Toddlers – they’re not babies anymore but they’re not quite big kids, and they’re going through some intense development stages that are all their own. What kind of things should you look for when you want the best outdoor toys for toddlers? We’ve asked the experts and have a bunch of great suggestions!
Technically, a toddler is any child who is about 12 months to 36 months old. It’s based on the fact that many children in that age range (earlier, obviously) still sort of toddle, or walk unsteadily as they go from crawling to walking to running and more.
Additionally, there are HUGE cognitive, emotional and social changes that occur, and the range of needs for a 12 month-old is very different than those of a 36-month old. So what should you know before looking for the best toys for toddlers? Here are a few developmental stages you can keep in mind when choosing.
Developmental Benefits Of Toys For 12 to 15 Month-Olds
Many new toddlers are just learning to walk, though not all yet. Typically by 15-months, they are, and they’re the epitome of toddler, with their unsteady little legs and their need to explore. Experts say that the best toys for this age are ones that are fun and challenging and that increase their fine motor skills. Additionally, toddlers at this age are working on hand-eye coordination, development of spatial relationships, object permanence and expressive and receptive language and cognitive development. Cause and Effect toys and stackable toys are big hits.
Developmental Benefits of Toys For 15 to 24-Month-Olds
This is where many toddlers really start showing who they are and what the want to do. You may see them have a preference for activities–swinging over playing ball; coloring with chalk over running in the driveway. They’re still working on their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, but they’re also working on gross motor skills as running, skipping and jumping have become a fun thing for them. Babble turns more and more into words you can understand (and hear over and over) and pretend play reigns while imaginations run wild. By 24 months, you’ll also see them be able to use both their left and their right hands more, and maybe even begin to see a preference (though it’s not abnormal if you don’t).
Developmental Benefits of Toys For 24 to 36 Month-Olds
At this toddler stage, 2-3 year-olds are really into playing with each other, but in a parallel way. They’ll gradually move into together, but they’re really just getting to explore what they like and want to do. They’re all about open-ended play, and love anything that lets them move their ever-controlled bodies. The recognition that they can make their bodies do fun and incredible things is not lost on them, and a big component of how they play. Toddlers at this age are often talking a mile a minute, even though it’s not super coherent and they really love pretend play. Toys that allow them to explore and feel like ‘big kids’ are what they love, and as their fine and gross motor skills continue to strengthen and grow, they find themselves doing more running, kicking, hitting, climbing and even moving!
Best Outdoor Toys For Toddlers
Oh our stars, do we love Sarah’s Silks playsilks for kids of all ages, really. For toddlers though, we love how they inspire open-ended play that involves movement and imagination. Whether your toddler takes in the amazing sensory benefit from the 100% natural, non-toxic silk scarves beautifully colored with environmentally safe dyes, or is creative and makes a hammock for his baby, they’re bound to be loved toys. They’re Waldorf and Montessori-inspired, and so simple but endlessly creative at the same time. Toddlers love the feel, the lightweight portability, and all the fun they’ll have as they make capes, skirts, crowns or playmates. Best? They’re good for outdoors or inside too.
Bowling is a favorite pastime of many, right? Toddlers are no different, and this wooden bowling set comes with six different numbered bowling pins that feature different animals and a colorful ball your toddlers will use to knock the pins down. They’re a fun way to work on fine and gross motor skills, as well as basic number sense and reasoning. It’s a game that will grow with them as they go from learning animal names and colors to numbers and even basic addition and subtraction as they grow. They’re made from eco-friendly wood and colored with water-based non-toxic paint that is safe for your littles who still may chew, and they have a splinter-free finish too. Another great toy for outdoors but that can be brought in for rainy-day fun.
Who’s been working in their gardens? Toddlers, that’s who. Or at least they sure like to think they are. With this metal wheelbarrow from Janood, they’ll feel just like a big kid getting serious about gardening. Sure, what they carry in their wheelbarrow and what you carry in yours may differ, but that’s okay. As you’re working in the garden, your toddler can dig and rake and carry around just like you are, and they’ll be building up their imaginative play, motor skills and microbiome as they do. Pretty impressive, and you may even be fostering a life-long hobby too.
Mini Bilibos are just as much fun as the ‘big kids’ are, and we love their Montessori inspiration. They’re perfect for nesting, stacking and lining up while they also serve every toddler’s outdoor imagination as scoops for digging dirt, bowls to hold mud pies, tops to spin, cars to race or for making snowballs even. They’re incredible outdoor toys for toddlers because they are brightly colored and enticing, and there’s no end to the number of things your toddler can have them be.
Toddlers love messes and toddlers love water and that’s why this 3-in-1 designed table from Best Choice is a perfect way to give them hours and hours of play. They can catch pretend fish or build sandcastles or space launch pads and the built-in benches mean they can hang out for a while. It’s 100% wood constructed and has an adjustable umbrella to keep them cool and shaded when they’re playing. Trust us, it’ll be one of their favorite toys for a long time past toddlerhood.
We love EverEarth so much that we also want to recommend their Gardening Bag & Tools. Plop them in with Janood’s wheelbarrow and your toddlers have ‘real’ gardening tools that they can play with to their heart’s content.
Wouldn’t you have LOVED this as a child? The Plum Discovery Mud Pie Kitchen is pretty much the bee’s knees and is an incredible way for toddlers to lose their minds with all the possibilities. With the Mud Pie Kitchen, they can do all sorts of sensory play, making mushy mud pies and creating culinary delights with whatever they find in the wild (or their backyard).
The Plum® Discovery Mud Pie Kitchen is made from FSC® sustainably sourced wood. It has shelves to hold finds and our favorite is the easy-to-clean paint screen that keeps messes at a minimum but creativity and art to a maximum.
Again, we love Plum Play so much, we had to recommend one more of their outdoor toys for toddlers. Created by parents who wanted their children to have magical childhoods, Plum works to inspire creativity, imagination, thinking and FUN–all in their world. This healthy play mentality is evident in all their products, and this sandpit will keep your kids occupied with hours–while they work on fine and gross motor skills, sensory integration and more.
Plazyone’s parent company b4Adventure was launched in 2011 when founder and owner Ed O’Brien coupled family fun and outdoor adventure. He was the father of three young children and he wanted them to be outdoors as much as they could. He built his business daring his family to be different, and Playzone Fit toys are awesome for indoor and outdoor fun.
This Balance Blox is an incredible way for toddlers to work on balancing their core strength, their imagination, their gross motor skills and more. It’s expandable to fit with other Play Zone Items and it will grow with them for years. Play Zone believes in kids playing outdoors, and they make all their products with that ultimate goal in mind.
Another fantabulous hit from PlayZone Fit are these stepping stones. They’re lightweight enough for toddlers to pick up, maneuver and use as they like, and they help them develop so many skills. From leaping to galloping to jumping on one foot, they’re perfect to start with close together and move apart as your toddler gets older and her skill level strengthens. They’re incredible for imaginative play (look out for that crocodile in the water!) as well as interactive play that toddlers can even do with their big-kid older siblings.
Parents in our forum RAVE about the Pewi Elite Ybike. It’s a bit different than a typical balance bike, in that it’s made for babies as young as 9-months. It’s a great way for your toddler to work on spatial awareness, balance, posture, coordination and exploration, and as they get older, they love that it can spin 360 degrees. It’s a great walking and riding balance bike for toddlers that encourages gross motor skill development and their thrill in exploration.
What kid doesn’t love playing in their own house? This KidKraft Wooden Playhouse is the perfect place for toddlers to start exploring their independence while they begin including their friends in interactive play. Role-play and imaginative play are easy to do when you have a setup with endless possibilities, and we’re pretty sure you’ll enjoy every picnic outside your toddler will invite you too. And trust us, you’ll be invited to picnics inside where you’ll eat stick sandwiches. They’re delicious, and the stuff memories are made of.
Plan Toys was another company we feel in love with at the NYC Toy Fair. How could we not when their company motto is that they’re all about sustainable play?
Plan Toys focuses on safely and beautifully made wooden toys. The toys are made of reclaimed rubber woods and colored with organic, water-based and non-toxic dye. Started in 1981, Plan Toys came to be when seven university graduates set out to ‘infuse the world with positive vibes.’ They do so with a purposed commitment to take care of the environment while they make toys that are incredibly well-thought-out and designed. They focus on the toddler years, as they hope parents encourage the freedom of playing and the proximity of nature when they do so. Every product is made following the three pillars of how Plan Toys does their business in a sustainable way–using sustainable materials, manufacturing and with a sustainable mindset. They’re out to show the world we can have creative toys that nurture our toddlers’ minds and also help them understand how nature gives back to them.
This Water Play Set includes several accessories your toddler will love playing with in whatever water they can get their hands on outside. The water tray acts as a moveable base and they can adjust the accessories as they like to make their very own water world.
So one of the best things about toddlers is watching their faces as they experience new experiences. That’s why taking them out into our world and showing them the grandeur is super important.
That’s what new dad Tavis Malcolm wanted to do with his son Morrison, and when he and his wife looked to find something that was safe to use, easy to pack and warm enough for their son Morrison while they stayed the nights in Colorado backcountry, they came up short.
So, they made their own, and Little Mo Baby Sleeping Bags were born. No, not your traditional outdoor toy for toddlers but let’s be real.
We want our toddlers outdoors as much as possible, of course. But more, we want them to love the outdoors and to want to take care of it and nurture it for their own children. Taking children camping is a great way to do so, but it’s not always easy when you worry about your toddlers being cold.
Tavis launched the idea for Morrison Outdoors Baby Sleeping Bag (in honor of his son Morrison) in February of 2019, and the rest is history. They’re so committed to making the world a better place, they joined the Pledge 1% movement and they give 1% of every dollar they make to Operation Warm–which gives brand new winter coats to kids in need.
We love them because they encourage being outdoors with your toddlers as a whole family unit, soaking up Mother Earth’s beauty.