Outdoor play for different ages
Outdoor play helps babies learn about different surroundings and feel more comfortable with the world around them. Some ideas for outdoor play with your baby include:
enjoying tummy time on a blanket, towel or picnic rug
crawling on grass, under outdoor furniture or through old boxes
watching tree leaves and branches move and listening to birds
looking at different coloured cars, street signs or traffic light signals.
Toddlers are keen to explore the world around them and test out their growing physical skills. Outdoor play for your toddler might include:
throwing and chasing balls
wheeling, pushing or pulling different toys and objects
walking, running or jumping around trees, over stones or cracks in the footpath, into puddles or towards favourite objects
blowing bubbles and chasing them as they float away
playing in sand, mud or small amounts of water – but always supervise water play to prevent drowning accidents.
Preschoolers are learning to play with other children. They also like make-believe. You can help your child make the most of this stage with outdoor play ideas like:
playing games of chasey, hide-and-seek or kick-to-kick
crawling through tunnels or climbing over fallen trees
moving in different ways with colourful leaves, flowers, scarves or streamers
making mud pies with dirt and old cooking utensils
going on a nature walk together and naming all of the different sounds you hear
looking for birds, insects and new plants, and trying to name them
building a cubbyhouse out of boxes, clothes baskets or outdoor play equipment or furniture.
Outdoor play when it’s cold and wet
You and your child can play outside even in cold or wet weather. In fact, this kind of weather can fire up your child’s imagination and creativity.
If you’re heading outside, you can put on coats, hats and gloves. If it’s wet, dress up in gumboots and raincoats. An umbrella can be fun to take along too. Your child might have fun opening and closing it a few times.
Here are outdoor ideas for cold or wet weather:
Show your child what the beach looks like in wild weather, or visit parks and gardens when the plants are all wet and glossy.
Look for some big puddles to jump in.
If it’s darker, let your child play with a torch when you go out for a walk.
Gather leaves, sticks, shells and stones from outside. You can take them inside and use them for sorting, painting or building.
On a windy day, you can try flying kites, chasing leaves – or helping them ‘fly’ – and trying to find places to hide from the wind outside.
Bumps and bruises when playing outside
It’s natural to worry that your child could get hurt when playing outside. And sometimes your child might be worried about trying something new. These are natural worries, but they shouldn’t keep your child from playing outside.
It’s OK for your child to push the play boundaries outside, where they have room to run faster, climb higher and jump further.
It might mean some tears, a scrape or a fall, but ‘risky play’ helps your child learn from mistakes and bounce back.
Children who have been kept away from these outdoor experiences are more likely to get seriously hurt when they have outdoor experiences.
Australian Government Department of Health. (2021). Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians. Australian Government Department of Health. Retrieved 12 April 2022 from https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians.
Burdette, H.L., Whitaker, R.C., & Daniels, S.R. (2004). Parental report of outdoor playtime as a measure of physical activity in preschool-aged children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158(4), 353-357. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpedi.158.4.353.
Canadian Public Health Association. (2019). Risk, hazard, and play: What are risks and hazards? Canadian Public Health Association. Retrieved 12 April 2022 from https://www.cpha.ca/risk-hazard-and-play-what-are-risks-and-hazards.