15 Outdoor Activities for Different Types of Play
- Written by Samira Ali, Ceilidh McConnell, Alexis Webster, Lynne Lafave
As the snow melts and the weather warms-up, it is the perfect time to start thinking of new outdoor activity ideas. Playing outdoors provides children with the opportunity to learn about and from the natural environment. Many children love to be outside; and as an added benefit, time spent outdoors is associated with greater moderate-to-vigorous child physical activity.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) identifies three types of play: ACTIVE PLAY which involves full-body movements, CREATIVE PLAY which involves the hands and mind for building and creating, and PRETEND PLAY which involves language and thinking skills to learn about the world.1
Below we have outlined some of our favourite outdoor activities for each type of play:
Active Play: Get the tiny humans moving!
A classic but can be a great opportunity to get children moving!
- Jump like a frog
- Spin like a top
- Flap your arms like a bird
- Crawl like a crab
- Run in place or around the outdoor play area
Use duct tape or strings to make a DIY balance beam on the ground. Have children practice their balancing skills by walking across the beam. Practice walking forward, backward, hopping, and running ‘across the beam’.
Follow the Leader
This activity is a great way to make use of outdoor space and incorporate the natural environment. Expand your inclusion with Active for Life tips for making this activity accessible for children who vary in their movement abilities.
Hide and Seek
Disappearing games like hide and seek develop children’s independence.
Place toys or items at one end of the outdoor play area and form two lines at the other end. When the race begins, two children race to their toy and bring it back to their team. The fastest team to collect and retrieve their toys wins! For an added bonus, choose a type of movement for each round. If you do not have access to play equipment outside use natural elements such as small rocks, sticks, and pinecones.
Use hula hoops, DIY balance beams (see #2 above), chairs, cardboard boxes, pool noodles, or whatever materials you have around. Create obstacles that the children can jump over, crawl under or through, and balance on.
Creative Play: Use hands and minds to build and create
DIY Flower Bouquet
Draw a flower vase and plant stems on a piece of cardboard. Poke holes at the top of the stems.
Have the children take their cardboard vase outside with them and push dandelion and flower stems through the holes to make their own beautiful flower bouquets.
Cloud Dough Sand Castle/Sensory Bins
To make Cloud Dough, mix 8 cups of flour and 1 cup of oil together to make a malleable sand-like dough that can be molded into sandcastles. Add rocks, plastic toys, dried pasta, or whatever items you have on hand to create a sensory bin. Theme sensory bins are great for teaching children about the natural environment. Beach-themed bins are great for learning about sea animals and dinosaur excavation bins are useful in teaching children about the history of Alberta.
Grab a bucket of water and some paintbrushes and find your nearest sidewalk or wood fence. Children can paint fun water designs all over surfaces without making a mess!
Download this Colour_Walk.pdf! Bring copies on your next nature walk and collect natural items that match the colour on the page.
Pretend Play: Use language and thinking skills to learn about the world, develop imagination and solve problems
Build a Garden
Dollar stores have a selection of inexpensive gardening supplies that can be used to teach children about plants and growth. Establish a small plant bed in the outdoor play space or grab some inexpensive plant pots, soil, and seeds. Teach the children how to plant their own seeds in the soil and watch them grow. This activity is especially great because gardening promotes the development of fine motor skills, physical literacy, and critical thinking skills. Throughout the summer, have the children water their own plants, pick the weeds out, and teach them about the life cycle of the plants.
A great way to get children excited about going for a walk outdoors, even if it is just a stroll around the block. Click on the list or nature scavenger hunt for a printout.
Backyard Safari & Map Activity
Hide plastic toy animals around the outdoor play area and have the children go on a hunt. Create discussions about the animals they find.
“Guess What Animal I Am!” Game
Encourage children to take turns acting out their favourite animals while having others guess the animal.
Show and Tell
After a scavenger hunt, each child chooses a favourite item they collected and shares it with the group. Allow the child to describe the object and share why the object is their favourite.
The benefits of playing and learning outdoors are endless. Take advantage of the warm weather and watch the kids connect with nature. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen, stay hydrated, and wash your hands!
Alberta Health Services. (2021). Stay ‘n’ Play! Healthy Together. Alberta Health Services. https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/news/Page15455.aspx
Lynne Lafave is an associate professor in the Department of Health and Physical Education at Mount Royal University in Calgary Alberta. She holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences and her research focuses on nutrition, physical activity, and well-being initiatives in early childhood education and care. As the principal investigator on the CHEERS project, she works jointly with early childhood educators and CHEERS project coordinators to support early child health and well-being initiatives in the early childhood education and care setting.
Ceilidh McConnell is a Psychology graduate student at the University of Calgary in HOPELab studying empathy and decision-making in adolescents. She obtained her BA (Hons) in Psychology at Mount Royal University.
Alexis Webster is a graduate student in Measurement, Evaluation, and Research Methodology at the University of British Columbia. She obtained her BA (Hons) in Psychology at Mount Royal University.
Samira Ali is an education student at the University of Alberta. She obtained her BA in Sociology at Mount Royal University.