Outdoor Garden Play Ideas for Families

Right now we are in unprecedented times, with households across the UK going into our second month of ‘lockdown’ due to the Corona Virus outbreak. This break from the norm can be quite stressful for children – we don’t know when this situation is going to end, when we will see our families and friends again, or what our new ‘normal’ is going to be once the lockdown starts to lift, and that can be a lot to process for little minds.

As parents are trying to juggle working from home, with homeschooling, feeding the family and just getting everyone through the day – the importance of play has never been more vital.

“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” -Charles Schaefer

If your children are missing their friends and their school playground equipment that is totally understandable. All we can do is try to bring fun into our homes and families, and give them space and time to play freely.  For us, parenting in a pandemic has been made infinitely more manageable by having a garden (aka a yard, for those in the USA!)

If you are also lucky enough to have a garden, here are a few of the ways we have been playing outdoors lately.

DIY Hammocks

Made by tying bed sheets to our outdoor play equipment – these have been a huge hit with the kids, and can be used to swing but have mostly been used as space to chill out for my older kids. You can make these under tables too, just tie the sheet across the top in a firm knot to create a hammock from the fabric below.

DIY Sand box

Using an under bed storage box for sand play has worked brilliantly for us, with a lid that clicks on firmly it keeps cats out (a problem we had previously with sand pits) and can be easily moved around the garden. Sand is great for open ended play!

If you’re able to visit a larger supermarket for your groceries, then you may be able to pick up play sand at the same time, and even the storage boxes.

Water Play

Water play tray can be made using any storage box in the same way as the sand box above. Adding blue food colouring can make it even more enticing. Other simple water play ideas that are fun even in a small garden, or without a paddling pool are..

Playing with the hose. If you play on a sunny day, you can make rainbow and my kids love soaking everyone.

Water guns are also a lot of fun, my older kids love the super soakers on a hot day but even on a cooler day the smaller type get played with a lot here.

Our youngest has just got to grips with pulling the trigger on these, and loves it! We’ve also used them in hands on learning activities like writing words on the floor and having the kids spray the correct one. You can draw fires with chalk and have the kids put them out using the water pistols, or hoses. If you don’t have water guns, you can use cleaning spray bottles – once thoroughly washed out they can work in a very similar way.

Washing toys is another fun water play idea, especially for younger kids.

Whether it’s washing dolly in the bath, or washing toy cars. You can also get the washing up liquid out, and let the kids wash the play cutlery and plates.

Ice play is another twist on water play that you can do in very little space, and little supplies. You can freeze little toys or items into ice cubes and give the kids warm water and some tools to discover how to melt the ice, like water droppers, squeezers and spoons.

A bowl of water and a paint brush is another simple way to keep younger kids busy and having fun outdoors as they paint the fences or walls with the water.


Many people have been chalking the front of their houses, or their front paving in rainbow colours to show support for the NHS and give people a smile as they pass by on their daily exercise walks. We’ve also been using the back wall of our house as a canvas for the kids (and they’ve had fun spraying it off again with the water guns when they want to reuse that area of wall!)

Another fun idea is to make chalk drawings on the floor, to create chalk portraits. We did butterflies and superheroes but the possibilities are endless


Another simple play item we’ve been coming back to again and again these days is bubbles. We prefer using the giant bubbles type of mixture, to make some amazing big ones (Like the sand, you can sometimes find this in the supermarket when you go for groceries) or there are recipes for DIY bubble mixture online like this one from Happy Hooligans

Obstacle Courses

A great way for kids to use up their energy, while being cooped up at home, is with obstacle courses and the great thing is that you can make them with whatever you have available. We used slides, tunnels, a balance beam and a football goal, but have seen families make them with items such as planks of wood and chairs as well as traditional play equipment. If you are really short on equipment, you could even make a chalk obstacle course with lines to follow and tasks like spin in circles, hop on one leg.

With our obstacle courses, the older kids found it lots of fun to use stop watches and compete against each other.

Crafts and Painting

Outdoors is also a great place for paint and crafts because it contains the mess.

We’ve done lots of painting, including painting stones to hide around the garden for an easter hunt.

You can also re-use left over cardboard packaging to paint on. If you have big enough pieces and don’t mind the mess then squeeze on the paint and let the kids walk through it, or drive toy cars through it to make tracks.

Treasure Hunts

We used the painted stones for hunts around the garden, but there are so many ways to set up a garden treasure hunt – whether you hunt for hidden toys, do a nature scavenger hunt where the kids spot things and tick them off a list, or even hide puzzle pieces around the garden and then collect them all to complete the puzzle (I’d suggest doing this with quite big puzzle pieces so you don’t end up losing them though!)

Taking the indoors outdoors

Just being outdoors and getting fresh air is definitely so helpful for all of us at this time, so even when the children want to take part in some quiet play rather than running around, sometimes we’ve found it refreshing to just take that play outdoors.

We have set up LEGO play outdoors, and taken puzzles and colouring outdoors, or taken our books to read outdoors in their hammocks. It helps just to get out of the four walls of the house, and get some extra sunshine wherever possible!

Outdoor Games without any equipment needed

Sometimes you don’t need anything at all to enjoy playing in the outdoors, other than your imagination, your own body, or a simple play idea. Some simple games the kids and I have played together outside include

  • Bird spotting – you can compete to see who spots the birds, or just lie down on the grass and enjoy listening to the bird song!
  • Cloud spotting – what shapes can you see in the clouds, and make up stories about them
  • Gymnastics routines – forwards and backwards rolls, cartwheels, handstands and so on
  • Fitness routines – push ups, sit ups, lunges and so
  • Racing – running races, relay races, hopping races, wheelbarrow races -any kind of races
  • Playground games like Whats the time Mr Wolf, or Bulldog. Ask the kids what they play with their friends in the playground

Local Walks

If you don’t have access to outdoor space then the local walks are of even more importance. Some of the ideas like nature hunts can still be used, maybe bring back leaves to use in arts and crafts at home.

Here is some great advice from the Child Mind Institute  on supporting kids during the Corona Virus crisis, dealing with anxiety and how to get through this time in a positive way.

Post in collaboration with ESP Play

2 thoughts on “Outdoor Garden Play Ideas for Families”

  1. outstanding!
    Your blog posts are so simple and clear. It covers almost all that i was looking for. Thank you so much for always providing great content. Much appreciated.


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