Outdoor activities for toddlers are hugely beneficial for cognitive and physical development. While all children love outdoor play, being outside gives your toddler a magical place to explore. They will love discovering all that nature has to offer, and it’s an ideal place for sensory play too.

Organised outdoor games are fun and beneficial, especially for group activities. Young children want to move and be physically active. Find large, safe outdoor spaces where toddlers can run, jump and hop, or play with balls and hoops to strengthen muscles and build coordination.

Toddlers will also enjoy spontaneous outdoor play. You can encourage their curiosity with simple tools, like a pot and a pan, and watch them make up their own games. Unstructured nature play leads to hours of exhilarating, imaginative fun that works gross and fine motor skills too.

Playing outside in nature was once a regular part of a child’s day. In this article, we cover:

  • What is nature play?
  • Why encourage outdoor play?
  • The benefits of playing outdoors.
  • Outdoor activities in the sun, rain or snow.

Child engages in spontaneous play in the sand, one of the many outdoor activities for toddlers.

What is nature play?

Many of us have fond memories of outdoor adventures as children. There was a time when children were free to run to the neighbours, ride about on bikes, play hide and seek behind trees, chase each other with hoses and buckets or jump in piles of grass and leaves.

At some point, nature play has faded. Children today are less likely to benefit from outdoor experiences as playtime shifted indoors, and cultures became risk-averse. The rise of the screen-based lifestyle has also been blamed as more households adopted new technologies.

Nature play is unstructured outdoor play. A balance of indoor and outdoor play is essential for a child’s health and wellbeing. Unstructured play is child-led play where there is no specific learning objective and play is open-ended. It’s a perfect fit for a toddler’s curiosity.

 Educator helps child during an obstacle nature play experience.

Why is outdoor play important for toddlers?

One of the most important aspects of outdoor play is its benefits for physical and mental health. However, outdoor play does more than support a young child’s physical development. It also develops their ability to cope with risks and challenges.

And safe play in the sun several times a day has other benefits like boosting vitamin D levels which is good for bone growth and development. It also helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphate.

Encouraging your toddler to play outdoors improves their vitality. It stimulates brain development and builds positive stress response mechanisms. Regardless of the amount of outdoor space you have available, you can also help your child connect with nature through grounding.

Grounding or earthing as it is also coined, can be achieved by digging with hands in a bucket of sand or soil, planting seedlings in egg containers or simply walking on the ground in bare feet. Outdoor sensory play helps toddlers sleep and feel more connected with their environment.

Children have fun in a tub of mud as part of an outdoor play experience.

What are the benefits of playing outside for a child’s development?

Outdoor play has many benefits for toddlers depending on the activities they engage in, and the type and amount of exposure to nature. Some of the advantages of playing outside include:

  • Space to move freely and quickly.
  • Less concern about cleaning up after messy play.
  • Learning about the natural environment.
  • Development of fine and gross motor skills.
  • Strengthening of muscles through physical activities.
  • Developing coordination, balance and climbing skills.
  • Sensory play in nature with grass, sand, soil, mud and water.
  • Learning to take risks.
  • Boosting vitality.
  • Soaking up some vitamin D.
  • Reducing the risk of developing short-sightedness or myopia.
  • Strengthening immunity.
  • Improves fitness and decreases obesity.
  • Developing social and language skills with outdoor group play.
  • Reducing stress with free play and fresh air.
  • Increasing attention spans.
  • Promoting better sleeping patterns and rhythms.

Toddler explores a pine cone while playing outside.

Outdoor activities for kids in the sun, rain or snow

Outdoor activities for toddlers shouldn’t be restricted to fine sunny days. Your child can also have fun playing in the rain, and in the snow. And playing outside doesn’t require a lot of planning. While you may need to supervise, let your toddler come up with their own activities.

Here are a few ideas to encourage your toddler’s outdoor play:

  1. Give them some rocks and sticks to build with.
  2. Put on the sprinkler and give them a pot.
  3. Give them a jar to collect curious objects in.
  4. Start gardening and see if they join you.
  5. Place some balls about.
  6. Encourage them to ride on their tricycles and scooters.
  7. Set up a place for outdoor painting with nature (pine cones, sticks and pebbles).
  8. Go exploring together on a nature walk.
  9. Leave out a skipping rope or hula-hoop.
  10. Pack a picnic basket and put up a tent.
  11. Lie on a blanket to observe the birds, clouds, moon, sunset, sunrise or stars.
  12. Blow bubbles and watch your child chase them.
  13. Let them play in grass, sand, mud and very shallow water with supervision.
  14. Encourage running, hopping, skipping and jumping about.

When “planning” activities, try not to get too involved by directing their play. Give them the tools and let them do the choosing. Supervise their experiences, so it’s safe from harmful aspects and step in to teach your child about dangerous critters (like which bugs to avoid handling).

Dress for the environment. Put on swimmers for water play, a hat and sunscreen for daylight and warm winter woollies if it’s cold out. Most importantly go have some fun and let your toddler explore the great outdoors.

Child stretches arms preparing to climb, one of the many outdoor activities for kids.

Boost your child’s development with outdoor activities at Petit Early Learning Journey

Outdoor play-based activities are an essential part of Petit ELJ. We plan a diverse range of activities to create opportunities for both structured and spontaneous play. Our outdoor play environments offer sensory experiences where children can explore and bond with nature.

Your child will have a magical time exploring nature and organic materials like real sand, grass, earth mounds and water features. Tour your nearest centre and ask our Educators about the value of outdoor activities.

Book a tour today.