Outdoor toys (and non-toys) can help inspire and nature play and adventure in your own backyard. Make it a space they won’t want to leave!
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Adventure doesn’t always need distance or a destination — it can often be found right outside your door!
Sticks and stones and rocks and cones yield plenty of entertainment for kids, but sometimes a “new thing” also helps promote prolonged play outdoors. Enter our outdoor toy (and non-toy!) suggestions below. If you’re giving a gift anyway, you may as well make it something that gets them outside! These items make it easy on parents, not requiring a trip to the playground or museum, but providing tools for outdoor play just steps away.
Not all of these items fit in the category of “toys”, so if you’re looking for outdoor “non-toys”, you’re still in the right place!
You will find items from these loose categories:
- outdoor toys for imaginative play
- outdoor toys for active play
- outdoor toys for quiet play
- outdoor toys for play after dark
OUTDOOR TOYS for imaginative play
Toy trucks are a great addition to free play, especially dump trucks that can load, transport, and dump in any conditions: rain, snow, mud, grass, sand. You can choose either a plastic truck (won’t rust) or steel (not plastic). You can also combine it with a front loader for even more imaginative movement. And just when you think your kid has outgrown it, they’ll find yet another creative use for this construction vehicle!
My sons loved their pretend lawnmower, starting from when they took their first steps and continuing until they were too tall to comfortably walk behind it. It seems as though most toy lawnmowers either make sound or blow bubbles, but this more-realistic-looking mower can be silent without batteries!
For snack time, homework, plein air art or nature crafts, kids will enjoy having their own dedicated space with this picnic table (and umbrella!).
Don’t underestimate the power of a good stump! It can play so many roles in imaginative and practical play. A table, a tower, a throne, a launch pad, a specimen. If you don’t have an existing stump, sections of log turned on their ends are just as valuable.
Along with sticks and rocks and pinecones, tree cookies are great loose parts to have available in your backyard. They come in all sizes and are (hopefully) free, if you find the right source. But they yield endless play, with a dose of creativity and imagination!
A mud kitchen is a great way to encourage sensory play for kids. Water play, mud play, dirt play, sand play — this kitchen will ‘cook’ up anything with just a little imagination and creativity!
OUTDOOR TOYS for active play
Turn your backyard into a playground! Climbing gym, igloo, mountain — this geometric dome is only limited by your child’s imagination.
Stomp Rockets are generally simple in design, but provide endless fun. Whose rocket will go higher? How long will it take to reach the ground again? Try the original, double, or glow-in-the-dark. National Geographic also has their own version with LED lights.
This wagon is great for young kids (up to 4 yrs) and equally suited for both indoor and outdoor play. Load it with favorite toys, pinecones, mud, sand, sticks… The options are endless.
And the quintessential Radio Flyer wagon is a great addition to any backyard.
Stick-lets fort building kit
Stick-lets are a great tool for creating forts and shelters in the woods — rubber joints connect sticks to each other and are only limited by a child’s imagination.
Definitely a splurge, a trampoline is a great addition to any backyard (after a conversation with your insurance agency) — either solo or with friends. (They’re always a big draw.) They’ve come a long way in the last decade, yielding some fun-yet-safe designs. Check out the Springfree options, which always have rave reviews. (Designed by an engineer dad who wanted a safe trampoline option for his kids. His other claims to fame are a bald patch inspector and an amphibious car!)
slackline + zipline
Few things say “my backyard is cool” more than a slack line or a zipline! A slackline helps kids practice their acrobatic skills, building core strength and balance.
A zipline can add a dose of thrill for kids as they whip through the air, even if just for a short distance!
When the perfect climbing tree or climbing wall don’t already exist in your backyard, you can build your own challenge. Build a wall with these climbing grips, which come with all the necessary hardware.
These grips are designed to be secured around the trunk of a tree. Perfect for practicing bouldering skills or for reaching that perfect tree-climbing branch that’s just out of reach.
Cornhole is a recent crown favorite and a simple game for all ages. Make your own set (a great family project!) or but a collapsible/portable set that you can easily store away.
Archery sets are a great activity for kids, requiring focus and quiet, encouraging practice and repetitition. There are many different versions available for different ages and abilities, including a wooden set with fletched arrows, or a set with a light-up bow and suction-cup arrows.
The Faux Bow is great for older kids too, with a range of up to 120 feet (and foam blasters to keep it safe).
big bubbles kit
Bubbles are fun any time of year, and making huge bubbles is always a great challenge. This kit comes with its own (concentrated) bubble solution, which yields great results.
Backyard campfires are a great opportunity for family bonding, especially when combined with s’mores. You don’t need a fancy firepit (unless you want one), but if you want join the pandemic crazy, check out Solo stoves. Especially if you’re the one constantly being chased by the smoke (if you know, you know) — Solo stoves claim to yield less smoke.
Ramps and jumps are a great addition for kids who scooter or bike and are ready for a new challenge. I like the way these ramps are adjustable — you can keep them together for beginners, and move them farther apart (or use singly) when riders want to be challenged even more.
OUTDOOR TOYS for quiet play
There’s something special about a swing. It’s such a simple piece of equipment and seems like a symbol of childhood. These day, a “simple” swing is not so simple any more, but there’s no harm in some variety!
This stand-up swing — the Swurfer — allows kids to “surf” the air, The adjustable handles make it good for a broad range of ages, starting at about age 6. Kids can work on core body strength and balance, all while having fun swinging through the air.
My son loves his saucer swing and would happily spend hours swinging and reading. He often brings a snack, a pillow, and a favorite book for some quiet time outdoors.
A combination of swing and ladder, this apparatus can be attached to the beam of an existing swing set, or other locations if properly installed. Endless fun!
Backyard time is often active, but is equally good for quiet and rest. Enjoy fresh air while reading, napping or daydreaming from the comfort of your own hammock. Easy to install, this hammock is a great option for kids (or any other family member).
I love the idea of sitting outside in a teepee to read. This one is indoor/outdoor and comes with a waterproof mat. It can become a hideaway, a headquarters, a fort, a bedroom… let their imagination fly!
Sandboxes are great spaces for quiet (or not-so-quiet!) sensory play. Choose a sandbox with a liner and a cover to keep the sand as contained as possible. Add funnels, construction toys, shovels and buckets for endless play!
OUTDOOR TOYS for play after dark
To extend your playtime outside, consider games that can be played after dark. These are especially good for older kids, even — gasp — teenagers!
Kids love capture the flag, but have yours ever played glow in the dark capture the flag?
Laser tag is another great option for tweens and teens. The vests sense when they’ve been tagged, so it also eliminates any squabbling over whether or not someone was -actually- tagged. 😉
Nighttime play often requires light. To help them play hands-free, consider a head lamp! This one is rechargeable.
Give your backyard atmosphere (and light) with these solar string lights.
A lantern allows for reading, board games, eating and exploring outdoors after the sun has set.
With so many incredible yearly celestial events and casual stargazing, a telescope can be a great investment for budding astronomers. This telescope is purported to be family-friendly with relatively quick assembly, a traditional set-up (telescope on tri-pod), providing sharp views of the stars and details on the moon. One exciting add-on that may interest kids is the smartphone adapter (when available), letting them take photos of what they see.
With so many ideas to help your kids prolong their outdoor time at home, you may find it hard to get them back inside! Outdoor toys (and non-toys) aren’t required for backyard play, but if you’re giving a gift anyway, make it one that keeps kids enriched, entertained and active outside!
For more (budget-friendly) gift ideas, check out our other suggestions: