What child isn’t happy playing in the great outdoors? Unstructured play can be great, but sometimes you want an activity to guide the fun. Go way beyond bubbles and sidewalk chalk with these easy DIY ideas for outdoor activities—some for sitters, some for crawlers, and some for walkers.
photo: Bambini Travel
1. Mess-Free Painting!
Mix babies with painting and you usually have a massive mess on your hands—unless you let them paint with water. This sidewalk activity from Erin at Bambini Travel is all about encouraging free expression while learning how to use a paintbrush. Demonstrate how to dip the brush in a bucket of water and then sweep it across your driveway, patio or a wood fence.
photo: Busy Toddler
2. The Coolest Play Boats
Ice cubes are a great way to stay cool on a hot summer day. And the colorful ice boats at Busy Toddler use food coloring to keep kids delighted and spark their imagination. These boats require some parent prep ahead of time, which you can do with your little ones watching or helping. Then let loose the boots in an outdoor water table, bucket or inflatable backyard pool. Kids can move them across the water and watch the colored cubes melt.
photo: Fantastic Fun and Learning
3. Shaving Cream = Sensory Fun
There’s something about the texture of shaving cream that delights little ones. And the folks at Fantastic Fun and Learning found that out firsthand with this sensory play idea. Put the cream into a squirt bottle and mix in some food coloring, then let kids squeeze it onto contact paper and explore with their fingers. This activity is great for little ones learning to sit and crawlers who won’t go slip-sliding anywhere too fast. Just keep a close eye on them so they don’t try to taste the foam or smear it on their clothes.
photo: I Heart Crafty Things
4. Color Scavenger Hunt
Encourage your kids to explore their surroundings with a simple scavenger hunt like this one from I Heart Crafty Things. Even non-walkers can participate. All it takes is some colored markers (crayons or colored pencils work too) and a piece of paper. Draw squares of common colors found outdoors, and then help your child find objects in nature that match each hue.
photo: Click Pray Love
5. A Backyard Sensory Barn
Babies love to engage their senses, and this sandbox sensory play activity by Click Pray Love allows your mini-me to have all kinds of tactile adventures. Fill a backyard pool or other large, low container with sand and some barn- or farm-themed toys. Watch as your child digs through the sand to discover hidden treasures. Switch out the farm theme for a dinosaur dig, car and truck rally, or seashells and sand dollars.
photo: A Crafty Living
6. Guess Which Color
Warning: This splatter-paint art project from A Crafty Living may become addictive. Squirt some washable paint in large blobs on a big sheet of paper and then cover each with a cotton round (the paint blog should be slightly smaller than the cotton round). Strip your babe down to their diaper and help them smack each white round with a rubber mallet to discover which bold color will burst out. When you’re done, you’re left with a museum-worthy piece of modern art…and a happy baby in need of a bath.
photo: Washing Up via Flickr
7. The Cutest Nature Jam
When little ones bang on pots and pans indoors, it can be headache-inducing. So take all that noise and energy outside. Donna Bozzo, author of What the Fun?! 427 Simple Ways To Have Fantastic Family Fun Play, suggests pulling loud kitchen tools and utensils outdoors and letting your baby make music. Attach the makeshift instruments to a fence, tree or other stationary object so they don’t disappear. Or, lay them down in the grass for a different kind of sound.
photo: Whitney C. Harris
8. Mix Natural Sights and Sounds
All you need is a clear water bottle and a curious baby to make these DIY nature bottles from life coach and mother of four Leighann Marquiss. Help your child collect objects from your backyard or a local park and place them in the bottle. Be on the lookout for dirt, grass, flowers, sand, stones, sticks, acorns and other small items that fit the bottle. (As always, keep a close watch so baby doesn’t put their finds in their mouth.) Then seal the cap on the bottle and let your child turn and shake it to their heart’s content.
What are your favorite ways to spend time outdoors with kids in the summertime?
— Whitney C. Harris