Bug hunts, water balloons, den building, mud baths, footballs and more – here are 7 simple ways to entertain toddlers in your garden this winter.
Go on a bug hunt
This is easier than you might think. 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 almost endless amount of creepy-crawlies to discover. That might sound be a bit gross to you, but trust me your kid will love it.
Brush up some leaves
I had a revelation recently: since my little boy Sonny’s so obsessed with copying everything I do, why not get him to help me brush up the never-ending piles of leaves and other garden-related crap that haunt me at this time of year? So last week I put his coat and hat on him, took him outside, handed him my big outdoor brush, and put him to work. It’s safe to say that at 20 months old he’s an average worker at best, but if nothing else it entertained him for 15 minutes while I got on with important stuff like admiring my log collection (I do this a lot).
Kick a football
It’s fair to say I’m trying very hard to make sure my son likes football, but he doesn’t seem to need much encouragement. We’ve got loads of old footballs lying around in our garden, plus a mini goal someone bought him for his first birthday, and the first thing he does when I open the back door is try to boot a ball into it. He’s not exactly Cristiano Ronaldo yet, but if you score points for enthusiasm then he’s already a pretty good player. Every time he sees a football in real life or on the TV he shouts “Goooooaaaaalllll” then laughs like a madman. What a legend.
Build a den
I’m crap at DIY and most manly stuff around the house, but I am capable of leaning a few old sticks or planks of wood against a tree or garden fence to create a makeshift den, and that’s all Sonny needs to have a good time. This is a kid who enjoys playing with bubble wrap and cardboard boxes more than all of his expensive presents, so I hardly need to build an entire soldier fort to entertain him. If a dummy like me can knock one together then so can you.
Feed the birds
Here’s another task that seems boring to me but Sonny absolutely loves. We’ve got a bunch of feeders in our front and back gardens and he stares for ages out of the windows at the sparrows, starlings, blue tits, goldfinches and wood pigeons that routinely devour everything we put out. What Sonny enjoys even more is getting outside and filling those feeders himself, so every time it needs doing we head out together and stock them up. As a double bonus he gets even more excited to see the birds come back and start eating when he’s filled the feeders himself.
Smash some water balloons
I always keep a stash of water balloons by our outside tap since I discovered last summer that Sonny is obsessed by them. He can’t fill them himself yet but collapses into hysterics watching me try to tie the knot at the top (I’m still rubbish at this), then smash them on the floor. Sometimes he wants to throw them himself, but for the most part he’s just happy watching me clown around. It’s definitely not as appealing getting soaking wet in the winter as it is in the summer, but Sonny loves it and we both know we’ll be inside in the warm in a few seconds if we get cold.
Us grumpy adults might hate it, but kids love getting muddy. There’s no point trying to fight it – just embrace it and go for it. Let’s face it, you’re only heading into your own garden so the repercussions will never be that bad and since toddlers have about a 2-minute attention span the whole experience won’t even last that long. Just chuck some old clothes on your kid, or invest in an easy-to-clean puddle suit like this one from Reima, and embrace the dirt. Jumping in puddles, digging with their hands, rolling in flilth – young kids can’t get enough of it. You never know, you might even enjoy it too!