Summer is quickly approaching! The slower pace of summer combined with the nice weather can offer many opportunities to explore different outdoor toys and activities that can still have developmental benefits. Whether you are a teacher teaching summer school or a parent home with your kids this summer, I hope these toy and activity ideas will be helpful. I kept this list to 10-ish items for simplicity’s sake- I have linked to where you can purchase the item and included activity ideas to go along with each item. Enjoy!

1. Chalk

  • Price: varies, starts at $1 for basic chalk.
  • Options: Chalk holders, egg chalk, chalk spray, chalk rollers, skinny chalk, thick chalk.
  • Why it’s great: Did you know there are many different kinds of chalk? Chalk is an amazing way to work on important fine motor and handwriting skills in a fun way. Here are some of my favorite ideas for using chalk outside: imitating or copying prewriting lines (vertical, horizontal, circle, diagonals); drawing simple pictures, name writing practice, hopscotch. Bonus – change positions when playing with chalk! Have kids write on a vertical surface – like your house if you are cool with it. Working on vertical surfaces is amazing for strengthening the upper body and facilitating a mature grasp. Or, try having them lay on their tummies – another amazing position for strengthening.

2. Bubbles 

Bubbles are another fun (and inexpensive) toy to have around in the summer.  Just like chalk, there are SO many different kinds of bubbles!  Traditional bubble blowing is awesome to work on oral motor skills like strengthening the mouth muscles.  Check out this post for more details on the oral sensory system.  Chasing the bubbles and trying to pop them is also great for hand eye coordination and finger isolation.  And of course, there’s so much you can do with language and concepts when blowing and popping bubbles – talking about ‘big’ and ‘little’ bubbles, directionality of the bubbles (blowing up and away, or down to the ground), or turn taking skills.  The bubble machine was a huge hit when I worked summer school a few years ago.  We were able to connect a switch to it so all students could participate in activating the machine.  It was a great way to work on requesting as well.  There are also a ton of different bubble guns which are great for fine motor strengthening!  

3. Zoom Ball

  • Price: $6.99 on Amazon, click here to view one option.
  • Why it’s great: This toy was recommended to me by my son’s OT, and he loves it!  This is an awesome way to work on bilateral skills and turn taking.  One person holds one end of the zoom ball, and another person hold the other end.  While holding the handles, one in each hand, one partner spreads his arms out to the side and the ball slides down the rope to the other partner.  The other partner repeats the same motor pattern and the ball zooms back to the other side.  Check out this YouTube video for a demonstration.    You can experiment with fast and slow movements which impact the speed of the zoom ball and can also target language skills.  This has been an excellent addition to our toy collection.    

4. Spray Bottle 

  • Price: varies, starts at $1 for basic spray bottle, click here to view one option.  
  • Why it’s great: Summer usually means flowers and plants, which need to be watered a ton in the hot weather! Instead of using a hose, try a spray bottle. A spray bottle requires fine motor strength and coordination to operate. And kids think it is fun to use a spray bottle to help. Not only can you use a spray bottle to water flowers and plants, you can use it to clean off chalk from the sidewalk or wash off things like outdoor toys, the car, or themselves after a long day of playing outside!

5. Velcro ball toss

  • Price: $5, click here for one option.  
  • Why it’s great: This toy is really great for eye hand coordination – the tossing and catching really works on those skills.  Any sort of ball game is great for social interaction and turn taking skills.  It takes quite a bit of strength to pull the ball off of the velcro, so this is another great option to work on hand strength as well.  

6. Water/sand table

  • Price: $39.99, click here for one option. 
  • Why it’s great: This is a classic summer toy that is a must have in most classrooms and householads. Usually these toys come with some tools like cups or shovels to scoop and pour, or little fish to fill with water and squeeze. The water/sand table provides awesome opportunity for sensory play as well as fine motor and language skill development.  Additionally, children can play in different positions at this table, including standing or tall kneeling.  

7. Garden Tools 

  • Price: varies, starts at $1 for basic tools, click here for one option.  
  • Why it’s great: Gardening is an awesome summer activity. It provides a great opportunity for messy sensory play as well as planning and organizing (what flowers to plant, how to lay them out, first planting then watering, etc).  Additionally, children can garden in different positions including prone on tummy, kneeling, squatting or standing.  It’s great to try to challenge their motor planning and strength by having them engage in activities in different positions.  

8. Slide

  • Price: $34.99, click here for one option.
  • Why it’s great: A slide is another classic toy that is great for motor planning and strength. I actually love letting kids climb up the slide as its a great way to get heavy work sensory input and really works on strength and motor planning. You could get crazy and put shaving cream on the slide, or have the slide end in the little kiddie pool.

9. Bunch o Balloons

  • Price: $6.88, click here for one option.  
  • Why it’s great: Seriously, these are so fun. Shout out to my husband’s Aunt Annie for introducing me to them! This is a fun toy that allows you to make a ton of water balloons quickly. You can work on some really good skills with this toy! To set it up, you have to connect it to the hose – which requires fine motor coordination. Then, someone has to turn the water on to fill the balloons and off once they are filled, which requires good communication skills. Then, you have to use your bilateral coordination and fine motor strength to pull the balloons off of the stick and into your container. You could also just shake the hose and the balloons will fall off.  Check out this video for a better idea of how they work!   Tossing and catching a water balloon takes eye hand coordination and picking up all those little balloon pieces in the grass really works on using a pincer grasp! This toy is so much fun and is a must have in our house for the summer.

10. Outdoor sports

  • Price: varies based on option
  • Options: T-ball, bean bag toss, bowling, basketball, mini golf
  • I sort of cheated here and am including a bunch of ideas under one title to keep my list at 10 officially. Outdoor sports offer so many awesome opportunities to work on motor skills as well as communication and social skills in a fun way.  All of the ones I listed above are especially great for eye hand coordination which is really important to us OTs!

I would love to hear your favorite outdoor toys and activity ideas for the summer.  Happy playing!

This post is for informational purposes only.  The information provided is general in nature. Please contact your occupational therapist for specific questions regarding your child/student.

Katie McKenna, MS, OTR/L

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