Outdoor Activities for Families

These activities are appropriate for one or more children and can be easily implemented in most outdoor spaces. 


Bucket Brigade

 If playing with several children, this activity can become like a relay game.    


What You’ll Need

  •  2 large buckets or tubs  
  • Small containers, such as plastic food-storage containers or large yogurt tubs 
  • Water 


  • Clear a large space for the game, at least 15 feet wide. Place one large tub or bucket at one end of the play space.  
  • Fill one bucket or tub ½ to ¾ full with water. 
  • Have your child use the small container to carry water from one bucket or tub to the other. 
  • If playing the game with several children, consider having children form teams and then play the game in the form of a relay with each team member taking a turn transporting water from one bucket or tub to the other. 
  • Encourage your child to try moving in different ways as he or she works to fill the bucket or tub. For example, your child could tiptoe or walk very quickly to the bucket. Talk about how moving more quickly might also require taking more special care not to spill the water on the way to the bucket or tub. Also consider changing the size of the container your child uses to transport the water. Talk about why a smaller container might mean more trips to the bucket and why a larger container might mean fewer trips but might also be more difficult to transport. 

Developmental Insights

  • Movement activities like this one help foster skills across multiple developmental domains. For example:  
  • Children are practicing large-muscle skills as they move across the play space in different ways, like walking and running, and working to maintain their balance so they don’t spill the water.  
  • Thinking skills such as spatial awareness, problem-solving, and measurement concepts (full/empty, heavy/light) are also involved.  
  • Skills associated with school readiness, such as attention, persistence, and flexibility, come into play as children focus on transporting the water and must consider alternative methods for transporting the water if one method is not working. 


 CAUTION! Never leave standing water unattended. Exercise diligent supervision when children have access to standing water, to prevent the possibility of drowning. 


Obstacle Course

Obstacle courses are great activities for young children who are still developing physical skills involving balance, running, hopping, tossing, crawling through things, and walking around things. When setting up your own agility course at home, consider creating challenges your child enjoys or ones he or she is still in the process of mastering. 


What You’ll Need

  • A variety of items to use to set up an obstacle course, such as playground cones, outdoor tables and chairs, riding toys, balls, beanbags, boxes, plastic hoops, and balance beams  
  • Timer or stopwatch (optional) 


Create an obstacle course for your child in your yard or at a nearby park. Create several “stations” for practicing different skills, for example:


  • a tossing station: child tosses a ball or beanbag into a box 
  • a hopping station: child jumps into and out of several plastic hoops placed in a row  
  • a balancing station: child walks along a beam laying on the ground or line drawn on a paved surface  
  • a crawling station: child crawls beneath an outdoor table such as a picnic table  
  • a climbing station: child climbs up a slide or up and down steps  
  • a rolling station: child rolls over several times on a soft surface, such as grass 
  • a riding station: child rides a tricycle around several playground cones    

Developmental Insights

Young children need many opportunities to move their bodies and to exercise each day. Activities such as this one not only allow children to practice skills associated with large- and small-muscle development, they also help children develop levels of fitness appropriate to their ages and abilities. Using a timer or stopwatch and encouraging children to beat their own times can provide an additional fitness challenge.  


Fun with Paper Airplanes

If your child has not yet developed the small-muscle skills needed to make a paper airplane, you can still involve him or her in the process by explaining each step as you demonstrate how to make a paper airplane. When it comes time to fly the plane, encourage your child to try launching it from different locations outdoors, such as from the top of a slide, play structure, or set of stairs. Encourage your child to think about how to get the airplane to fly the farthest. Then use measuring tape to measure the distances of each flight.


What You’ll Need

Several sheets of paper

Measuring tape (optional)


Directions for Making a Paper Airplane

  1. Fold a sheet of paper in half lengthwise. Crease the fold firmly, and then unfold.  
  2. Fold the top corners in toward the center line, making a triangle shape, and crease the folds. 
  3. Fold the triangle down, with the flaps inside. Pause and show your child that the paper is now a square shape. 
  4. Fold the top corners of the square in so the points touch the center line, and crease the fold. A flat line should now run across the top. 
  5. Fold the small triangle up that’s sticking out from under the flaps, and crease to secure the flaps. 
  6. Turn the plane over, and fold it in half along the vertical fold you made in Step 1. All folds should now be facing outward.  
  7. To make the wings, fold both flaps down until they are even with the bottom line of the airplane, and crease the fold. 
  8. Unfold the wings until they form a flat surface that is perpendicular to the body of the airplane. 

Developmental Insights

When children work to make their own paper airplanes, they are fine tuning small-muscle skills as well as experiencing what it is like to create something they can experiment and play with. Other skills and concepts highlighted include:


  • Eye-hand coordination skills 
  • Throwing, tossing, and coordination skills 
  • Problem-solving skills 
  • Flexibility and creative-thinking skills 
  • Expressive-language skills, including vocabulary development 
  • Concepts associated with physical science, such as cause and effect, gravity, and lift 
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