Outdoor activities are good for kids and incredible ways for families to bond and enjoy each other’s company. But let’s face it. Video games, television, and other electronic media are alluring. Kids think they’re having fun when they’re on their devices, and in their limited definition of the word “fun,” they probably are having it.
As caring parents and family members, we know that there is better fun out there, and we want our kids to experience it. Even more, we want to experience it with them. If you’ve ever tried to get your kids outside only to be met with complaints of boredom, take heart. Your kids are capable of learning what real, screen-less entertainment is. They merely need the right activities.
We’ve compiled a list of 16 surefire boredom-beating outdoor activities that get your kids moving and shaking, hooting and hollering—and best of all, their hands will be device-free as they play the way kids are meant to play.
As you peruse these lists of activities for kids, feel free to sort them into lists of your own. Create files of things to do this weekend or ways to beat the heat, for example. Use these when they work for you and your family, adapt them so they better suit the ages and personalities of your own kids, and let these ideas spark more boredom-busting activities of your own.
Yes, children, there are games other than video style. These outdoor games engage your kids’ mind and body as well as encourage in-person social interaction to boot.
This is a yard-sized version of the original board game with the same name. Using a cardboard circle template, create a board by spray-painting four columns of circles, one each of red, blue, yellow, and green. A traditional Twister mat has six spots per column, for a total of 24. Let the age/size of your kids determine the size of your dots.
You can use a spinner from a Twister game, or you can craft your own. Outdoor play is the same as the indoor version. Someone spins the arrow and calls out where players must place a hand or a foot.
Kids of all ages tend to like the notion of a spray-painted board on the lawn. You’ve hooked them!
Tin Can Bowling
This outdoor activity combines recycling/reusing, arts and crafts, and bowling games. This one requires some planning ahead, as you’ll need at least ten tin cans. You might want to have some empty cans on hand as well as unopened ones to experiment with which type works best for you and your family.
With the labels removed, you and your kids can paint and decorate the cans. Once they’re dry and ready, you can let the bowling games begin. Stack them vertically or horizontally or in different patterns, and use different sized balls or even objects like rocks to knock them down. Incorporate them into a hop-scotch game for a new twist to an old favorite.
Let your kids come up with games of their own, too. They might have as much fun inventing games as they do playing them. One necessary safety precaution to keep in mind: When using open cans, make sure there are no sharp edges. The pop-top lids, as well as some can openers, don’t leave sharp pieces that can cut little fingers.
Hide and Seek
This is a game that delights kids young and old. For safety reasons, you’ll likely need to establish firm boundaries. Hide and seek is great because it’s easy, requires no supplies or set-up, and can begin on the spur of the moment.
The Matching Game
This game takes the classic memory game out of the house and into the backyard. Using pieces of square corkboard for game pieces, stencils to make pictures, and spray paint, you can create your own outdoor version of the matching game.
Even older kids find it hard to resist the fun of a gigantic board game in their own backyard. Let them have a say in some of the images (while your younger kids choose some, too), let them help you paint, and they’ll enjoy this outdoor activity before the games even begin.
Balloons, Noodles, and Free Play
Structured outdoor games are fun and beneficial to kids of all ages. Grownups need to remember, though, that kids need opportunities for unstructured free play as well. This outdoor game lets kids be as goofy and free or as serious and competitive as they wish.
Merely provide multiple pool noodles, enough for each child to use more than one if he so chooses, and as many inflated balloons as you can. Let older kids help blow up the balloons to give your cheeks a break.
Let your kids enjoy playing with the noodles and balloons. They might invent games and challenges of their own, or they might be silly in ways they never are when they’re sitting in front of a screen.
Outdoor recreation lets kids be physically active to re-create a sense of themselves. As they move and play and explore, they can be themselves. Pursuing different passions and interests is a vital part of childhood, and when kids can unplug and get outdoors, they have the freedom to do just that.
The possibilities for outdoor recreation are nearly endless. These are just five examples of activities that allow kids to figure out who they are in this vast world.
Creating and maneuvering through obstacles stimulates both mind and body. Many kids naturally add elements of fantasy play to their course creation.
Give kids access to a wide variety of materials, and then let them get creative. They’ll transform the yard into a magical, challenging adventure.
In this version of croquet, kids’ feet replace mallets, and they kick balls through arches positioned around the yard. Sporting goods stores sell soccer practice equipment that works great for this activity, or you can create your own with pool noodles held down with yard stakes.
You and your kids go exploring in search of a variety of bugs. Pick them up and carry them along in a bug tent. It helps kids connect with the natural world and learn how to handle small, living things gently.
Build your own target with a large piece of felt. Glue shapes or pictures to the felt for targets, attach the fabric to a dowel, and use string to hang your target from a tree, clothesline, or swing set. Attach Velcro to whiffle balls, and let target throwing commence.
Unstructured rec time is as valuable as structured activities. Have a variety of play equipment available, such as jump ropes, gunny sacks, a sandbox and toys—anything that lets your kids grab and go at the spur of the moment.
Outdoor Activities for Kids
Every child is unique, and kids have fun in different ways. If your child doesn’t warm up to outdoor games or recreational activities, she might enjoy more general outdoor activities. A few examples of this type of activities for kids include these:
Driveway Bob Ross or Sidewalk Jackson Pollock
The world can become your little artist’s canvas. Sidewalk chalk is fun. Another option is sidewalk finger (and foot) paint. Pour paints into pans, and let your kids use bare feet and hands to create masterpieces. (Wet paint can be slippery, so use safety precautions.)
Kitchen sponges replace water balloons for endless, low-maintenance water fun. Cut sponges into pieces of varying sizes, provide buckets of water, and let kids play freely.
Frozen Treasure Hunt
In this activity featured in Macaroni Kid, your kids become archaeologists on hot days. Freeze little toys (bags of small toys at a dollar store are great for this) in trays, provide buckets of brushes and other tools so kids can chip away at the ice to extract the toys.
Let your kids be museum curators. Together, take a walk and gather interesting objects to display in their very own museum. Let them choose what they find exciting. They’ll hone their creativity, and you’ll gain insight into what makes them tick. Once you’ve collected objects, return home and set up a museum in the garage, on the patio, or anyplace you see fit. Finally, invite others to view the museum.
Cut a pool noodle in half lengthwise to create a two-lane racetrack. Prop one end up on a box, step, or chair, and let kids roll marbles down the track. This incredibly simple game can keep kids occupied for a surprisingly long time.
Once they are ushered outside and given plenty of opportunities to replace indoor screen time with outdoor activities, your kids will enjoy themselves in wholesome ways. Just think—next time you search for your kids to tell them it’s time to turn off the television, you might discover that they’re already playing outside.