Outdoor Physical Activities for Toddlers

Get Outside and Get Active With Your Toddler

Couple walking and swinging toddler between them

 Hilary Helton / Getty Images

Unlike bigger kids who should aim for 60 minutes of physical activity per day, toddlers need three hours of active playtime every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Try these outdoor physical activities with your toddler to help meet those needs. Each one may only last 10 minutes or so (thanks to toddlers' short attention spans), so be prepared to rotate through a bunch of them during an outdoor play session.

Some toddlers may be more drawn to gross motor activities, like running and jumping, while others are into messy play or discovering nature. Let your child's interests be your guide. And remember to practice sun safety when playing outdoors.

Junior Gardening

Toddlers don't realize how much work it is to pull weeds, dig in the dirt, harvest vegetables, sweep porches, rake leaves or refill birdbaths and feeders. For them, it's not yard work; it's outdoor fun. Get little hands involved with the tasks that you might perform yourself. Not only will you be helping your toddler be more active, but you'll also be laying the groundwork for them to be able to perform these tasks independently one day.

Play in the Sand

If you've got a few hours to spare and some ambition, build your child a sandbox. If that's not practical, a large plastic container or a kiddie swimming pool will work, too. Provide plenty of props, like cups or plastic molds as well as dump trucks and other vehicles for moving sand around. Playing with sand helps your child build strength in her hands, which will be important for school tasks like cutting with scissors and writing with a pencil.

Create Some Art

Art is usually a fine motor activity, but when you take it outside it becomes a gross motor activity as well. Your toddler will be able to use their whole body when coloring with sidewalk chalk since they won't be confined to just a tiny piece of paper. Take turns tracing each other's bodies in funny positions. Grab a bucket of water and some paintbrushes and let your child paint the fence, driveway, or side of the house. You can paint with spray bottles of water, too. If you have an easel, consider taking it outside once in a while for a more active art experience.

Have a Parade

The point of a parade is something near and dear to the heart of the toddler: It's all about showing off and celebrating. So anytime you have cause, grab a portable speaker or sing a happy tune and march around the yard. New shoes? Potty training success? The first sunny day after a week of rain? These are all reasons to happily march around the yard and even around the block.

Have a Scavenger Hunt

Pick several toys or other objects (large plastic eggs, pieces of sidewalk chalk, even recyclables such as clean plastic bottles or cardboard egg cartons) and hide them around your yard or the immediate surrounding area in a park. Make them easy to find. Create a list with drawings or pictures of the objects and help your toddler cross them off as they find them.

Be careful when hiding beloved objects like security blankets or pacifiers. Some toddlers love this and think it's very fun to find their favorite objects, while others could melt down at the mere thought.

Chase Bubbles

Purchase some bubble solution or make your own homemade bubbles and bubble wands and head outside. Young toddlers will enjoy chasing the bubbles down and popping them, while older toddlers can blow on the bubbles to see how long they can keep one in the air. Keep moving and your toddler will follow.

Set Up an Obstacle Course

Use whatever you have on hand, including boxes, mats or large toys. Your toddler can crawl under a lawn chair followed by a roll through the grass, a circle around a tree stump and finally a dash around the edge of the patio. Add to the fun by starting the race with a whistle blow and holding up a crepe paper ribbon to break through at the finish.

Make Sticky Nature Art

Tape a piece of clear contact paper or press-and-seal wrap to an outdoor wall or the ground. Your toddler can stick leaves, flower petals, bits of bark, and other natural items to the surface to create their own artwork. Just be vigilant about keeping these small items out of your child's mouth. If you want to preserve your art after it is finished, cover with a second piece of contact paper or press-and-seal.

Play Red Light, Green Light

Most toddlers have been in the car or on walks through city streets enough to notice traffic signs and lights, and are putting together the concept of red meaning stop and green meaning go. This is a great first game for toddlers and it's one that all ages can enjoy together. Keep it simple by just having kids stop and go when you call out red and green (instead of making it a competition).

Play Hide and Seek

Some toddlers might be frightened by hiding or not being able to find you if you hide, so exercise caution when playing this game. Hide in obvious areas with a leg or arm visible at first until they are comfortable playing. Make little noises by clearing your throat or coughing to aid them even further in finding you. Initially, when you begin the game (by counting and then announcing that "ready or not, here I come") you may need to count for them. You can also just count very slowly to 3 in order to teach counting and then work up incrementally to 10.

Play With Balls

If your toddler picks something up inside the house and throws it, take this as the perfect cue to head outside and have some fun with balls. You can take turns kicking and throwing, set up baskets with plastic containers or boxes and create targets with hula hoops.

Take a Walk

A walk can be a great morning or evening routine for you and your toddler. Even if it's just a trip around the block, you'll be that much closer to meeting your child's activity needs for the day. Walks afford many teachable opportunities and since the environment is changing every day there's no end to the variety of things to talk about and explore.

If your toddler isn't walking well or tires easily, resist the urge to carry them or let them ride in a stroller. Make your walk short enough that they can finish on their own.

Roll Along

Wheeled toys are an outdoor play essential. New walkers can build strength and confidence with the help of a push toy, such as a grocery cart, kiddie lawnmower or doll stroller. Older toddlers can try out ride-on toys like balance bikes that help them get ready for trikes and bikes with pedals.

Have Fun With Water

If the weather permits, get your toddler involved in some water play. A small child's pool (with proper supervision and safety in mind, of course) or even just a sprinkler or hose will provide lots of ways for your toddler to move. It's also one activity that toddlers seem to enjoy much longer than just playing with a ball or toy, so be sure to make it a regular part of your days when you can.

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2 Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do children need?. Reviewed April 10, 2020.

  2. Miller SA. Ages & Stages: How Children Build Skills Through Art.