Your kiddos beg for some outdoor play but sometimes that tried-and-true neighborhood playground isn’t as exciting as it once was. Time to amp up outdoor play with a few tricks you can carry around in your bag! Read on for our favorites.

3 kids at playgroundphoto: Ann Lenssen

1. Go On the Hunt: If you can sneak off to the playground for a few minutes before they arrive (or if you know it like the back of your hand) you can plan this one out in advance. You’ll want a little tape and a paper and pen. Start with a simple rhyming riddle or clue, such as, “If you think a bird can sing, get your next clue at the _____.” After five or six clues, just have a cute little car or pack of stickers as the prize.

2. Check It Out: Before you head to the playground make a checklist of different things to “find” on the playground. A bird song, sand, a kid laughing, leaves, a flower in bloom…it’s a great and very simple way to get the kids to do some observing.

3. Sliding Races: After the kids have had their fill going down the slide, use those slippery slopes as a slick racetrack for all their favorite toy cars. Have them guess to see which one will cross the finish line first, and don’t forget to bring an extra vehicle or two for sharing with friends!

4. Sit and See: Give each kiddo a journal and a pen. If they aren’t able to write on their own, or if they just prefer drawing, that works too. You can put a timer on it to keep it short and have them bust it out for two minutes or make it a free form, as-long-as-you-like kind of session. You can participate, too, and be sure and share your observations of what you see, hear, smell and feel.

5. Hide and Seek: It’s a play-anywhere-with-anyone kind of game that draws in energetic munchkins. Using playground equipment as hiding spots, it’s always fun to draw out little players.  Mix it up by playing a reverse style, such as Sardines, where instead of coming out, they’ll be squeezing into the same hiding place.

6. Shiny Happy People: Introduce the ubiquitous plastic figures in your little’s life to the unfettered wilderness of the wood-chip jungle: the playground. Who knows what creative scenarios the wee ones will play out when a few Little People, Magic Clip dolls or TMNT action figures? We love one reader’s suggestion of bringing the dinos along for playtime of jurassic proportions.

americanninja_playgroundpizzazz_gabbycullen_playgrounds_national_Redtricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

7. I Spy Tons of Fun: There are so many things to find on the playground, and that makes for easy, impromptu, parent-kiddo games of I Spy. Challenge the tot lot to look around and find as many different colors as possible, and even extend the fun to shapes and sizes.

8. American Ninja Warrior: Make like the contestants on this popular reality show and suddenly, the obstacle course at the playground looks different. Create your own stages, such as, “swing 10 times, climb up the slide and go down, before crawling under the ladder to touch this pole” to get the ball rolling. They’ll be suggesting new stages and challenging friends in no time.

9. Indiana Jones Redux: Have your little adventurer explore like Indie, avoiding hot lava flows or crocodile-filled creeks as she climbs from one end of the play structure to the next without “falling in.” But don’t worry: Even if her feet hit the ground, she can start all over again and try a different route. Watch out for those pesky snake pits!

playgroundpizzazz_GabbyCullen_playgrounds_national_redtricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

10. Superhero Sessions: With just a few accessories, a trip to the playground becomes a chance to save Metropolis, Gotham, or any superhero city. Suddenly, sliding down the playground pole becomes step one in an adventurous rescue for a costumed firefighter, and a simple cape comes in handy when your crime fighters swoop in to save the day!

11. A’ la Mode: There’s nothing quite like a toddler playground pie. Be sure to slip a few essential baking items, like an aluminum pie tin or small plastic containers, into your bag before you head out and you’ll be sampling mud, sand, and wood chip pie in no time. We hear that grass and leaves make excellent sprinkles, and dandelions double as cherries!

Boy climbing wall on playgroundphoto: Allison Sutcliffe

12. Go for Gold: Get budding athletes pumped by setting up competitive trials on the monkey bars, the climbing structures, and across the grass. Timed trials motivate and fascinate kids to no end, so put this need for speed to good use on the playground. Use a smartphone timer to add an air of authenticity. And be sure and get in on the competition if you’re able, because kids love beating out their parents! Ready, set, go …

13. Tag Time: When the tot lot tires of all the sliding, swinging and climbing, give them a little tap on the shoulder and yell, “You’re it!” to start a classic game of tag. Running around, up, down and under all the equipment adds dimensions and challenges that’ll have everyone giggling and (huff, puff) out of breath. Phew!

How do you up the ante while playing at the park? Share an idea in a comment below.

— Amber Guetebier, Allison Sutcliffe & Gabby Cullen

featured photo: unsplash via pixabay