5 outdoor play ideas for pre-schoolers

Getting pre-schoolers outside, active, and occupied is one of the best ways to prevent feral tantrums, either from you or the child in question!

Uninterrupted ‘free play’ is super-important for your child’s imagination (and many other reasons to be explored in a future blog post, watch this space!) – but sometimes it’s helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve for those times when your child needs to be encouraged to take things outside.

Here are a few ideas to get you started…

I’m just going to start with the best: Mudpies.

Seriously, who knew how much fun you could have with different kinds of dirt and some water?!

Firstly, take a look around your natural environment, whether you are in your garden, back yard, in a park, or at the beach. What are the materials you have at hand? Try to find different textures such as crumbly soil, gravel, fine and dusty matter, and some decorative items like leafy twigs or flowers to ‘ice the cake’. You’ll need the garden hose, buckets at the beach, or if you’re at the park, take a couple of old milk bottles filled with water along. Is there anything natural lying around you could use as containers, cutlery, or to make imprint patterns on their creations?

Hopefully your child will know what to do next! And getting dirty is part of the fun.

You could use tree bark or driftwood for platters to present your delectable mud pies upon. Encourage your child to get creative – you could even ‘open’ a takeaway bar or restaurant, with a pretend phone to take orders and different dishes to go out!


This is another oldie but a goodie. First of all, find a smallish hill of suitable size to wear your child out on. Climb up it together, discussing how different it is when you try to go straight up as opposed to zig-zagging across it. Which method is quicker to the top? Straight, slow and steep? Or longer, cross-wise, but runnable?!

Once you’re up at the top, talk about the view and the things you can see that were hidden from you at the bottom.

Then the fun bit begins – I suggest you go first and demonstrate the best fall line to your child (I am cracking up laughing picturing you all doing this – go on!) and then you can be in position to ‘catch’ your dizzy little one at the bottom if need be.

Repeat. And again. One more time!

You could also take an old cardboard box with you to slide down on if you wanted to.

This activity is not just good fun – it’s a really fantastic way to help develop your child’s proprioceptive sense, which teaches their muscles self control. It also tests the vestibular sense of orientation and spatial awareness. Just save the picnic for AFTER the game, not beforehand…

Throwing rocks into the water


I am always astounded at how long this activity can occupy my son. Ha ha, i-Pad, you have been overthrown.

The best places to play this game are rocky beaches, rockpools around the shoreline, forest streams, stony rivers and lakes. I don’t recommend using the backyard goldfish pond.

As you find rocks of various sizes to hiff into the water with surprisingly satisfying splashes, have a good old natter with your child. You could talk about about gravity – it’s a force from the earth that pulls things towards it, hence the rocks always falling down into the water when thrown. Then there’s displacement – the rock takes up some of the space where the water was, and that’s why there’s a splash which generally corresponds to the size of the rock thrown. You could discuss some basic geology – are the rocks in your vicinity hard, black, and maybe volcanic? Or sandy, crumbly, and full of holes? Why are the rocks that way?

‘Where’s the wind coming from?’

This is a great game to play with kids outside, as it really gets them to think about what’s going on around them. And we all know pre-schoolers believe the world revolves around them!

The great thing about this one is that you can play it whenever you’re outside together, in as many different environments as you can think of.

First of all, teach them about the four compass directions we use to reference (among other things) the direction of the wind. Explain how the sun always comes up in the east and sets on the opposite side, the west. If you make a cross through these directions, you’ve got north and south. Now to look for the signs of wind and where it is coming from – eg leaves being blown in a certain direction, patterns on water, washing blowing on the line, the feel of the wind on their face, dust whirling in the street, street flags or banners flapping in the breeze – try to get your child thinking about all the differing things affected by the wind and to notice them! Then help them figure out and eventually name the direction the wind is coming from. Ta-da… a life-skill mastered!

Make a sculpture

Go on a mini scavenger hunt together for decorative items outside – or supervise from a distance, perhaps with a nice cup of tea! – while your little one does it themselves. Once you have a wee treasure trove of items such as pretty feathers, unusual coloured stones, twigs, flowers, shells etc, have little fingers push their items into a block of play-doh or clay to make their very own sculpture of great beauty. You may just have a budding Michelangelo on your hands…or not…who cares?! They will have fun doing it.

Hope you have fun with those! Want to add your child’s favourite outdoor game? Be my guest below:


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