Summer is the perfect time for babies and toddlers to have fun outside. Get the right babies toys and accessories and your little one can enhance their learning and motor skills, and build their imagination and creativity as they play.
There are several types of play for your baby or toddler to enjoy outdoors: active play, exploratory play, messy play, sensory play, and age-appropriate arts and crafts, to name just a few. The NHS has a number of age-appropriate baby and toddler play ideas, as does Baby Centre.
Younger babes often enjoy exploratory play (objects they can touch, throw, scrunch and push), sensory play (toys and objects with interesting textures, sounds and lights), taste-safe messy play and active play. Toddlers and older children enjoy most types of outdoor play, especially arts and crafts, active play, dressing up and creative play.
Here we’ve rounded up the most popular types of babies toys and toddler playtime accessories to help your little one enjoy playing outdoors this summer. As with any toys, check the age recommendation before buying to ensure it’s suitable for your bambino.
1. Paddling pool
It’s no secret that babies and toddlers love playing in paddling pools. Younger babes can sit in the shallow water and play with small toys and waterproof objects, or even with the water itself, while toddlers and older children tend to be more creative with their water play – using the pool to fill up water guns, to sail toy boats, explore which objects sink or float, or to simply splash and jump.
Remember: babies, toddlers and children must be constantly supervised when playing in or near paddling pools.
You could also use a paddling pool for taste-safe forms of messy play, such as filling it with rainbow spaghetti or jelly, or crafty creative play by popping in some child-safe paints and bubbles for your little one to explore with their hands and feet. Learning 4 Kids has a fun list of messy play ideas, some of which involve paddling pool play. Finally, why not fill the pool with colourful plastic balls and convert it into a ball pit?
Paddling pools are relatively inexpensive and easy to inflate. The Intex Baby Pool 3-Ring Sunset Glow is popular for water play, messy play and ball pit use, as is the 84L Finding Dory Nemo Inflatable Three Ring Paddling Pool. For a huge pop of colour and character, try the Lazy Fish Inflatable Paddling Pool, which has the bonus of a built-in sun canopy for summer.
2. Activity mat
If you’re looking for outdoor babies toys and toddler games to keep your little one occupied while you get on with the gardening, or finally reading that book you bought four months ago, try an activity mat. Most of them are made of thick foam or have a waterproof base, so you can pop them down on grass or a patio without worry. They also have built-in activities for your child to enjoy.
Does your child love toy cars or pushing around small objects? Then they might like playing with Melissa & Doug’s Round the Town Road Rug and Car Activity Play Set. It features a beautiful track print and comes with four wooden cars. The back of the mat is skid-proof, too, ensuring it won’t slide during play. The Early Learning Centre Inflatable Play Island Toddler Activity Mat is jam-packed with baby-safe activities, including inflatable toys and a pop-up tunnel.
If baby is crawling, pop them on the waterproof, super soft Garwarm Extra Large Thickness Baby Crawling Mat Play, or sit them on Baby Play’s Activity Soft Foam Mat with its colourful, reversible alphabet and animal print.
A classic outdoors toy for babies and toddlers, a ride-on toy helps them develop independence and better motor skills. They get to imitate older kids on their bigger bikes and ride-ons, but on a toy that’s safe for their age. As with paddling pools, babies and toddlers should be supervised when playing with a ride-on.
You can’t go wrong with Disney-themed baby toys, so no wonder Kiddieland's Mickey N Friends My First Ride-on is such a big hit. Suitable for 12 months+, this exciting toy has colourful rotating gears, realistic engine and horn sounds, and a removable toy phone for when your little one wants to chat with Mickey.
Other highly-rated ride-ons include the Fisher-Price 3-in-1 Sit, Stride & Ride, with educational features including a light-up nose, buttons and colours, and the hand-crafted sit-on Wheelybug Mouse with multi-directional castors and a comfy, foam-covered body.
4. Bubble machine
Kids of all ages love bubbles, so a bubble machine is a guaranteed way to keep younger babies fascinated, and older kids entertained, when playing outdoors. Some bubble machines sport multi-directional spouts to pump bubbles out in a wide arc – perfect if you have several babies or toddlers playing at once. And because the bubble fun is taking place outside, you don’t have to worry about staining your furniture or carpets – everyone wins!
Bubble machines vary in size and price. Some come with bubble fluid, some don’t. Mains-operated bubble machines usually deliver more firepower, but there are some decent battery operated machines out there.
The Gazillion Bubble Hurricane Machine, for example, is a best-seller, thanks to its ability to quickly produce colourful bubbles, blowing them around in a circle. The My Bubble Machine (US) runs on batteries or mains power and also pumps out a huge number of bubbles, as does the TKC Air Circus Bubble Factory (UK).
If your toddler has trouble sitting still, arm them with the classic Fisher Price Bubble Mower, which produces a stream of bubbles as it’s pushed along.
5. Pop-up playhouse
No round-up of babies toys would be complete without the versatile pop-up! If baby is on the move, they may find it exciting to crawl through pop-up tunnels and playhouses – choose one with windows so that you and baby can always see one another, just in case baby grows unsure of what they’re doing. Toddlers also enjoy crawling and sliding around in play tunnels, or sitting in playhouses to play with toys, read books or take part in imaginary play.
Pop-up playhouses also come in the form of dens, tents, tunnels and teepees, so you have plenty of choice. The BATTOP Children Play Tent Game Playhouse is one of Amazon’s most highest-rated pop-up tents, with two doors and mesh windows. Bonus? You can fold it down into a carry bag for portable use.
Younger babes will love lying, sitting and crawling around in the Infantino Grow-with-Me Playtime Teepee (US) – it has four play positions, including a crawl tunnel, a musical elephant that plays tunes, plus a hanging mobile made of four plush toys and a mirror. Based in the UK? Try the LIVEBOX Foldable Pop Up Children Playhouse instead, though you’ll need to add your own toys.
6. Swing and slide
Not everyone is lucky enough to live near a children’s playground, so a swing or slide may prove to be a good playtime investment for your garden or outside space. Whether you want a swing that securely attaches to a tree branch, or a folding swing that can be packed away at the end of the day, there’ll be something to suit your needs. Same goes for slides – there are now a few cute-as-a-button slides designed especially for tots.
These types of babies toys are not as expensive as you may think, and the use your little one will get from them is enormous. The Quadpod Swing Seat is garnering rave reviews, thanks to its adjustable, four-way design that will accommodate babies aged from six months and children up to eight years. It comes with adjustable extension ropes so that you can fit it to a low or full height swing frame (not included).
Low on outside space? Choose the HLC Folding Swing (suitable for ages 9-36 months), which has adjustable ropes and can be folded down when not in use. You could partner it with the My First Slide Dolu, a folding slide for babies and toddlers, or the Little Tikes First Slide if you have decent garden space.
7. Sand and water table
Finally, help your baby or toddler discover the interesting texture of wet sand by investing in a sandbox or a sand and water table. Character sandboxes are a classic babies toy, with sandpits like the Little Tikes Turtle Sandbox helping lots of tots engage in safe exploratory play in the garden. This turtle-shaped sandbox holds 68kg of sand, features two moulded seats, and has a lid to protect the sand in wet weather.
Babies and toddlers are endlessly fascinated by water, so why not create a pouring station for them to play with? The deAO Basic Sand and Water Table With Lid has two separate compartments: one for water, one for sand. Your little one can play with the included shovel and accessories in the sand, or enjoy pouring water from one vessel to another in the water trough – we know it’s not your idea of a great day outdoors, but tots love it!