The Best Outdoor Toys For Kids To Spark Imaginative Play

the best outdoor toys for kids to spark language and imagination


There are an abundance of toys that can be used outside.

However, I want to show you the best outdoor toys for kids that will lead to learning through natural, unstructured play.

These toys are excellent for boosting your child’s creative and imaginative side.

Have you noticed that fewer kids seem to be playing outside?

And by playing, I don’t mean partaking in a weekly soccer game.

I mean good old fashioned, getting dirty, running around, being carefree play.

The reason for this is probably partially due to the busy schedules many families have as well as safety concerns.

And then there is the rise of technology.

Children love screens and many would prefer to sit inside playing a new game, checking out a fun app or just watching a show on TV.

It is the responsibility of the parent to ensure their child is getting outside, just like it’s a parent’s responsibility to make sure their child is fed and clothed.

In addition to facilitating creativity, imagination and pretend play, these toys all boost language development through theme specific vocabulary.

For example, Garden Table vocabulary can include: flowers, flower pot, dig, water, pour, dirty, clean, wet, dry, etc.

Children can also practice fine and gross motor skills, problem solving, prediction, cause and effect and social skills with all of these toys.

I will start with some toys for children ages 2-5 and then look at some that are more appropriate for those over the age of 5 (however, most are fine for children over 3).

To jump to outdoor toys for children over 5 click here.

Best Outdoor Toys For Toddlers and Preschoolers (2-5 Year olds)

Step2 Dino Dig Sand & Water Table

Most children seem to love dinosaur digs and treasure hunts!  With the  Step2 Dino Dig sand and water table, your child can play with dinosaurs while going on treasure hunts!

Your child can mine for treasures and dinosaurs in the sand (it comes with 4 dinosaurs, you would have to add the “treasures” yourself).

This set also comes with two scoops and a shovel/rake.

There’s also a “volcano” that can be placed on top of the sand portion of the table.  Alternatively it can be taken off so your child can play with the sand.

The “volcano” can then be used to clean off buried treasures or dinosaurs.

Watch your child’s imagination bloom with this set!
Step2 Dino Dig Sand & Water Table

Learn More Button

Little Tikes Garden Table

This garden table makes a great indoor and outdoor toy. Your little one can become a budding gardener year round!

When used outside, the table can be filled sand or water, or both, we all know mud is a child’s best friend!

Your child can play independently and pretend to plant flowers with the plastic soil discs and flowers that fit into the flower pots. Or you can show your child how to plant real flowers using soil. There is a small hole at the bottom of each pot so water can drain out.

 Little Tikes Garden Table

Learn More Button

 

Truedays Kids Playhouse Adventure Play Tent

If you don’t have enough space for a wooden or plastic playhouse, a pop up tent and tunnel set like this one by Truedays Kid’s might be what you are looking for.

Of course, since it is quite portable (and can be used indoors) it is bare bones inside. There are no sinks, faucets or stoves. So your little one can use their imagination, or if you have some small toys, you can easily put them inside.

Please note, the balls shown in the picture do not come with this product. They need to be purchased separately.

But you don’t need to add any balls. Your child can pretend that the “ball pit” is simply another room in the house. Or maybe it’s the bathtub for her dolls. Again, there are no limits on your child’s imagination!

Truedays Kids Playhouse Adventure Play Tent

Learn More Button

Step2 Neat and Tidy II Playhouse

An outdoor (or indoor, as most can be set up inside) playhouse is the perfect toy to inspire imagination and creativity. This playhouse is the perfect size for 2-6 year olds (although the manufacturer says children up to the age of 8 can play in it).

You might be wondering how specific speech and language skills can be enhanced with playhouses and that is great because I have the answer for you here.

Step2 Neat and Tidy II Playhouse
Learn More Button

 

Ride On Vehicles

There are so many different types of ride on vehicles to choose from. So I won’t choose just one to show you.  The one pictured below has been a beloved toy for 30 years!  But there are many others to choose from.

Ride on vehicles boost imagination because a child can drive literally anywhere they want (for pretend of course!). For example, they might go to the store, or stop at the gas station. Perhaps the car broke down and they need to take it into the mechanic. Or maybe the car is now a train, boat or plane.

Want to know the best part?  I have an entire article dedicated to the benefits of a ride on fire truck.  While that article is specific to a fire truck many of the skills discussed can be applied to any ride on vehicle.


Learn More Button

 

Best Outdoor Toys for School Aged Children (5+ years)

 

Unfortunately there aren’t many outdoor toys that inspire imaginary play for children as they get older other than fancy backyard playsets.  Don’t get me wrong, the large outdoor playsets are fantastic, if you have the space.  And they can get quite pricey ($1000+).

But if space and cost are not an issue, then a large outdoor playset such as the Summerstone Cedar Summit Playset might be right for you and your family.

However, there are a few larger playhouses and climbers that are reasonably priced and not too big that work well for older children, or children of varying ages such as a 3,5 and 8 year old.

Little Tikes Cook ‘n Play Outdoor BBQ

While this isn’t a playhouse it would still work well for children between the ages of 3-10. And it can easily be moved inside over the winter months! Kids can host their own backyard party and make all of the food with their very own BBQ. If you have a playhouse or some other play structure, move the BBQ in or near it for more creative play.

Little Tikes Cook 'n Play Outdoor BBQLearn More Button

♥ You Might Also Like: The 5 Best Kids Play Kitchens: They Will All Encourage Language and Learning! ♥

Lifetime Geometric Dome Climber Play Center

This climber is so basic that your child will come up with so many different play scenarios! It is great for children ages 3-10 (so it can fit in both age categories).

Children will burn calories while climbing and playing! However, you might also notice that your child’s imagination may turn this climber into a restaurant, or a greenhouse, or maybe a UFO. Turn it into a tent by covering it with a large sheet or tarp!

If you would prefer something smaller, check out the Toy Monster Jungle Monkey Bars Tower. It’s meant for children ages 3-6.

Lifetime Geometric Dome Climber Play Center
Learn More Button

Backyard Discovery Summer Cottage All Cedar Wood Playhouse

This playhouse is appealing to older children as it looks like a cute cottage. It also has a play burner, sink and faucet. Your child can turn the cottage into a restaurant where one child is the cook and the other can sit on the attached bench outside and place his order!

And it’s made of cedar so it will look wonderful in any yard!

Backyard Discovery Summer Cottage All Cedar Wood PlayhouseLearn More Button

Step2 2-Story Playhouse & Slide

This playhouse is recommended for children ages 3-8. Since it has 2 levels, older kids won’t find it too babyish, yet younger children can still play as well.

As I mentioned above, outdoor playhouses are the perfect toy to practice and develop speech and language skills while engaging in pretend play.

Step2 2-Story Playhouse & Slide
Learn More Button

Which Outdoor Toy Is Best?

There are so many wonderful toys to choose from, but these are the best outdoor toys for kids if you are looking for a way encourage their imagination and creativity.   Pretend play is a necessary part of language development and learning and should not be taken for granted!

What are your child’s favorite outdoor toys?

Do you want outdoor learning toys for kids that help with pretend play, creativity and imagination? Check out these 8 and find out how they will help your child!

15 Comments

  1. SJ

    I totally agree that kids these days are more interesting in sitting inside with a screen than playing outside.

    And I cringe when I saw that we do use some of those toys inside as opposed to outside.

    I love the idea of the watertable and might have to incorporate that into my toddler’s collection. Something like that will encourage her to stay outside especially with the warmer weather coming up!

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      My kids absolutely loved their water table.  They were very sad when I said it was time to get rid of it.  They were about 5 and 7 so we got a lot of use out of it.  My kids loved it so much that my parents got one for their house as well!  It’s definitely worth the investment!

      Reply
  2. Kenneth

    Thanks so much for posting this article! Today, too many kids are stuck to their TV’s, smartphones, tablets, etc. When I was a kid we had computers and TV’s, but we had to play outside too! It’s so important for kids to get their daily dose of Vitamin D, not to mention exercise.

    Reply
  3. yancey

    I simply love this. This is great because kids really do need to be outside playing. I see a lot of kids these days always in front of some kind of screen, when outdoor time is crucial for any child. I have a daughter myself and we always are outside doing something. These are some great toys for outside activities. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Glad to hear you enjoyed my outdoor toy recommendations Yancey! You are right, kids need to get outside and play. Outdoor play is an essential part of child development.

      Reply
  4. Daniella

    Hi Tanya,

    Great review, I loved the reading!
    I was just looking for some children toys ideas for my sister’s son birthday. He is going to 2 years old in a month. I really like the tunnel. It looks so fun and saves as well. I just would like to know if the tunnel is easy to fold? Also, do you ship out of the US?
    Thank you for this excellent post!

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Daniella,

      Yes, the tinned does fold up. It squishes togeher and can be tied to keep it together. All of the products in this article can be found on Amazon. So if you click on the link/button it will take you right to the product.

      Come back on Tuesday morning as I will be publishing an article specific to outdoor toys for toddlers!

      Reply
  5. Albert

    Thank your for sharing this article, the timing is perfect!

    I thought I was in trouble because my little cousin’s birthday is next week and I could not decide what to buy for him that he doesn’t already have and won’t just end up laying around. He is five and I think he would love that adventure play tent. I don’t think he has anything like that.

    I will take a look at your other recommendations for a few other kids who have birthdays coming up soon!

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Albert,

      I’m glad I was able to help you with gift ideas for your cousin. I am sure he would love the Adventure Play Tent. It’s great because it can be used both indoors and outdoors.

      Reply
  6. Ilyssa

    This is a great post and I hope it helps people get ideas for their kids to spend more time outside. My kids loved the water table and played with it well after I thought they would. In general they love water and I have found that ANY water activities are a hit. Even my 18 year old step son will join in which makes it that much more appealing for the younger ones. I know it is hard to get the kids out from the screens and they will fight it initially and you will want to give in. But don’t. While my kids still want those electronics, they seem to get that it is going to be very limited and they are maybe even starting to see why : )

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Ilyssa,

      My kids loved our water table too. There are so many great ones to choose from. We got rid of ours when my kids were 3 and 6. They were very upset. But it was falling apart (it was a hand me down) and we were redoing our yard, so I figured it was time to get rid of it. The kids begged for a new one.

      You are right about the screens. My son always fights going outside to play. However, once he gets out there he has a great time and doesn’t want to come back in!

      Reply
  7. Kevin

    This is so true. Growing up in the 70’s, we were outside every night riding Fisher Big Wheels or playing whiffleball on the dead end street we lived on. Sad to look outside now and not see kids playing like I remember. It’s nice to see someone with fresh ideas to get kids out today. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      You don’t see many big wheels around anymore. Now they are all power wheels, which doesn’t help with getting kids more active. I do still see some of the older kids in my area outside throwing around a basketball, but that’s about it.

      If parents are uncomfortable sending their kids out to play on their own (which is the case with young children), they will need to make an effort to be close by while their child is playing.

      Reply
  8. Liz

    It is terrible that kids aren’t getting outside as much these days and I think it poses a health threat in the future. I make sure my toddler gets outside everyday at least for an hour or so. Harder to do in the winter but still a must I think. You have given me some more ideas as to what toys would be good to have in the near future to continue to be able to entertain my daughters ever growing need for play! Thanks for the info.

    Reply
    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Liz,

      I remember being outside a lot when I was growing up. My sister and I always found more things to do outside than inside. These days kids have so many things to keep them busy indoors that the need to go outside to play is no longer what it was.

      My parents also sent us outside in the winter and it got pretty cold. But all of the snow we would get was incentive enough to go and play outside!

      Hopefully these outdoor toys will help make playing outside more appealing for kids!

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *