Sunday, April 22, 2012

Smart Outdoor Play

Playing outside is crucial for a young child. It helps them grow and develop in so many ways. By adding these enriching, but simple elements to their outdoor play time, they will engage in more sensory and smart play as they enjoy playing. You can essentially turn your backyard into a really fun, carefree learning environment. The key is for you to be fully present when playing with your children to avoid any dangers that could occur while playing. Your child can have a wonderful and safe time playing but don't be on your smart phone or reading a magazine or gabbing on the phone the entire time or even a majority of the time, be there for them. Be there to acknowledge and encourage them, be there or be square. Take pics so that later on you can show them to your child and discuss with them what all they did that day!

I want to start off with sand and water tables. Sand and water tables are a crucial key element to outdoor play in warm or cold weather. they are easily obtained from your local Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us, Craigslist, Big Lots, Garage Sales, on, etc. They come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and all vary in price.  They can be used for almost any type of sensory play in your yard. You could even build your own.

In a water table you can add a large variety of items that will provide a really fun and enriching and exciting, as well as longer lasting play experience for your children. You can include learning games with your water table play by adding sensory, counting, color recognition, alphabet recognition, spelling, science, etc with the items you add to the sand and water tables. Just by adding food coloring to the water in the water tables, it makes water play even more appealing and exciting to a child. Here are some examples.

  • In a sand themed table you can add such things as sand, sea shells, glass plant gems, small shovels, rakes, sand sifters, little toy animals or men, little people, little cars and trucks, sand molds, a little bucket, little plastic trees, craft pom poms, little plastic bugs, and creatures from the dollar tree, uncooked pasta dyed with food coloring, shaving cream, dollar tree kitchen tools such as wooden spoons, measuring cups, measuring spoons, flour sifter, tongs, plastic slotted spoons, plastic cups and bowls, spatulas, scrub brushes, flipper style spatulas, colanders, funnels, ice cube trays, etc.

  • In a water themed table you can add such things to water like lemon extract, orange extract, almond extract, mint extract, strawberry extract, food coloring, gel food coloring, ice cubes, ice cubes made with food coloring and water, ice cubes with plastic toys frozen inside, plastic ice cubes, glass plant gems, sea shells water beads, water bead squares, little plastic toy animals, trees, men, bugs, plastic fish, magnetic fish and fishing rod toy set, plastic boats, whole lemons, whole oranges, whole limes, legos, mega blocks, large plastic beads, plastic squishy stress toys, Easter eggs, Easter egg dying cups, tempera paint, liquid water colors, submersible LED lights for plants, bath toys, color paddles, foam alphabet and numbers, plastic alphabet and numbers, hand boiled eggs, sweet peppers, shaving cream, fresh flowers from your yard or a store, sea salt, plastic bingo counters, foil confetti, water filled balloons, air filled balloons, balloons filled with spices, citrus peels, rice, water beads, etc, line the water table with foil and then fill it with water for an awesome reflective playtime, dish soap, bar soap, bubble bath, insta snow, raw cranberries,  dollar tree kitchen tools such as wooden spoons, measuring cups, measuring spoons, flour sifter, plastic slotted spoons, spatulas, flipper style spatulas,scrub brushes, plastic shapes,  large colored paper clips on a short string, spray bottles filled with colored water, pump style bottles filled with colored water, squirt style bottles filled with colored water, plastic balls, sponge bombs, squishy bumpy sensory balls, plastic food, plastic neon shot glasses and shooter glasses, plastic cups and bowls, metallic or plastic tinsel or garlands, plastic bead necklaces, unused popcorn kernels, colanders, tongs, funnels, ice cube trays, etc You could even sterilize the water table and fill it with water and ready to eat fruit and berries as well as a few cheap kitchen utensils and plastic bowls to float the fruit in the water, etc.

  • You can have a dry themed table with dried beans, coffee beans, coffee grounds, unpopped popcorn kernals, or small river rocks and glass plant gems, and add any of the elements from above under water themed tables or sand themed tables.

  • You can have a wet themed table with water beads (with or without water) and add any of the elements from above under water themed tables or sand themed tables.

  • You can do a science themed table by making a volcano table with baking soda and vinegar, and add food coloring. You can have the option of adding scent too such as  lemon extract, orange extract, almond extract, mint extract, strawberry extract, etc.

  • You can fill a water table with gak, or slime for a super gooey good time. Add some plastic bugs, stirring utensils, glass plant gems, or water beads to enhance the fun!

  • For those that live near snow, you can fill the water table with snow and some scent extract, then have your child add food coloring or some other color like liquid water colors or tempera paint. They can use kitchen utensils to scoop, pour, sift, mold, etc.

  • You can fill a water table with shaving cream too! You can add color with tempera paint, liquid water colors, or even with food coloring. Its always fun to add things like water beads or any of the above water table items I mentioned.

  • You can do an art table in your water table. Add paint and have them finger paint inside. They can also paint on paper or poster boards in the table or just paint inside the table with brushes or their fingers. You also have the option of putting shaving cream in the table, adding paint, swirl the paint and then lay in pieces of poster board for a minute, then remove to create prints that you can hang or even frame and hang You can create art prints by using other items too like dried beans, coffee beans, coffee grounds, water beads, uncooked pasta, uncooked popcorn kernals, river rocks, glass plant gems, or anything else you can think of!
Check out this awesome article on early childhood development
Check out this awesome article on Sensory Play
Check out this awesome article on the importance of playing outside

When choosing outdoor toys for your children, just go with the basics at first, you can add on later. Shop in the kids outdoor toys and furniture section or at a garage sale to get things like a climber/slide combo or a decent slide, swings, or a swing set, tire swing or plastic tire swing, sand box, 2-3 water tables, picnic table, seating, trampoline with enclosure, kiddie pool, play house, ride on toys, ground balance beam, stepping stones, etc.

You want them to be able to engage in gross motor, fine motor, sensory, risk taking, running, jumping, bouncing, skipping, hopping, climbing, sliding, swinging, throwing, catching,  etc. This is all part of the growing, exploring, and learning.

You can turn regular outdoor play into smart outdoor play when you add tools, like the ones mentioned above to include sensory as well as adding adding counting, color recognition, alphabet recognition, spelling, science, etc. Keep some art supplies around tempera paint, liquid water colors, finger paint, paint brushes, an easel, poster boards, etc for extra added fun. There are hundreds of options for science experiments, art, and core learning with letters, numbers, etc.

An automatic bubble machine is another fun way to enhance outdoor play!! Everyone loves bubbles and running through bubbles!!

I have tons of examples in photo right here on this blog! Here are a few examples!

Feel free to leave me questions! Be sure you are logged in and not posting as anonymous though!


  1. Such fun and a great post! Loved all the inspiration from your photos!

  2. Thanks for all the wonderful ideas! I don't have a sand or water table (yet!) but I filled our baby pool with leftover rice (from a rice warmer project), and my 16-month old loves it!

    Check out my post if you want:

    1. Thanks so much for the comment!! so sorry it took me so long to reply. im not sure why i didnt see these comments!

  3. Thanks for sharing all these great ideas! The weather here is still too cold to be enjoying the outdoors too much (we're in Canada) - but I am definitely bookmarking this page to revisit once it warms up!

    1. Thanks so much for the comment!! so sorry it took me so long to reply. im not sure why i didnt see these comments!

  4. So many fantastic ideas! We don't really have the space for some of these activities, but you've inspired me to be more adventurous indoors.

    I'd love it if you'd link up at my Teaching Toddlers Tuesday party!

  5. I ran across this post on Pinterest. As a SAHM of 19mo boy/girl twins, I greatly appreciate your ideas and insight. Thank you!

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