Top Backyard Activities for Outdoor Play

Enjoy these fun options for outdoor play without playground equipment.  Games and activities using toys and other props support gross motor movement and fine motor skills. Here are some low cost, low-prep backyard activities for outdoor play without playground equipment.

Backyard activities for yards without a playground

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Outdoor play is important for early childhood development. It builds social, gross motor and spatial skills. It gets kids in touch with their surroundings for sensory experiences.

Outdoor play spaces differ for everyone. Some have large backyards. Some have a deck or paved area only. Others have access to a playground nearby. 

In this post I offer a few suggestions for games and activities to do outside when swings and slides and other equipment are not available.


Backyard activities

What can we do outside without a playground?

Here are ways we can play with toys and games in outdoor spaces.

1. Scavenger hunt

Give each child or team a list of objects to find. Your list might include: green leaf, brown twig, flat rock, pine cone, clothespin, sandal, toy shovel.

Pictures of items can be included for young children.


2. Sand play and water play


Sand play outside with toddlers and preschoolers


Fill a small wading pool or large plastic container with play sand purchased at a local hardware store. Add toy cars, funnels, plastic rakes, shovels, measuring spoons. Cover the container when not in use.

You can do the same procedure for water play.

You can also make a mud play area with a simple setup like this mud pie kitchen from Tinkerlab.

3. Bubbles

Use store-bought or homemade solutions with a variety of wands.

This DIY bubble station from Crafty Mama in ME will ensure a steady supply of homemade bubble solution!

4. Picnic-in-the-shade

Pack a picnic basket with crackers and cheese, finger sandwiches, thermos or drink boxes, along with a checkered tablecloth.

5. Reading-in-the-shade

Spread a blanket under a tree or lounge in the hammock with picture books about nature.

Here are some book suggestions.

 The Grouchy Ladybug - Eric Carle


Bugs A to Z - Scholastic


Bunny's Noisy Book - Margaret Wise Brown


The Water Hole - Graeme Base


6. Nature Walk


Outdoor play with binoculars on a nature walk

Go exploring with binoculars and magnifiers. Look at leaves and insects up close.

7. Parade

Dress up in costumes. Carry banners or wave flags made by the children. Ride on tricycles or pull wagons.

8. Obstacle course

Identify natural props for going under, over and around: under the tree branch, around the lilac bush, over the big rock!

You can also build a backyard obstacle course with man-made props.


9. Relay races

Establish a start line and a finish line, allowing lots of room between them for the races.

Include options such as wheelbarrow races, walking backwards, hopping on one foot.

10. Toys


toys and games for backyard play with kids


Provide skipping ropes, hoops, and sports balls.

Make a ring toss game with recyclables.

Place large toy dump trucks and other vehicles in an area with pea gravel or loose earth for digging.


More outdoor fun!

This follow-the-pine cone trail is a fun game for toddlers and older kids too!

Pine cone trail outdoor activity


Be sure to pack sunscreen, bug spray and other essentials when heading outdoors.

Keep hydrated (drink water), wear a hat and protective clothing, and seek out shade, or stay indoors, during the hottest part of the day.

 Outdoor play ideas without a playground


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