You know you’ve turned the page into spring when you pull out the seasonal storage bin, to re-discover the outdoor toys that have been out of sight, out of mind all winter. Goodbye, snow shovel – hello, Frisbee!
Your kids’ activity and gear choices will vary from year to year, depending on their age and interests. Here’s our round-up of can’t-miss outdoor toys for spring and summer – coming soon to a park or sidewalk near you!
- Bubbles. Chasing bubbles has always been, and will always be, a hit with young kids. Be prepared to draw a crowd if you’re playing in a public space. Get more bang for your bubble by choosing an oversized wand or a battery-operated bubble blower. If your bubble liquid supply is dwindling, try mixing up a DIY recipe at home.
- Wheeled transportation. A sturdy wagon, jogging stroller, or bike trailer is handy to bring your kiddo to and from the park, along with all the required snacks, toys, wipes, and other accessories.
- Toddler-friendly vehicle. Keep an eye out at yard sales for an age-appropriate mini car or junior tricycle for walks around the block. Predictably, toddlers often prefer pushing the vehicle themselves rather than sitting on (or in) it as the manufacturer intended. Once they get tired, though, they may begrudgingly accept the ride – so a parent push-handle is also a useful feature.
- Pail and shovel. You’ll be glad you brought the bucket along as your little one fills it with water, sand, rocks, gravel, sticks, pine cones and other nature treasures they’ve collected. (Better in the pail than in your pockets!)
- Water table and toys. Browse the online classifieds to find a gently used water table at a reasonable price. Or, set up your own water play station with different sizes of containers for filling, scooping and pouring. If you enjoy gardening, a kid-sized watering can is a must for your little “helper.”
- Multi-purpose ball. Is there anything more appealing (or versatile) than a bright, bouncy ball? Look for one with a durable rubber surface, or with a popular animated character on it.
- Throw-and-catch sets. It might be a bit early to use a traditional glove and baseball, but your child’s throwing ability and eye-hand coordination will benefit from using a flat sticky mitt, plastic scoop, or Trac-Ball style racket.
- Toy construction machines. These heavy-duty toys (made by trusted brand names like Tonka and Bruder) are good for hours of fun in the sand or gravel. Ask around to neighbors and older cousins for hand-me-down dump trucks, bulldozers and other earth-moving machines. If your kiddo loves to dig, consider adding some specialty tools, like this uniquely shaped claw digger.
- Hula hoop. Even if your child can’t spin it around their waist, they’ll enjoy rolling the hoop around, creating a dance routine or using it as a target. It’s just a simple circle, but you’ll be amazed at the games they will invent.
- Water balloons. These can be a bit time-consuming to fill, so look for kits with an innovative garden-hose attachment. If you have two children, consider placing the filled balloons in two separate receptacles (like plastic laundry baskets) to ensure that each child gets an equal number to use at their own pace.
- Mesh net. Ideally, the net should have a long handle and good quality mesh. Take a walk to a nearby pond or creek and show your kids how to safely scoop up snails, tadpoles, frogs, and insects. Use clear plastic containers as temporary critter keepers.
- Strider bike. These pedal-less bikes are a great way to introduce the balance and steering skills needed to someday become a full-fledged rider. Bikes with multiple adjustable features are a good investment, since they can be customized to fit your child.
- Sidewalk chalk. These extra-thick sticks of chalk are a common sight at kindergarten recess time. Kids can create cheerful sidewalk art, draw hopscotch grids or practice printing their name.
A general note: it’s great if kids want to take a ball or other outdoor toys to school, but just remember to label them clearly, to prevent mix-ups or accidental placement in a class equipment bin. Here are some fun ideas for this age group:
- Flying discs. If your kids (like mine) struggle with flinging a Frisbee, I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of the Aerobie Sprint ring. It’s soft, flexible, lightweight, and is much easier to catch and throw. It flies nicely without wobbling, and the open ring design encourages stylish catches on the arm or foot.
- Skipping ropes. Get your kids’ hearts pumping with an individual jump rope, or the longer variety that requires two friends to turn it (remember “double dutch”?).
- Spikeball. This trendy group game combines elements of four-square and volleyball. In Spikeball, you use your hand to hit a ball downward at a net, which is placed near the ground like a small trampoline. Be prepared that your kids’ reflexes may be quicker than yours!
- Remote control vehicles. These are a favorite with my kids – they love setting up obstacle courses on the driveway and taking their cars to a nearby cul-de-sac to run laps. These motorized marvels could be an excellent gift choice if your child has a spring or summer birthday. When shopping, look for a rugged design that can handle pavement, trails and grass. To save money on batteries, make sure it has a USB charging cord or rechargeable battery pack.
- Racquet sports. Tennis and badminton are great, but this may be the year to try pickleball. It’s a fast-growing sport that uses a wiffle ball, a racket that looks like an enlarged ping-pong paddle, and a mini tennis court. I was delighted to discover that my local library has pickleball sets that can be signed out, just like books!
- Wheels. Whatever wheeled transportation your child favors – a bike, scooter, skateboard, hoverboard, or rollerblades – remember to outfit them with the proper safety gear, such as a helmet and wrist guards.
- Backyard games. Inspire some friendly competition at the next family gathering or block party with classics like ring toss, horseshoes, cornhole (beanbag toss) and ladder ball.
- Sports equipment. Grab your air pump to re-inflate your child’s beloved football, soccer ball, or basketball. For older kids with a later bedtime, add a new twist with these light-up versions, so they can throw passes, score goals and shoot hoops even after dusk.
- Added technology. Charge up an obsolete smartphone or digital camera and let your tweens video themselves doing cool sports moves (they’ll love watching themselves in slow motion). Or, encourage them to take the device on a forest walk and try some close-up nature photography. If it motivates them to do something outside, that’s a win!
No matter what activity you choose, enjoy getting outside and shaking off the doldrums of winter. Have fun and be safe!