Free outdoor play ideas that kids will love

June 12, 2018 Published by

There are opportunities for play all around us, especially in the great outdoors. But you don’t need to live in the countryside to enjoy fun on a budget – there are lots of playful ways to enjoy towns and cities too.

Visit the playground

There are countless playgrounds around the country and they all offer something different. From traditional swings and slides to sand and water features, or sensory areas where children can explore sounds, textures and smells – there is so much for children to explore. It’s a great way to encourage exercise and also gives children a chance to meet new friends and practise mixing with others.

Playgrounds and parks are perfect for encouraging some risky play, which children these days often miss out on. But the benefits far outweigh the costs; children get the chance to challenge their physical skills, build their confidence and resilience, and nurture their curiosity. Risky play is all about children getting real experiences so they can learn, even if that means some minor injuries along the way. The various challenges navigating a playground or park – climbing up the slide, trying to swing over the top, and so on – allow children to find out what they are capable of, at whatever level of risk they are comfortable with.

A park doesn’t have to have the equipment to keep children entertained. If there are some small hills, teach your child how to pencil roll down them; take a ball or Frisbee and develop their throwing and catching skills; or let them cycle or scoot along the paths. And don’t forget to make the most of the journey to and from the park; you could count certain colour cars, identify flowers, or take a moment to listen and talk about the different sounds you can hear.


Take a walk in the woods

If you are lucky enough to have some woodland nearby, it is a great place to take your children for a bit of old-fashioned play. With no toys, children will have to make their own fun… it doesn’t take them long to start using nature to their advantage.

Climbing trees will develop their gross motor skills, teach them about their limitations and give opportunities for risk-taking. Collecting sticks, feathers and leaves for a work of art will develop creativity. Building a den develops creativity and can, when more than one child is involved, teach children about teamwork and leadership.

Collecting sounds will develop children’s senses and ability to listen and identify what they hear – this could be used as the starting point of a poem developing children’s Literacy skills.

And how about using your child’s favourite book or rhyme as the inspiration for your walk? You could go on a ‘Bear Hunt’ or host a ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ – get the children involved in the planning of the trip…they could even make the sandwiches for the picnic!


Play by the river

Rivers are always popular with children, but they can also be perceived as dangerous. By taking your child to the water and modelling a safe way to play, they will learn the dos and don’ts of playing by water.

If you are visiting the river, put your wellies on and go for a paddle, or take a net and see if you can catch some tiddlers.

If there are bridges you could play Pooh Sticks – this will provide an opportunity to talk about currents, developing children’s general knowledge of the world around them.

And then there are always the ever-hungry ducks – you shouldn’t feed them bread but sweetcorn, lettuce, oats and rice are all good menu choices!

And if there isn’t a river nearby, you may be able to find a pond and have a go at pond dipping or frogspawn spotting – an excellent opportunity to learn about life cycles.

Or, you could visit the lake for some bird watching, take a long walk along a canal for a lesson on locks, or go wave jumping and rock pooling by the sea.


Create some pavement art

All you need for this is a piece of concrete (this could be in your garden, or on the path outside your house) and some chalk (a paintbrush and water will work too).

Children love the freedom to draw without constraints and will enjoy being given permission to draw on the pavement. The best thing about this type of art is that it is mess free and when it rains, it disappears! (although you could also take a photo if they are particularly pleased with their masterpiece!).

There are lots of types of pavement art to try out – draw out a game (e.g. hopscotch), be ‘part of the art’ and get your children to draw around one another (these make great photos!) or draw out a miniature world and add toy cars, people and animals to bring it to life.

Using chalks is a good way to strengthen hand muscles and coordination in younger children, which are needed for writing. This activity also allows children to have a go at mark making and ‘writing’ without being worried about getting in wrong…there are no rules! Older children will enjoy refining their art skills and letting their imaginations and creative skills flow.


Plan a scavenger hunt

Turn a simple walk into an adventure by creating a scavenger hunt! These can be adapted to suit whatever environment in; natural areas like the beach or a wood are great places to collect objects (e.g. an interesting stone, a giant leaf.) There are lots of ideas online to get you started.

If you can’t collect objects, turn it into a photography scavenger hunt and take photos instead. We tried this one out ourselves, adding in challenges (e.g. squeezing everyone into the smallest space possible) to test the team’s creativity!

By getting your children to engage in a scavenger hunt, you will be encouraging them to use their observational skills and teaching them about the world around them. It’s also the perfect opportunity to learn about the area they live in and perhaps discover some hidden secrets too.


Take a trip to the shops or market

There are lots going on in shops and marketplaces, and getting your children involved not only avoids boredom but can also teach them some valuable skills about money and healthy eating. The simplest games are the classic Alphabet Game (find an object beginning with each letter of the alphabet, e.g. A – Apple, B – Beans, C – Cornflakes) and I-Spy.

(Photo Credit)

For older children, you could have them guess the weights or cost of different items.

Or start a discussion about food nutrition with Food Top Trumps, using the red, yellow and green labels on the front of most product packaging. Each child picks up a product, and the first player chooses one of the labels (fat, saturates, sugars, or salt). The players say their values out loud and the person with the lowest value wins. They then choose the next label, and so on.

This encourages children to recognise which foods might be healthier than others (regardless of calories) and teaches them how to find this information. You can also explain the fact that these guides are based on a certain portion size, and this may not be the same across all products (e.g. cereals).


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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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