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We hear a lot about how important it is for children to get into the fresh air and play outside. But does that really mean you need to fill your back yard up with loads of plastic outdoor toys?

We prefer a more natural and simple approach to playing, and one that will inspire your children to use their imaginations (and be less painful on your finances!).

Here are our top toys for playing outside.


  • A scooter, balance bike or pushbike. Not everyone has an enormous back yard, but you can always go to the local park if your own space is limited. Even a trip down the road on a scooter will go down well. Your child will learn to develop their balance and coordination if they have a ‘vehicle’ of their own.


  • A ball. Or preferably a variety of balls. Footballs, tennis balls, bouncy balls – a simple game of catch or kicking will help develop your child’s motor and coordination skills. If you have room you could include a space hopper in this category – okay, they’re generally plastic but they are immensely fun and brilliant again for developing coordination and balance.


  • A sand pit/water table. These don’t have to take up a lot of space, you could fit one onto a balcony or terrace if your outside room is limited. And they don’t have to be garish and plastic. You can find wooden picnic-style tables, which are handy as the lid means they double up as a table for a little meal. But the science aspect and ‘exploring how things work’ possibilities are great with sand and water play, as well as the exposure to sensory experiences for your child.


  • A skipping rope. Coordination skills come top of the list with skipping too and it’s a really fun way to encourage your children to enjoy exercise.


  • Mud pit. We’re not suggesting you allow the children dig up your whole back yard but you could give them their own space or dedicated box (or even just an old tub) filled with mud. A spade, a bucket, some molds to mix mud pies into can be an endless source of fun.


  • Chalk.  This is an easy one. If you have a paved area in your back yard, you can show your children how to create hop scotch or make snail races (basically lots of concentric circles that the snails have to ‘race’ from the centre to get to the outside). Or let your children get creative with colored chalk on fences or walls – it can all be simply washed away at the end of the day.


  • Old containers. If your children are making mud pies, or creating ‘potions’ or any other similar activities, you would be well advised to have a selection of old bowls, pots and saucers they can use for their creations. You could re-use humus and yoghurt pots, milk cartons and cardboard inserts to add to the fun.

The enormous toy marketing industry tells us we should indulge our children with an endless supply of playhouses, trampolines, swings, slides and all sorts of toys.  But we truly believe that less is more and the above suggestions will keep your kids happy and inspire them to create their own fun.

We’ve come across loads of brilliantly creative ideas if you want to take a bit more time and create some more child-friendly space in your back yard.

One idea we love is the brilliant bean pole teepee in the artful parent link below.

Or bubbles! Any bubbles are always popular with children but we particularly like fastening some netted bag (such as the type little oranges come in) over the end of a cut-off plastic water bottle, dipping in dish soap solution and blowing – this costs practically nothing and creates the most brilliant bubbles. You could create the same effect with a badminton or tennis racquet.

Our last suggestion is make your own jenga – a few bits of equally sized blocks of wood, stored in an airtight container that you can make towers of will provide enormous amounts of fun for all the family.

The most important thing to remember is that play is serious learning. One of your most important jobs in parenting is to encourage and enable play and inspire your children to use their own creativity and imagination.

So get outside and get playing!


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