There is no doubt about it… Preschoolers love to be outdoors. Fresh air, natural light, and the feel of the wind on their little faces, the sound of birdsong in summer or the crackle of colorful leaves and the snap of twigs in winter. There’s a sensory feast out there for free that we can tap into for our little learners whenever we want to. No wonder kids almost always choose to play outside than to play indoors!
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get outside and start to play.
Here are my favorite outdoor games to play with pre-schoolers.
1. Color Match
For this outdoor game, you will need 5 large pieces of laminated card in the following colors:
Lay the cards out in front of the children and spend a little time talking about the different colors to see if they can think of things that are the same color, for example, you might talk about yellow flowers, yellow sun and yellow butter.
What to do:
Go and explore your outdoor area to find items that match the 5 colors.
Depending on the time of year, you may want to adapt the purple card to blue, but generally, I’ve found that these colors work best for this activity.
Bring back any items that match the colors and lay them on the cards.
When everyone has had time to explore, come back together and invite the children to talk about all the wonderful and colorful treasures you have found.
This may include different-sized and shaped leaves, colorful flowers, snails, caterpillars, berries, stones feathers, seeds, cones or dried grasses. There will be plenty of other exciting finds to talk about, too.
Talk to the children about collecting flowers. It’s fine to collect flowers that grow in abundance such as dandelions and daisies, but make sure no rare wildflowers are collected. You could take a photograph instead or lead the other children to where they are growing to see them. Make sure all mini beasts are carefully replaced in their natural habitat.
You can repeat this fun game at different times of the year and you will find lots of other different treasures.
A classic outdoor game, hopscotch is even older than I am. But it’s still a great game for developing lots of skills for example:
It keeps children active. Younger kids especially love these classic outdoor games!
It gives opportunities to practice hopping and jumping.
It helps develop social skills as the children have to take turns.
It helps children learn to count.
It helps children understand which number comes next in sequence.
In this version, it also encourages number matching.
If you have a forest site or woodland space to use, you can make hopscotch boxes and numbers from twigs and branches. If you have a yard, no need to worry – a piece of chalk has been working for at least the last hundred years. Just in case you’ve never played this classic game, here are the rules:
What to do:
Draw numbers 1 to 10 in a grid of squares that alternate between 1 box and 2 boxes.
Put a number line next to the hopscotch grid.
Throw a pebble.
Whichever square it lands on, hop on one foot, then jump onto two, repeatedly until you reach the number with the marker stone on it.
Bend down to pick up your stone, jump off the hopscotch and run to the number line to point to the number you hit.
Run to the back of the line to wait your turn for another go.
Encourage all the children to count as the next player is hopping and jumping.
3. Welly Throwing
Welly throwing is one of the most fun outdoor games for kids. Most settings have a box of wellies for the outdoor area, but if you don’t, charity shops are a great place to start collecting pairs of Wellingtons. This is a popular outdoor game that includes lots of learning. It particularly helps building skills in :
Throwing and aiming
Running and retrieving
What to do:
Find a suitable space to throw your wellies.
Ask the children to line up in a row.
Make sure they know they are not to throw until you say their name (this can take a bit of practice).
Throw your welly as far as you can
Swing your arm back, bend the opposite knee, and try and throw it up and away from you.
The adult needs to wear wellies for this, too, so that they can count in paces how far the welly went.
Encourage the children to count the paces with you to see who had the biggest throw.
4. Balloon Tennis
Not doing the balloon toss game, although that one is super fun as well. Let’s play balloon tennis! This is one of the most enjoyable classic outdoor games because pre-schoolers just love balloons! Their unpredictability and colorfulness are so exciting when you are little. This outdoor game works best in an enclosed space on a calm day. It doesn’t work in high winds.
What to do:
Blow up some colorful balloons.
Provide a net by tying a piece of rope or strong string between two posts and draping a large cloth or piece of fabric over the string. This should be just high enough for your pre-schoolers to see over.
Bat the balloons back and forth over the net using the flat part of your hands.
Count how many times you can keep it in the air before it falls to the ground.
This is a brilliant activity and a fun way to learn the opposites:
High and low
Up and down
Fast and slow
As you are playing, you will find that learning to recognize color happens quite naturally and so does counting. If your pre-schoolers are having trouble hitting it back and forth over the net to each other, try playing with an adult first. You can also adapt this game and play a simpler version where you just have to get all the balloons over the net, swap sides, and hit them all back again.
(Make sure your balloons are disposed of properly when the game is over).
5. Bubble Pop
There are some outdoor games that we should do just for the sheer joy of having fun and in my opinion, this is one of them. Popping bubbles is as addictive as popping bubble wrap, and pre-schoolers love this. This outdoor game teaches the skills of:
One-to-one correspondence (knowing that one finger has popped one bubble)
Being aware of the space around you and developing an awareness of others’ space
It develops an enjoyment of learning – I guarantee you will see lots of smiles and giggles
It helps to develop speech and language skills
It really is as simple as it sounds, perhaps one of the simplest outdoor games yet the most exciting one.
Prepare a good strong bubble mix and blow bubbles up into the air. Let the children pop the bubbles, encouraging them to count as they pop.
Also introduce words like:
This is another outdoor game that works just because the children have so much fun. You can buy colorful and sparkly scarves from many teaching catalogs. But if you want to save money, you can easily find scarves in charity shops or by asking your parents.
You will need:
A pile of floaty scarves. Chiffon works best.
A good space
Some magical/lively music
What to do:
Play some music that your children really like.
Show the children how to twirl around with the scarves, sweeping them high and low, and dancing around the space.
When they have had a chance to explore the scarves for themselves, start to introduce copying moves with a partner and then in a group.
This sounds simple, but there is a lot going on. The children are starting to respond to music, keep a simple beat and they are developing creativity. Best of all, they are moving their bodies and keeping active – a skill that we need to encourage for life.
If you like these fun outdoor games and you want more, there are further ideas for parents on this BBC page.
7. Obstacle Race
Little ones love an obstacle race – it’s so exciting! And as an added benefit, an obstacle course can help children to develop gross motor skills, and become proficient in the basic actions of traveling like:
As well as balancing and transferring their weight
There are no rules about the obstacles. You can be creative and adapt anything that you have got around. Be aware of safety, but let the children take safe risks, too. We want them to develop their own ways of working safely in different environments and not wrap them in cotton wool.
You can ask the children to help you set out the course and put it away afterwards, too. That way they can begin to learn about lifting and carrying equipment safely. Here are some outdoor game ideas that I’ve used in my obstacle courses:
Hula hoops – to jump through hula hoops or lift over your head
Logs to jump over or roll to the next obstacle
Cones to weave in and out
Balls to roll or balance on a bat
Tunnels to crawl through
Ropes to jump over or balance along
Sheets or nets to crawl under
Picture cards with actions for example – star jump, frog hop
8. Dinosaur Bones
If you’re looking for backyard games to try, this is perfect. This works so well with young children, especially those who are already interested in dinosaurs or who love scavenger hunt games. It encourages them to use lots of different skills including:
Speaking, listening and telling you about an event
Physical skills of digging.
Fine motor skills of brushing and cleaning
Ordering sorting and organizing
What you need:
Dinosaur bones – you can buy plastic replicas, or use large dog biscuits, or ask your butcher for a selection of bones (cleaned thoroughly first).
Rakes and spades
What to do:
Without the children seeing, bury a selection of “dinosaur bones” in a large outdoor sandpit or digging area
Let the kids dig and don’t say anything until the children start to discover them for themselves. Then act as surprised as they are and encourage them to dig them all up.
Let the children order the bones in size first and then weight.
Ask the children to think about who the bones could possibly have belonged to.
Can they work together to piece the bones back together?
If you have a lot of fun with this outdoor game, try burying further objects, like a message in a bottle, pieces of old pottery, old coins or treasure.
Sometimes I wish I was three years old again! Don’t you?
If you are on a budget and want some ideas for fun outdoor games that need no equipment, check out this website.
Nothing beats the fun and excitement classic outdoor games offer to kids. Do you have any other ideas for outdoor games for kids or other fun activities to suggest? Please do share them in the comments!