Here are 54 things you can do in your garden with kids to keep your family active outdoors during the coronavirus lockdown.
1. Build a campfire
Keep it small and safe, but make it fun. If you’ve got space in your garden find a clear, sheltered area away from bushes and trees and create a ring of stones to stop fire and ash spreading. Or to make life easier for yourself, buy a readymade fire pit. Collect twigs, leaves, bark and paper to use as tinder; find small twigs to use as kindling; then use bigger sticks and logs as fuel when the fire gets going. Check out this detailed guide from the Scouts on campfire building and fire safety, then buy yourself a big bag of marshmallows to toast and learn some good campfire songs!
2. Have a garden picnic
Who doesn’t love food? And when you mix good food with the great outdoors it becomes a memorable family activity. Make yourself some sarnies and some drinks; buy some sausage rolls, crisps and chocolate biscuits; then head into your back garden and sit down for an outdoor meal as a family.
3. Take wildlife photos
This is a lot harder than it sounds, but the fun is in trying and searching for animals rather than nailing the perfect wildlife shot. So sit in your garden and keep your eyes peeled for anything that moves. Within a quarter of a mile of our house – which is in a decent-sized town – we’ve spotted everything from foxes and frogs to woodpeckers and grass snakes (one actually swam past me on my canoe!), and every time I try to get my phone or camera out to take a snap, I usually fail miserably. But on the few occasions I’ve pulled it off it’s felt amazing! Here are some tips from the Woodland Trust to help your kids improve their wildlife photo skills.
4. Go stargazing
You don’t need to be an astronomer to help your kids fall in love with stargazing – simply take them outside on a clear night and let them stare at the universe above them. It’s worth brushing up on a little bit of knowledge so you can point out a little bit more than the moon. Constellations like the Plough and Orion’s Belt are usually easy to spot, and little tips like how to locate the North Star and the nearest planets always go down well. Here are some great tips for family stargazing from the National Trust, including simple stuff like avoiding full moons and useful apps to download.
5. Play nature eye-spy
Every bit as simple as it sounds. Either spend some time creating Eye Spy sheets full of lots of natural things like bugs, birds, trees and plants for kids to go outside and tick off, or simply head out as a family and play a good old-fashioned game of Eye Spy.
6. Go out and get soaked
I wouldn’t recommend doing this every time it rains, but rather than get stuck indoors why not just head out and get yourselves thoroughly soaked? You don’t need any outdoor gear – all you need is a heavy downpour and if you’re really getting into it, some mud to jump and roll in! Try to pick a warmish day so you don’t end up freezing cold, and make sure you’ve got dry clothes and towels for when you’ve had enough and want to head back indoors.
7. Plant a tree
Whether you want to stick your old Christmas tree in your garden or plant a fruit tree that will grow into something you can all enjoy for generations (we did this last year and loved it), this is a lovely thing to do as a family. It’s a fun and enjoyable experience and helps you teach your kids about the important roles trees play in our environment – like providing oxygen, preserving soil, and protecting wildlife.
8. Explore with a torch
Your kids will be familiar with every inch of your garden during the day time, but it transforms into a different world when the sun goes down. So give them a torch and head out after dark, hunting for creepy-crawlies and exploring things like sheds, ponds, trees and bushes that all of a sudden feel more sinister and exciting at night.
9. Get a paddling pool
Granted this is easier to do when your kids are very young and you can get away with small, cheap paddling pools that provide hours of entertainment while taking up very little space, but no matter how old your kids are who doesn’t love splashing about in their garden on hot spring and summer days? Our two boys have been clambering in and out of paddling pools since they were little more than six months old, and even when they don’t fancy getting all the way in they’re happy just filling up buckets and watering cans. So simple, and so much fun.
10. Make a bee house
OK, I’ll confess we bought one of these rather than building one, but I still think they’re a wonderful addition to any family garden. Solitary bees don’t live in hives like honey bees, they make their own nests and lay eggs in tunnels like dead wood or hard soil. Spring’s a great time to introduce one to your garden – we’ve got one hanging on our shed near a wildflower patch – and you’ll be amazed how quickly adult females take up residence with bellies full of pollen. Our son asks to go and “see the sleeping bees” every evening, so I lift him up to look for tell-tale signs of snoozing bees in the little tubes. Search for bee houses and hotels online if you want to buy one, or use this handy guide from the RSPB to make your own bee B&B.
11. Host a mini Olympics
Organised chaos is the best way to do this. Invent a bunch of stupid garden games – running races, obstacle courses, rounders tournaments, crazy golf skipping competitions, water balloon throwing etc – then pick a couple of teams and turn it into a tournament. Make some medals and get a few cheesy prizes for everyone who competes, and you’ll have an awesome time.
12. Make a bow and arrow set
I’m definitely not manly enough to have a made a good one of these yet, but my dad whittled a brilliant bow for me from a tree branch that he found in our garden when I was a kid and I treasured it for years. He made me a few blunt arrows too, then cut open an empty washing up liquid bottle and attached it to my back with string to make a quiver. Then I spent endless weekends hunting our dog and cat around the garden pretending to be Robin Hood!
13. Do some wood carvings
We got an interesting book recently called Easy Wood Carving for Children. My crazy toddler’s definitely too young to be unleashed on a piece of wood with a penknife, but this is a great little hobby for adventurous kids. The book includes loads of great ideas for wood carvings, 180 colour illustrations, step-by-step instructions, and gives superb inspiration for parents wanting to whittle some wood with their children. Perfect for lazy afternoons in the garden.
14. Make a rope swing
You need someone who can tie knots and climb trees to help you make a good rope swing, because if you get it wrong someone will be crashing to earth with a bang. But if you get it right, you’ll create an exciting piece of outdoor playground equipment. Extra bonus points if you make one that lets you swing into a paddling pool!
15. Make a compost heap
Compost heaps are a superb way to dispose of natural waste like grass cuttings, apple cores, onions skins and potato peelings. They also make a useful food supply for bugs and creepy crawlies, and create your own compost to grow plants with. It’s easier to do than you probably think: all you need is a bit of space in your garden, some pallets, posts, nails and string, and this step-by-step guide from the RSPB.
16. Cut the grass together
For tired and grumpy dads like me, cutting the grass is just another job in a long list of jobs we don’t have time for; but for young kids it seems weirdly exciting. Even more weirdly, I actually remember begging my dad to let me do it for him when I was a kid. My 3-year-old squeals with excitement every time I drag the lawnmower out of the shed, and although he’s still quite wary of going near it when it’s fully powered up and growling, he loves helping me empty the grass when I’m done. As soon as he’s big enough to push it himself, I’m letting him take over!
17. Create a Treasure hunt
This activity can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. Your treasure hunt could be as simple as stashing some chocolate in the garden for your kids to find, or you could create an elaborate network of clues that can only be unraveled by expert map-reading skills and the ability to solve cryptic riddles. Here’s a really nice guide to creating your first family treasure hunt, with tips for themes, clues and hiding places.
18. Plant some wild flowers
There are many reasons why planting wildflowers is a good idea. They do all sorts of wonderful things like attract and sustain important wildlife including insects, birds and mammals. They also transform your garden with ever-changing colours throughout the seasons, are very easy to grow, and it’s a great fun activity to do with your kids. Companies such as Grow Wild give away free packs of native UK wildflower seeds to encourage more people to sow them, so order a pack today and get involved.
19. Make pine cone bird feeders
Making pine cone bird feeders is cheap, simple, effective, and looks great. All you need is a dried pine cone; a piece of string; then loads of bird food like raisins, seeds and peanuts that you mash together in a bowl with cheese and lard. Coat the pine cone in your delicious recipe, then hang it from a tree branch and watch the birds descend for a feast. Here’s a guide from the RSPB for making the perfect pine cone bird feeder.
20. Do some chalk drawings
If, like me, you have offspring that like drawing all over every flat surface they can get their grubby little paws on, why not turn this into a fun outdoor activity that doesn’t result in you having to redecorate your house every week? All you need is some chunky outdoor chalk, a patio or driveway, and some imagination. Whether your kids want to write their names, draw pictures of animals, or just scribble nonsensical rubbish everywhere, you can be safe in the knowledge the chalk can easily be cleaned off afterwards.
21. Dig for worms
I was cracking on with the not particularly enjoyable task of weeding the garden and turning over some soil recently, when as usual my son came tottering along to stick his nose into what I was doing. He started by stamping on the soil, messing about with my tools and generally making a nuisance of himself, but once his eyes spotted a big juicy worm I’d dug up he became mesmerised. For the next 15 minutes we hunted for them together in the mud. We probably dug up 20 earthworms, then put them back in the ground to carry on doing whatever it is that worms do. A bit gross if you’re not a fan of creepy-crawlies, but great fun for kids.
22. Cook an outdoor meal
Whether this is on the BBQ in your garden or something as simple as melting marshmallows around a campfire, just watch your kids’ faces light up with excitement when you cook them a meal outside. I was a very fussy eater as a kid, but on our annual camping holiday to France I’d eat pretty much anything my mum rustled up on the BBQ and shoved under my nose. For inspiration from carrot fries and cheesy nachos to pocket pizzas and tacos in a bag, here are some great family camping recipes from Get Out With The Kids.
23. Get a giant parachute
This basically involves adults standing around the edge of a giant colourful parachute and shaking it up and down while kids go crazy running around underneath it. We bought this one from Argos for just £11.99 to use in our garden, and it’s still going strong after almost 3 years of getting thrown around, jumped on, and generally savaged by gangs of crazy kids.
24. Find shapes in the clouds
I’ve got zero imagination and although it’s infuriating to get constantly outthought by a three-year-old, it’s amazing to watch my son point at the sky and blabber on about what he thinks he can see in the clouds. Buses, trees, fish, dinosaurs, apples, trains – he just stares upwards and gets creative. So next time you’ve got some decent weather and a few fluffy clouds above you, lie on the grass with your kids and let your imagination run away with itself.
25. Fill a jar with outdoors treasures
This is a brilliant thing to do with kids, because it’s incredibly simple and throws up different results every time. All you need is a jar or see-through container, and some space outdoors to hunt for natural treasures. The only rule is that you need to fill the jar with natural stuff you find outside, which can be anything from leaves and twigs to worms and caterpillars. If you have more than one child then make it into a mini competition with prizes for the coolest discoveries, and make sure you put everything back safely where you found it once you’re finished.
26. Get a sandpit
We bought our son his own sandpit play table for his second birthday. It came with a cover so the sand doesn’t get drenched when it rains, it’s small enough to fit into gardens of any size and shape, and the fact it’s built to be stored outdoors means your house won’t get full of sand! If you’re feeling adventurous you can even make your sandpit (it’s much easier than it sounds) and here’s a great short video from Wickes showing you how to do it.
27. Play hide and seek
We’ve got just enough stuff in our garden (trees, log stores, den, shed etc) for a decent game of hide and seek. You’ll have to keep a close eye on your kids if they’re really young, but you’ll soon discover you don’t need to play this game in epic locations or even find particularly good hiding spots to have an amazing time as a family.
28. Go snail spotting
Do the pavements around your house come alive with snails every time it rains? I’d never given snails a second glance before I became a dad, but now I realise it’s like a wildlife safari for young kids. We spend hours hunting for snails, pointing out the different patterns on their shells, making sure we don’t tread on them, and picking them up and moving them to safety under surrounding trees and hedges. I don’t think I’d ever touched a snail before two years ago – now I must have manhandled thousands of the slimy little critters.
29. Create a scavenger hunt
This is such a simple concept. You simply pick a bunch of things your kids are likely to find in your garden – rocks, twigs, flowers, leaves – then write them down a sheet of paper with a tick box for each item. Then send your kids out to find them! If you’re struggling for ideas, here’s a scavenger hunt activity from the Woodland Trust.
30. Get soaking wet
Run under a sprinkler. Or a hose. Or underneath a watering can. Or have a water fight. Or just spray some water from your outside tap. Basically, just get outside on a hot day and get wet!
31. Paint some rocks
Every bit as simple as it sounds. Find some small rocks outside, and if you’re planning to paint faces get some really weird shapes to give them some character. You can buy proper rock painting kits online, but just some basic brushes and craft paints will do the job. And here’s a cool activity I stumbled across recently on a wonderful website called The Artful Parent: making melted crayon rocks. I wish I’d thought of it first!
32. Get very muddy
Is the thought of washing muddy kids worse than the thought of energetic kids being stuck inside all day like caged animals? I’d take the first option any day of the week. That’s why I’m always happy to head outdoors with our toddler and get coated in mud, water and anything else he can find when it’s wet and horrible. All he needs is his puddle suit and wellies – then there’s no stopping him.
33. Read books outdoors
If your kids are anything like ours, they’re probably addicted to books. And for kids, just like adults, nothing beats sitting in the garden on a warm evening and flicking through the pages with birds tweeting and planes humming overhead.
34. Invent outdoor games
Tired of Hide & Seek, Capture the Flag and all the other outdoor games you played as a kid? Then make some new ones up! Our favourite at the moment is racing each other around the football goal and then under the hammock in our garden, then trying to rugby tackle each other as we sprint back towards the house. It doesn’t have to be complicated – just fun.
35. Go on a sound safari
Have you ever sat outside somewhere leafy and green in the summer, closed your eyes and just listened to the sounds around you? After a while everything apart from the tiniest tweets, hums, thuds and whispers melts away around you. Keep your eyes shut and have a competition to see who can name each sound first. And don’t even bother keeping score – all that really matters is just listening and loving the sounds of nature.
36. Make a mud pie
All you need to make a classic mud pie is a bowl, a big stick or spoon, some leaves or twigs, a big pile of mud, and your own imagination. Chuck it all in the bowl, add some water if the mud isn’t wet enough, then stir the mixture together until it’s gloopy and gross. If that doesn’t already sound simple enough, here’s a video from the National Trust to help you. Just remember not to eat it when you’ve finished…
37. Create an outdoor cinema
Garden + iPad + blankets + cushions + snacks + drinks + Toy Story 4 = best family Saturday night ever.
38. Grow some plants
You can get great gardening kits for kids that include things like mini gardening gloves, a little spade and fork set, a metal bucket to store everything in, plus packs of seeds ranging from sunflowers and cress to wildflowers and tomatoes. All you need to do then is dig a little pitch to plant them in, or get some big pots or planting troughs and some compost, then follow the instructions on the seed packets. Your kids will love getting dirty while planting and watering their creations until they start growing.
39. Learn to identify trees
When our eldest son was a baby he was borderline obsessed with trees. Whenever we wheeled him under one, flat on his back in the pram, he just stared up with a dopey grin on his face and shook with excitement. Now he’s at an age where he wants to learn new things all day every day, so rather than just point at trees I try to teach him about the different types. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t fully understand what I’m saying (and to be honest I only know about 5 different species) but he loves the fact they’re all different and is fascinated by the varying colours and shapes of leaves. If, like me, you need to brush up on your own tree ID skills, check out these online resources from the Woodland Trust: Leaf ID for Kids, Twig ID for Kids, Autumn Leaf ID for Kids, Winter Tree ID for kids
40. Count the birds in your garden
Even if you don’t actively attract birds to your garden, you usually won’t have to wait long to spot them either flying overhead, perching on your fence or digging for worms on the lawn. At the time of writing this blog it’s early April, and in our garden today we’ve seen starlings, great tits, blackbirds, rooks, goldfinches and wood pigeons on our feeders, plus a red kite circling in the sky above our house. If you’d like to know what species of birds are visiting your garden, the RSPB’s online Bird Identifier is a great place to start.
41. Make a herb garden from pallets
I stole this idea from a bloke I used to work with, and it created hours of fun and fascination for our edlest son. He thought it was hilarious watching me bang two old pallets together, screw the resulting construction to the fence, then fill its little troughs with compost. We then bought 12 different types of herb, planted them side by side, and watered them together every day. Not only do we now have our very own homegrown herbs, we’ve also got a cool daily family activity, plus we get to watch bees buzzing around the flowers in spring and summer.
42. Make a garden obstacle course
I got this idea from a guy I follow on Twitter who’s constantly coming up with weird and wonderful ways to get kids active. All you need is an open space and a bunch of stuff you can use to create obstacles. Footballs, chairs, buckets, logs, paddling pools – anything. Then just set them up to create a track or route that the whole family can race around, and go for it. The crazier the better, and you’ll have hours of fun.
43. Camp in your garden
Big camping trips can be terrifying to organise and prepare for. Just think about all the gear. And the weather! But if you camp in your own back garden you can pick a nice warm night; all you’ll need is a tent, air beds, a torch and a couple of sleeping bags; and if you all decide you hate the whole experience you can run back into the house and snuggle up in your nice warm beds.
44. Buy a hammock
For some reason I wasted 33 years of my life without owning a hammock, but ever since I got this one from Grand Trunk I’ve realised the error of my ways! Not only do both our sons love swinging in it in our garden or at the local park (it’s best to get one that’s easily transportable), the hammock is also a great place for me to catch up on sleep when he’s kept me awake all night with his adorable screaming.
45. Have a water balloon fight
This is every bit as simple and fun as it sounds. Buy yourself a bag of water balloons (they only cost a couple of quid), fill up a big pile of them and stick them in a bucket, then head outside and start launching them at each other. It’s perfectly safe and loads of fun – just make sure you have a change of clothes nearby!
46. Play football
It doesn’t get more simple than a game of footy. Grab a ball, chuck down some jumpers for goalposts or buy a cheap footy net online, then get outside and score some goals!
47. Build a den
Go into your garden or, even better, down to your local woods and make yourself a cool outdoor shelter. And be inventive! You don’t need more than a few sticks, an old bit of tarp, some pegs and some washing line or paracord, and your kids will have their very own outdoor den. Here are some great den-building tips from Get Out With the Kids.
48. Go on a garden safari
Even if you can’t obviously see them, your garden contains hundreds of thousands of minibeasts just waiting to be discovered. From worms poking out of the soil and spiders hiding in the corners of your shed to slugs crawling across leaves and woodlice sheltering under logs and rocks, there’s an endless amount of creepy-crawlies to discover.
49. Feed the birds
Encourage your kids to hang up some feeders in your garden, fill them with quality bird seed, put out some bowls of water, then sit and wait for birds to arrive. It usually happens quicker than you think – and your kids will be so excited to see a real-life bird eat their food. Read our top tips on attracting birds to your garden.
50. Tidy the garden
This is genius! Since young kids love copying their parents, why not put them to work? If you’ve got weeds to pull out, leaves to rake up, holes to dig, bulbs to plant, or patios to brush, why not rope in your children to help you? They’ll enjoy it – and it makes your life easier too!
51. Play nature bingo
Google nature bingo and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of downloadable or printable nature bingo cards. And of course you can create your own too! The game itself is so simple – head outside on a walk, bike ride, or just into your own back garden, and try to spot all of the things on your bingo card. They could be birds, flowers, worms, clouds, puddles, anything. The first person to see everything wins!
52. Take leaf or bark rubbings
You probably did this yourself at school or with your parents, so now it’s time to pass it on to your own kids. All you need is a sheet of paper, some crayons, and some leaves or tree bark. Take the rubbing by placing the sheet of paper on top of the object and using the wide part of the crayon to rub over the top. More tips here from the Woodland Trust!
53. Get a slip and slide
Here’s possibly the best £18 you’ll ever spend. You simply peg the slip and slide out on your lawn, attach a hose, sprinkle it with water until it’s wet and slippy, then race up and down it with your kids. You can slide on your feet, your chest, your knees, your backside… it all depends how brave you’re feeling. We bought one for the first time last summer and we’ve used it on every hot day since.
54. Pitch a tent in your garden
Not necessarily for camping in, just so your kids have somewhere to escape during the day and chill out on their own for a bit. Fill it with toys, books, maybe even let them take an iPad out there and watch a movie. It’s just a great way to give them (and you) some much-needed space.