Does your backyard sometimes look like a junk yard? Balls, ropes, toys, and random stuff hide the grass. And yet, the kids still complain there’s nothing to do outside.
I’ve been there. I hate it. I like to look out onto the yard and see kids enjoying themselves. I want to see the green grass and the lovely flowers, not a yard littered with discarded shoes, upended buckets of balls, and toys untouched for days! And I don’t think they like it either. With so many play options it can be easy for kids to feel overwhelmed and not choose any option.
So, just like toy rotation for indoor toys, I started toy rotation for our outdoor toys. And, voila! Once the yard was clean and only a few items were available, it seems they’d spend hours enjoying their ‘new’ activities.
(This post may contain affiliate links, see my About page for more info)
Get control of your messy backyard with this simple outdoor toy rotation strategy:
Implementing outdoor toy rotation will be as easy or hard as you make it. You’ll need some containers, some storage space, and some time to get organized.
Find some toy buckets
You can use anything big enough to hold your toys. I recommend sturdy plastic, wood, or metal containers. My kids tend to use the containers themselves to play with so anything breakable might get broken. Keep in mind the containers will also be exposed to sun and rain. Rubbermaid tubs work well, have lids, can be stacked, and are easy to carry. Metal pails, gardening totes, and wooden crates work well too.
Figure out where you’ll keep the containers
Consider whether you want your children to have access to some or all of the buckets at a time. For our family, I have various toy buckets, some of which the kids can pull out on their own when they like and some which only I can get out and switch for them.
You’ll need to find storage space for these containers. The garage, garden shed, and basement are all likely choices. If you are like me, out of sight means out of mind. If you want this system to work, I suggest putting the buckets somewhere easily visible and accessible making rotation as simple as possible.
If the containers are solid you may even want to label what’s inside them for easier identification.
Fill your outdoor toy buckets
This is the fun part, if you ask me… (but then I enjoy organizing and sorting).
Start by gathering all the outdoor toys into one spot. I mean Everything.
Once you have all the toys in one spot, sort similar toys into groups: throwing toys, sand toys, bubbles, chalk, sports, and so forth. Now is a good time to get rid of everything that is broken. You may also want to use this time to consider which toys are worth hanging onto? Do the kids still enjoy it? Is it appropriate for the age of your kids? Is it safe? Is it duplicated? Does the toy encourage movement, learning, or the imagination? This is where outdoor toy rotation can get complicated – depending on how many toys you have.
Now, start organizing into tubs, buckets, and containers. Below you’ll see a huge list of activity bucket and outdoor play ideas.
At our house, we have a few small buckets always available to the kids. One has sidewalk chalk, one has water table toys, and one has random balls, Frisbees, and skipping ropes. A few of the rotated toy buckets contain wooden boards, bocce ball and badminton, and bubble blowing.
You should now have a manageable outdoor toy storage and sorting system. Decide which the kids enjoy playing with all the time and which would be best in the rotation. Now, don’t forget to actually rotate through the buckets you’ve put away or all that work was for nothing.
When kids need some extra motivation to get outside, go pull out a new bucket. Make it exciting. Let them ‘discover’ the bucket, for younger kids you can place the toys out in a scattered fashion. Or invite the kids to choose which will be opened. Either way, I hope this new strategy of outdoor toy rotation brings many hours of enjoyable outdoor play and helps keep your backyard from looking like a discarded toy junk yard.
P.S. If getting your kids outside is harder than you’d like, check out this list of 10 simple strategies to get kids outdoors. I’ve also created an outdoor activity jar printable with some fun and easy activities for those kids who still need a bit more motivation to get out the door.
Outdoor Activity Themed Bucket Ideas
Sidewalk art: chalk and washable paint
Natural Loose Parts Play: twigs and sticks, pinecones, rocks, seashells, feathers, wood rounds
Construction: pieces of scrap lumber, sticks, string or rope, dowels, hammer and nails
Imagination play: toy cars and trucks, animal figurines, wooden building blocks or plastic Megablocks
Water Tub/Table/Pool: measuring cups, empty plastic jars and bottles, spoons, watering cans, sponges (If you don’t have a water table, a large tub or a large bowl will work fine)
Water Play: squirt guns, water balloons, sprinkler, slip n’ slide, pails, sponges
Gardening: trowels, shovels, gloves, watering can, toy lawn mowers
Nerf Guns: soft bulleted toy guns, kid’s safety goggles, targets
Bike Wash: Sponges, bucket, brushes, rags (kids can wash their bikes, trikes, and outdoor toys)
Bug Hunting: magnifying glass, butterfly net, empty jars, insect identification book
Bubble Play: bubble solution, assortment of bubble wands (try making a large string bubble wand or cut the bottom off a small water bottle, put a sock on it, then blow through the bottle)
Fort Building: Ropes, tarps or sheets, clothespins, tent pegs, long sticks or pieces of lumber
Sand or Mud play: shovels, pails, cars, figurines, old tin baking dishes and cooking utensils
Other games/activities to put into rotation:
Skateboards, Hula Hoops, Pogo Sticks, Roller Blades or Skates, Skipping Ropes, Bean Bag Games, Ring Toss, Catching Games, Yo-Yos, frisbees
Sports equipment that kids can play with:
Badminton rackets and birdies
Tennis rackets and balls
Golf clubs and golf balls
Soccer, Football, Volleyball, Basketball, and Rugby balls
Baseball mitts, balls, and bats
Hockey sticks, nets, pucks or balls