6 toys that encourage creative outdoor play

Kids jumping on trampoline in the sunshine

After reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne we did some major toy purging in our house.  We have never been excessive toy buyers and tried to keep to a one in/one out mentality for most things, but the book changed our perspective on the type of toys to keep around. We now shop with a mind for what kind of play will result. A question I have learned to ask myself, that come directly from Simplicity Parenting is:

Does it “do everything,” or can a child change it, manipulate it, dream into it?

We’ve been slowly converting all of our toys over to high quality, open-ended activities that can be used inside or out. The very best ones are the completely open-ended, zero prescribed play toys, but we also have a mix of bigger toys that encourage gross motor skills too. Encouraging our kids to get outside more doesn’t have to be difficult! It’s downright easy if you’ve got the right kinds of toys and activities out there to draw them outside.

Here are 6 of our favourites!

1 Play Silks

I’m a little bit obsessed with these myself. They are light and sheer and have the nicest feel and drape.  My kids love using them as capes, skirts, hair, theater curtains, dolly blankets, head scarves, flags, etc. The list is basically endless! They are washable and the quality is very high in the brand we’ve used.  I considered ordering blanks from Dharma Trading and making my own, but the cost of shipping them to Canada, plus the learning curve in dying was enough to scare my off (plus I didn’t know if my kids would love them!). If I were to dye my own, I would order enough to have a couple of sets of silks to give away as gifts as they are such a staple toy in our house now.

The only brand we have used so far is Sarah’s silks, which you can find on Amazon or at any eco-parenting store. Still on our wish list is one of the giant 3ft by 9ft scarves in the rainbow pattern, and some of the mini scarf skirts.

2 Wooden Rocker Board

We haven’t taken the plunge on this one yet as we are still rocking the $3 yard sale find seen below, but this wooden rocker will be our next big purchase. Beyond the creative aspect (my kids pretend it’s a boat, horse, surf board, or motorcycle) and the cooperative play of rocking together, developing balance and gross motor skills is an AMAZING precursor to all of the fine motor and academic skills they will learn later. The wooden ones can also be turned upside down and used as a bridge (great for with the stumps or Gange River Stones mentioned below!) or parking garage, etc.

Here is the one we will be adding a few of soon! They can even hold my husband and I!

3. Gange River Stones
(or stumps/rocks of various widths and heights!)

Kids love stepping across or swinging on things and imagining they are making perilous journeys; we are blessed here in the country to have a plethora of stumps, rocks, and fences that the kids can climb, jump or step between, but if we were anywhere else we would be getting some Gange River Stones or Mountains. We may still get some for inside play in the winter, but I’m hoping my husband can cut us some nice stumps of varying heights and widths while he’s cutting firewood for winter.

4. Geo Dome

I waited a while before jumping on this one, mostly because of the creative play country life already affords us. It seemed a waste to have a climber in the middle of the yard when there are trees to climb and paths and adventures to take. But I am so glad we got one! The kids are building some serious muscle while climbing, swinging, and hanging on it, but what I love more is the creative ways I’ve seen them play with it. Throw a blanket over and it makes an amazing fort, or tie on the hammock for a comfy place to rock and read.

It’s another one that I kind of wish we could have inside over the winter (largely because I’m afraid of them sticking their tongues on it outside during the winter!), but I’m looking forward to seeing how they include it in their snow play in just a few short months. We bought the Lifetime Geometric Dome Climber from Costco, but if you’re not a member, here is the same one on Amazon.

5. Scooters

I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to go on a walk somewhere while the kids are riding their bikes, but it can be a bit of a headache.  They can go so much faster biking than I can walking, and I’m constantly yelling ahead about roads or cars backing out of driveways. When some of us are walking or we are going on sidewalks or busy spaces, scooters can be a lifesaver. No one is asking to be carried, but the kids are never getting too far ahead. They are also great for just riding around the driveway or the sidewalks in front of the house. Most can fold and tuck in under a stroller if you’re heading inside somewhere.

On top of all of this, scooters can help develop better balance in your kids, and build their confidence before tackling something like a skateboard.

6. Play TeePee or Tent

I don’t know what it is about little teepees that is so appealing to me.  We tend to make our own out of sticks and sheets (and you totally can too!), or we have had a few little play tents along the way. These make great outdoor reading areas, or a place to play with small toys. My kids usually resort to playing house in them though, and inviting each other over to their respective tents for tea.

If your kids are all still little, you can start small with a storebought tee pee like this 6ft one on Amazon. If your kids are older though, it is definitely a better idea to have them hunting for long and strong downed branches on nature walks, and making your own with some old sheets.

Bonus: Make a Mud Kitchen!

I know this one sounds a little scary, but hear me out. I put off intentionally letting my kids play with mud for a long time because of the mess I knew I’d be cleaning up later, but I’m majorly regretting it now.

A mud kitchen is as basic as it sounds. Put some little tables, old pots and pans, and maybe an OLD sink or play kitchen somewhere on your property where it is easy to make some mud. And then let the kids be creative! You’ll be surprised how long they will play making mud food, serving each other, and doing other kitchen tasks. And you can hose it all down (and them!) when it’s all done if you want.

Warning: SOME OF YOUR KIDS MIGHT HATE THIS ONE. I’m just putting it out there so you’re not surprised, but those kids who hate having dirty hands will probably not enjoy this kind of creative play. That’s ok! Find something that works for them.

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2 thoughts on “6 toys that encourage creative outdoor play

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