Health & Wellness

5 Backyard Play Ideas for Babies

By: Catherine Holecko
A toddler wearing a sundress and sitting in a sandbox letting sand pour out of her fist.
3 minutes to read
Ages 0-5
Fine Motor Skills

A great outdoor space for a baby or toddler doesn’t have to be huge or cost a fortune. All you need is a safe, obstruction-free patio, porch or grassy patch with a shady area nearby where your cutie can test new skills, investigate, play and experiment. Follow these simple tips for babyproofing your yard and creating places to splash, swing, dig, move and paint. 

Babyproof Your Yard

You’ll want to begin, of course, by making your backyard space as safe as possible. Remove obstructions and lock up or fence off swimming pools, lawn equipment, poisonous plants and other hazards. Make sure railings and gates on balconies, porches and decks are both sturdy and up-to-date; slats should be less than 3.5 inches apart or covered with a strong mesh or another safety device. Then add a few low-cost, high-engagement items, inspired by the ideas here, to create a kid-friendly zone for your outdoor explorer. Try one or two suggestions to start, and then switch it up occasionally, depending on your child’s mood, the weather, your time and budget.

A great outdoor space for a baby or toddler doesn’t have to be huge or cost a fortune.

The Five Things Every Yard Should Have

A place to splash

You don’t need a large, built-in or above-ground pool to excite young children. An inexpensive wading pool or just a big bucket or two of water can be endlessly entertaining. Provide float toys, scoops, strainers, colanders and pitchers that little hands can grab. Your toddler will love squirting, pouring and dumping water and experimenting with objects that sink and float. Younger babies will enjoy just splashing the lukewarm water on a hot day. Do remember that small children can drown in even a few inches of water, so attentive supervision is essential (as is sun protection).

A place to swing

Most small children love the sensation of swinging. If your space and budget allow, you might invest in a sturdy backyard swing-and-climb play set your children will use for years. Or you may be able to hang a baby-safe swing (one with a high back and leg holes) from a sturdy tree branch—if you have an accessible one in just the right spot. A porch or tire swing, a freestanding hanging chair or a glider you can use with your baby or toddler are other great options. Settle in together and read. Your little one will enjoy the sensory experience, your company and the language he learns while sharing a book or a conversation with you.

A place to dig

Set up a sandbox if you like (cover with a lid to keep it cleaner), but your baby will also enjoy sand play in a large plastic tote or on a small plastic sand table. Playing with sand is a sensory experience that most—although not all—little ones enjoy. Supply kid-size tools your toddler can handle, such as shovels, rakes and buckets. Toy trucks and animal figures are also perfect for sand play. Just make sure they are not choking hazards.

A place to move

Encourage physical development with toys that help your child move large muscles (arms, legs and torso). Doll strollers, shopping carts and kid-size wagons or wheelbarrows are fun for pretend play. They help kids learn to walk and use their arms to push and pull. Soft, large balls help little ones learn to kick, throw, catch and run. A small store-bought plastic slide gives tots opportunities to climb a ladder—over and over again!

A place to paint

Keep the messiest activities out of the house by taking them outdoors! A kid-size, washable picnic table makes a great place for messy projects, like planting, painting and pasting.

You can also sit on pavers, pull up a chair at your patio table or plop down on the grass; use a large cookie sheet or plastic tray to give your baby a level work surface. Try letting your miniature artist experiment with washable paints, shaving cream, play dough or squishy foods like gelatin and pudding to create a sensory experience. Discuss colors and shapes. 

Also essential for outdoor play: Bubbles!

Use a wand to blow bubbles your toddler can chase. Or add a few drops of baby shampoo to your water play bucket and let your little one splash in the foam.

Author Catherine Holecko
By: Catherine Holecko

Catherine Holecko is a parenting writer and mother of two.