Six Outdoor Play Activities for Kids of All Abilities

Child playing outside on the lawn with trucks, blocks paints and other toys.

Many parents are eager to get their kids outside after spending the day at school, daycare or in physical therapy. But when Mom and Dad are in charge of planning the agenda all day, every day, things can get a little hectic. This is particularly true for parents of kids with special needs. It may be tempting to fall into a comfortable routine just to keep all of your energy levels up!

Sunshine and Vitamin D are so important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you are looking to add a little outdoor play to your weekday fun without breaking your budget (or losing your patience) then search no further. Take a look at these six suggestions for outdoor activities that can help parents and children of all abilities enjoy being outside together to play AND learn.

Are you ready to have some fun?

Fun and Inexpensive Outdoor Activity Ideas for Children

During the warm weather months, simple and stress-free is the way to go! Keep your little one entertained with activities that are easy to set up and use items you may already have on hand. Enjoy some serious fun right in your own backyard.

Bring playtime outdoors with these special, family-friendly activities:

1. Eat a Picnic Lunch or Snack

Pick a menu and gather the kitchen items that are needed to prepare it. This can be a fun way for your child to learn about planning ahead. With a younger child, you could exercise their fine motor skills by counting out crackers or grapes to place in a Tupperware container. An older child could help spread peanut butter and jelly on slices of sandwich bread.

Once your meal is ready, sit outside together and enjoy. Whether you opt for the quiet backyard or socializing with neighbors out front, the change of scenery adds a fun new spin to your tried-and-true lunchtime routine.

Note: When you are trying a new activity with a child who has special needs, it can be helpful to use familiar or favorite foods for your picnic. Changing up too many things at once may be overwhelming.

2. Dip Your Toes in Water Therapy

It is not uncommon for children with unique needs to fear water or adverse weather. There are other ways to experiment with water play that may be a better fit.

Helpful adaptations could include:

  • Smaller quantities of water, such as playing in the rain, on a water table or with a sprinkler.
  • Experimenting with water temperatures, by using warmer water instead of water that comes straight from the hose, for example.
  • Added comfort from an umbrella, soft brimmed hat or goggles, which help protect a child’s face and eyes from water.

You may also try an outdoor activity with your kids that includes water, such as gardening. Children often enjoy using the spray attachment on a hose and do not realize that they are helping with lawn work in the process!

3. Find Peace in Nature Watching

Special family moments do not have to be big and bold. When the weather is pleasant, there is not much better than relaxing in the sweet sunshine. Set up a tent (or drape a sheet over the tree or clothesline in your yard) to create a quiet outdoor oasis you and your child can enjoy together.

Your outdoor tent could provide shelter for cloud watching, bird spotting, stretching, yoga and more. Outside story time could also help foster your child’s love and appreciation for books. After the sun goes down, head back out to do a little stargazing.

Remember, parents deserve some quiet and uninterrupted “me time” to keep their stress and emotions in check, too. See positive affirmations for parents to help guide your mindfulness practice.

4. Enjoy an Outdoor Toy

Some toys were just meant for the outdoors. If you have a hard time getting your little one away from tech toys and their favorite games, entice them out the door with:

  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Bubble wand
  • Frisbee
  • Water balloons
  • Yard games

Do not get discouraged if your child needs different adaptations of these beloved outdoor toys in order to play comfortably. One Mom invented a sidewalk chalk holder called Walkie Chalk when she could not bend over to color after having a C-section. Toys like this are great for persons in a wheelchair, as well as parents and grandparents who cannot comfortably bend over for longer periods of time.

Do you have an outdoor toy recommendation or adaptation? Share your photos on social media with the hashtag #UnlimitedPlay.

5. Plant a Fragrant Garden

Gardening can help your child learn and practice a variety of skills, including sensory activation, fine motor development, family bonding, patience, responsibility, and planning and organizing. The added bonus? Your yard will appreciate it, too.

Take a trip to your local farmer’s market or home supply store to pick out seeds or buds. Let your child be involved in selecting what you will grow at home – for best results, read packaging or ask an associate if you need help choosing something that will flourish in your area’s climate and at the time of year you will be planting.

Note: Our sense of smell has a direct impact on the body’s nervous system and responses. Help your child build positive scent memories with fragrant plants, such as gardenia, mint and lavender.

6. Put Together a Sensory Bin

A simple plastic tub, storage bin or other large container can be transformed into a sensory bin with a few carefully selected items you may already have at home. Kids of all ages and abilities benefit from exposure to items that stimulate their senses: touch, smell, see, hear and taste.

Craft sites like Pinterest are full of suggestions for sensory bins. Some of our favorites for outdoor play include:

  • Dirty and Clean Bins – Fill one container with mud and water, and another with soap and water. Let your kids get their favorite toy figurines dirty in one bin, and then scrubbed clean with a sponge or brush in the other.
  • Icy Toy Bin – Freeze pool or bath toys in a bowl of water. Then, have your child pour warm water over the ice block until it melts and the toy is free.

No matter the outdoor activity, please remember to wear and reapply sunscreen, and try new things at a careful pace. Safety comes first!

Make a Playdate with Unlimited Play Playgrounds

Playgrounds provide an outlet for physical activity and social bonding that complement family bonding and playing at home. When you are ready to make an outing, bring your family to an Unlimited Play accessible playground.

Unlimited Play is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that believes kids of all abilities should have access to playgrounds that are designed with inclusion in mind. As of 2019, Unlimited Play has built 25 inclusive playgrounds throughout the country to facilitate outdoor play for families who need it most.

To learn more about bringing an inclusive playground to your community, or donating to support our mission, contact Unlimited Play today.