15 Ways to Play in the Backyard Without Toys

I *think* warm weather is *supposed* to be here soon, though looking at the snow outside as I write this makes me feel otherwise haha. After a long winter followed by a looooong quarantine, I’d bet most of us are itching to be anywhere but our houses! For anyone fortunate enough to have even a small backyard to use, getting that time outside can help a ton with cabin fever. 

If you’re looking for some awesome new toys for your backyard, check out my post on the best outdoor toys for kids. But variety is the spice of life, and playing outside withOUT toys can be a ton of fun too! Especially for those of us who don’t currently have a ton of money to spend on new toys at the moment. 

15 Ways to Play in the Backyard Without Toys | thegrowingcreatives.com

So to help our kids entertained, and therefore our sanity intact, I’ve gathered some ideas for playing outside without toys! Some ideas allow for more independence than others, but they’re all pretty easy to do. A bonus is that sometimes not adding toys to the mix can help your kids use their imaginations even more.

1. Scavenger Hunts

Kids love scavenger hunts, and it’s a great way for you to relax a bit while they search around the yard. To make it even simpler, I’ve included pack of scavenger hunt printables you can use! Just sign up below to find one for each season, as well as an alphabet one– all meant for the outdoors!

2. Build a house with rocks

Find some rocks nearby and use them like blocks! See who can build the highest tower, or work together to build a castle!

3. Make a nest

The other day Lu found a tiny broken egg and immediately wanted to make a little nest for it! Your kiddos can gather sticks, leaves, grass, etc, then stack and intertwine them. It may be easier for them to do it on a paper plate with glue!

4. Dig rivers , build dams, test the water flow!

This one is a lot of fun if you have an area you don’t mind having dug up a bit. Let the kiddos take a small shovel and dig a little river. 

Then they can lodge rocks or anything else in their river to make a dam. Using a hose, watering can, or even a bowl to pour water in. Your kids can have fun guessing how the water will flow and be affected by the dams!

5. Paint rocks

Does anyone else’s kids get so excited to paint pretty much anything?? Haha. Have them search around the yard for “special” rocks to paint. And trust me, there will be rocks that are more special than others. IDK what constitutes a special rock either, but just go with it. 

Once they have their collection put together, they can get to painting. Depending on their ages and how involved you want to be, they could just paint however they want. But if you want to get a bit fancier you could paint some actual pictures on them and turn them into story stones!

6. Climb on tree stumps

If you happen to have a tree recently cut down, this can be a fun little obstacle course of sorts. We cut a tree down last year, so we have lots of stumps that were stacked out to dry. Just set them on their sides and the kiddos will have a ball climbing around on them!

7. Gardening

Kids love to help out when it’s not a daily chore for them haha. Digging, planting, and weeding are all awesome hands on ways for them to help out and have fun too!

Give your little one the job to pull weeds or water plants. You could even set them up with their own tiny garden to plant something and see the fruits of their own labor! Talk about a great way to teach them responsibility.

8. Mud kitchen without the kitchen

You’ve probably seen those mud kitchens floating around pinterest, yeah? I think they’re so cute and would love to [have my fiance] build one for the kids someday. But you don’t need a kitchen to make mud pies!

If you have some older kitchen utensils and bowls to bring outside, that will be more than enough! The kids can gather some mud into their bowls and add leaves, grass, whatever. Make pancakes, hamburgers, even little blueberries! Just try to keep your younger ones from actually eating any of it. (Thinking of my 2-year-old as I type this)

9. Make a nature stew

Along a similar line of thought as the mud kitchen– make a nature stew! If you didn’t do this as a kid then you were totally missing out, just saying.

Basically you just take a large pot/container and fill it up with some water. Then they can look around the yard for any and everything they want to add to it. That’s it! But I assure you, kids love it. Make sure to find the perfect stick to stir with!

10. Build a branch teepee

Another one for the people with large trees nearby. Take some long branches and make them into a teepee! The longer the branches, the better. They can even tie around the top afterwards to keep it together and use it as a clubhouse.

If there are no long branches nearby, doing the same thing on a smaller scale will still be cool. They can build a mini teepee and then bring a couple toy figurines out from inside to play with!

11. Collect bugs

I think bugs are super gross, but apparently I’m not supposed to instill this fear into my children. So collecting bugs has become a favorite pastime lately. All you need is a container and a kid who likes doing gross things haha!

Whenever we’re outside Lu likes to find worms, and this time of year we get lots of ladybug friends in the house that she finds. She keeps putting the ladybugs in a lantern decoration in our living room to make it their “home”, but that’s another story.

12. Make faces with nature

Test out their artist skills with a little nature art! First have them gather a bunch of rocks, leaves, flowers, and anything else that looks interesting to them. 

Then help them come up with creative ways to make faces or other scenes with the materials they found. You could even take turns making “portraits” of each other! But try not to get too offended at their interpretation of you LOL. Kids can be ruthless even when they don’t mean to be. (I’m not crying, *you’re* crying…)

13. Sink or float?

This simple science experiment is super easy to do in your backyard! Just fill a container up with water and gather some natural items from around the yard. If you’ve done some of the other ideas listed, you probably already have your testing materials!

Have the kiddos start by guessing whether they think an item will sink or float in water. This is a great opportunity for further teaching about density. Then let them drop each item in the container and see if their guesses were right!

14. Learn how to start a fire without a lighter

Your kiddos can feel like pioneers with this skill. It may be better for the older ones though– I can imagine the problems that would arise if my little 2 and 4 year olds could do this lol! 

My fiancΓ© can start fire the old school way and will likely teach our kids when they get older. BUT I am not as skilled, so check out instructions from this site.

15. Last but not least… Nothing at all!!

Something that can be overlooked at times is that we don’t HAVE to always set kids up with an activity plan. Especially when outside, their imaginations keep them entertained. And that’s how it should be πŸ™‚

Setting up an environment that gives them stuff to work with is perfect for them to explore their own ideas. I love having planned activities with my kiddos, but it’s also a nice break when they can make their own fun! It’s really great for their creativity as well.

Remember those scavenger hunts I promised?? Here’s where you can sign up to get them! Your kids can have fun during any season, and even work on the alphabet with these fun printables!


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As always, stay safe and healthy my friends– and enjoy that backyard fun whenever the weather allows! 

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19 thoughts on “15 Ways to Play in the Backyard Without Toys

  1. Great ideas. Needed this read. Was getting tired of thinking what to do with them today outside. Loved the printable.

    1. There are definitely some that can be done in smaller spaces! The nature stew just needs room for a bucket πŸ™‚

  2. Kids love anything to do with nature, mud, water and messy. I did sink or float a few months back, and they loved it. Great way to teach basic physics and buoyancy to kids

  3. These are great ideas! Kids don’t need expensive toys. They often dampen creativity and imagination as they typically have one way to be played with!

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