What are the benefits of outdoor play for toddlers?
Hopebridge notes that outdoor play promotes development and critical thinking skills, as well as engages a toddler’s imagination and sense of adventure. It’s a great way for toddlers to learn about the world around them and build communication. From identifying sounds to labeling colors, the rich language opportunities are endless. Outdoor play provides numerous opportunities for any and all children, but parents who have children who experience a speech delay or autism should especially use these moments to talk about what they’re doing and what’s all around them in order to teach and encourage more communication.
I love outdoor play to give toddlers a range of sensory experiences. Swings, sandboxes, splash pads, bubble machines, and water tables expose children to different textures, temperatures, and movements. Many of these activities – when combined with sunshine or a cool breeze – can also be calming for children.
In addition to development and education, Hopebridge encourages outdoor play as it is fantastic for children’s physical well-being, as outside encourages kids to walk, run and jump. Though toddlers may be young to play sports, it’s not too early to introduce them to a soccer ball to kick around or a light ball to toss back and forth. Introductory sports skills promote gross motor development, hand-eye coordination, and self-confidence. Peer play is a benefit of sports and other outdoor games, as toddlers need to learn how to work with others to accomplish certain tasks.
What are some things to look for in an outdoor toddler toy?
At this age, safety and fun are the biggest priorities for toys, but I especially like to look for toys that have added developmental benefits.
For outdoor toys, I love a small sand or water table. A water table is great on warmer days and lends itself to learning toys. For instance, make it an ocean and put in colored fish or ocean animals, and the child can reach and grasp them to work on fine motor skills, all while the parent labels the colors of the fish to create a language-rich environment. When using it as a sand table, parents can hide small toys in the sand, and the child can move the sand with their hands, building strength and fine motor skills while also providing new sensory experiences. This type of play also sets up an opportunity for joint attention, as the child uncovers something, shows their parents, shifts their gaze, and goes back to the sand. There are many exciting water tables with tons of accessories, but simple can be just as fun, like this standing split sensory bin, which toddlers can use to experiment with both water and sand at the same time.
In general, outdoor play is a blank canvas for creativity, but there are some outdoor toys that are specifically intended for pretend play. A durable outdoor playhouse, toy grilling area, and mud kitchen spark imagination and give toddlers a chance to engage in parallel play alongside siblings or friends before moving on to more interactive peer play.
Hopebridge says that parents should consider what skills their child is still working on, as well as their preferences. Children who are working on walking or balance skills might enjoy pushing toys, like a bubble mower.
What are some other ways toddlers and parents can enjoy being outside together?
Families can bring the indoors outside to keep things interesting. By switching things up, you’re expanding their world and showing toddlers how to be flexible. Take Magnatiles outside and stick them to the garage to create new designs. Bring toy trucks out to send across the driveway or down a slide. Host a garden tea party or make a tree house for their dolls.
Get on their level. Outside is a fun way to let your toddler take the lead and explore with safe activities. Meet your child where they’re at—do they want to pick up pebbles, break apart pine needles, dance in the sprinklers, or chirp at the birds? Outdoor play does not always have to involve toys to make it exciting.
What kind of outdoor toy features should parents avoid for toddlers?
I’m hesitant to make blanket statements about what is or is not right for all children, as each child and family will have their own preferences, strengths, and needs to consider.
That being said, safety is first and foremost. I recommend steering clear of outdoor toys that are not easily washable or toys that may collect water inside and eventually mold, as toddlers are known to get messy outdoors and often put toys in their mouths at this age.
It’s a good idea to make sure that any riding toys are also developmentally age-appropriate before allowing toddlers to use them, and they should only be used with adult supervision.