the rain, but can sometimes be scared to go outside in an actual rain storm because of the thunder.
So, try re-creating a rain storm for them!
Whip out the umbrella and teach them how to use it!
They will love recognizing that they can stay dry under the umbrella while you spray the “rain” up above them.
22. Play Wet Twister
Twister for toddlers is a tricky concept because they don’t always know they’re left from their right yet.
However, they are working on their colors!
Try covering your Twister mat with water and then ask your child to jump from color to color.
Take turns so that they are directing you to jump from color to color next. They will love the fact that they are “in charge” of getting you all wet.
For more fun, turn it into a slip n’ slide when you finish!
23. Play Follow The Leader
Most kids enjoy directing adults since we are the ones who direct them all day!
How about we take a break for a bit and leave it to our toddler to tell us what to do and where to go.
Let them lead you around the yard doing all sorts of silly things… jumping backwards, crawling, rolling in the grass.
You could even suggest that they make silly faces while doing it!
Turn on music and make it a parade.
24. Pick A Bouquet Of Wildflowers
Go to an open field and find wildflowers for your child to pick (bring some scissors for the tricky ones to pull out).
Talk with your child about the different colors of flowers, why wildflowers grow, and count them as you put them into your bouquet.
Bring them home and put them in a vase in the sunshine, or tie a pretty bow around them and gift them to a neighbor or loved one!
25. Draw On A Sliding Glass Door With Dry Erase Markers
This is one of my favorite toddler activities!
Your toddler will love the fact that you are giving him or her permission to draw on something that seems “off limits”.
I have found that a black dry erase marker can be seen the best, but try it out with all different colors if you want!
Try a game of tic tac toe together if you have an older toddler.
Or practice tracing and writing different letters together for their developing cognitive skills.
26. Paint With Feet
Make sure you use non-toxic paints for this one as it will be on your child’s skin.
Put a different color of paint on each paper plate, roll out a large piece of paper, and then let your child have at it!
It’s like finger painting, but feet painting! Be sure to have the hose ready to spray off their little toes when you finish.
Sidewalk chalk is so fun for kids! It allows a different part of creativity to come out in them.
Try helping your toddler create a mini town with chalk.
Add a road big enough for their “car” (bike) and then draw their house, the grocery store, the dentist, a church, a park, and anything else your child thinks the town needs.
They will have fun playing in their new town for hours on end!
Another great challenge for your toddler is to see if your child can erase your chalk drawings with water quicker than you can draw them.
Hand them a spray bottle and they can follow you with water while you draw in front of them.
28. Make A Nature Collage
While you do your outdoor scavenger hunt, you can hand your child a zip lock bag to collect all of their items. Save their collection to make a nature collage.
Get out the glue and some construction paper and then let them have at it!
See what they can create with all of the items that they found.
You can also try challenging them to group their collection by category (all the flowers in one corner, all the sticks in another corner, and so on).
29. Make A Maze Out Of Sticks
Help your toddler collect as many sticks as they can find!
Then make a trail of sticks leading to a special “surprise” at the end (a small treat or afternoon snack will do the trick).
Take turns setting up the maze and doing it with each other.
Help your child to create it in a way that challenges their motor skills such as weaving back and forth or having them jump through the whole maze.
30. See What Elements In Nature Sink Or Float
Predicting is a new skill that toddlers are starting to learn at this age.
Collect multiple things in your yard or at a park and then come in to the sink or bath tub and ask your child if they think the item will sink or float.
Then test your hypothesis and see if you are right!
A toddler’s development will thrive if they can get even get an hour of sunshine and energy out everyday.
It might take a little bit of extra planning, but both you and your kiddo will feel happier at the end of the day if you can get that outside time in!
And all the better if it provides and fun and meaningful connection for you and your toddler!