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Spending time outside is good for all of us — and that includes your kiddos.

Fresh air, energy-burning activities, and imaginative play are all key ingredients in the development of young children. If you have access to outdoor space, be it a back yard, a patio, or even a balcony, research shows that your little one can benefit from playtime outdoors.

But with iPads and gaming systems to compete with, sometimes outdoor play falls to the back-burner while screen time takes the lead. And while digital resources have a time and place, there’s nothing quite like the messy, engaging fun that comes with playing outside.

As a professional childcare provider, I can tell you that sometimes all it takes to get your kids playing outside is the right motivation. And, typically, this takes form in a new, totally awesome outdoor toy.

Over the years I have cleared the Target shelves searching for new and exciting products to introduce to families. I’ve invested in some great outdoor products, as well as some that were, well, not-so-great.

Here’s what I prioritize when searching for the next best outdoor toy:

  • Safety: Is this toy safe to use? Have there been recalls? You can always check out a product’s validity at Safe Kids Worldwide.
  • Durable: Read the reviews. Have reviewers complained about breakage or quick wear and tear?
  • Educational: I love STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) toys. There are a lot of stimulating, fun toys out there that aren’t obvious learning tools but still offer great educational opportunities.
  • Engaging: Kids are tough critics. A toy has to be fun. While this sometimes takes trial and error, and not every child has the same play style, I can attest to the list below getting high marks in the fun category.

Related: Outdoor safety tips for kids.

Price guide

  • $ = $10–$30
  • $$ = $30–$50
  • $$$ = $50–$100
  • $$$$ = over $100

Playzone-Fit Balance Stepping Stones

Price: $$
Ages: 3 and up

The Playzone-Fit Stepping Stones are a wonderful tool to spark imagination and encourage gross motor activities. This product includes five slip-resistant stones that come in two different sizes and nest together for easy storage.

Your child can arrange and rearrange them in any pattern they choose. So whether they’re dodging hot lava or leaping from island to island, they’re sure to exercise their minds and bodies (read: wear themselves out).

This simple and sturdy indoor/outdoor toy is recommended for children 3 and up and requires no assembly. One negative: while these are loved by most, some parents complain that each package should include more stones.

Outdoor Explorer Pack and Bug Catcher Kit

Price: $$
Ages: 3 and up

This outdoor exploration kit by Essenson is the perfect set of tools to inspire any young nature lover. In my family, we consider this set a necessity for any camping trip — it keeps the children engaged and entertained with their surroundings for hours!

This kit includes supplies for observing (insect book, binoculars magnifying glass), bug gathering (butterfly net, tweezers, tongs, insect cage), safety (compass, flashlight, whistle), and wearable gear (bucket hat and backpack for storage).

Armed with these materials your child has everything they need to turn any outdoor space into a laboratory.

Teepee Tent for Kids

Price: $$$
Ages: 3 and up

The Teepee Tent for Kids by Pep Step encourages imagination and dramatic play. It includes a durable cotton canvas, 16 connectors, and 5 pinewood poles. The structure is lightweight and can be assembled in less than 15 minutes. Pop it up in the backyard and let the fun begin!

And don’t let the name fool you — the Teepee Tent for Kids stands 7 feet tall and can fit the whole family. In fact, some reviews are from adults who have decorated their teepee with string lights, creating a little hideaway for themselves. Go on, we’re not judging.

Aqua Maze Marble Run

Price: $$
Ages: 4 and up

The Aqua Maze Marble Run allows your child to experiment with cause and effect using water. The build-as-you-go nature of this STEM toy encourages them to test their skills as an engineer as they learn tools like creative problem solving and, if you’re playing together, teamwork.

This activity comes with over 100 maze pieces and 20 floating marbles. It also includes a waterproof play mat to assist in an easy clean up process. And if you’re not already familiar with the other Marble Run products, check out their original maze for indoor use — I highly recommend it!

Step2 Rain Showers Splash Pond Water Table

Price: $$$
Age: 18 months and up

As an early childhood educator, I can’t think of a better, more versatile learning tool than a sensory table. Now that the warm weather is upon us, I encourage you to take your sensory play outside so your little one can start learning with water.

This splash table is 2.5 feet tall and designed for children 18 months and up. It comes with a two tier water basin and a 13-piece accessory kit to keep your little ones engaged. Complete with put-and-place water maze pieces, the STEM fun never ends.

The Big Dig Sandbox Excavator Crane

Price: $$
Ages: 3 and up

Traditional sand toys for castle building and treasure hunts are great — but what if you could turn your sandbox into a mini construction site?

For the truck lovers out there, The Big Dig Sandbox Excavator Crane is the way to go. With its 360-degree swivel action, this sturdy crane can be used to dig and dump materials like sand, rocks, dirt, and even snow. It’s lightweight and easy to transfer, which means you can take your construction on the road to parks, beaches, and playgrounds.

This model is a stationary digger, but if your child is a rockstar on a strider, I would recommend looking into The Big Dig and Roll. Both excavators are designed for children 3 and up and can hold up to 110 pounds.

Ultra Stomp Rocket

Price: $
Ages: 5 and up

From the moment your child sees the Stomp Rocket they’ll know just what to do to get the party started. Place the rocket on the base tube and let your little one stomp on the pad to send the rocket soaring way up into the air.

This product includes the stomp pad, hose, base, and 4 rockets — go ahead and leave lost rockets in the tree or on your neighbor’s roof, replacements are less than $4 a piece. This toy is fun for all ages (I can attest) but recommended for 5 and up.

For those of you with toddlers, check out the Stomp Rocket Junior (ages 3 and up).

The Giant Saucer Swing

Price: $$$$
Ages: 3 and up

This colorful, high-flying swing will give your children all the butterflies. The 40-inch saucer allows your kid the freedom to run, hop, and hold on as they swing in any direction.

The Giant Saucer Swing comes with fun flags to add a little festivity to your yard and is made with weather proof fabric for year-round enjoyment.

Between the steel frame, industrial grade rope, and easy to follow directions, all you need is a large tree branch to get started. When properly installed, the swing can withstand up to 700 pounds — that means siblings can ride together (or, you know, you can take a turn).

Little Tikes Inflatable Jump ‘n Slide

Price: $$$$
Ages: 3 and up

Who can resist a bouncy house? If you’ve got the space, the Little Tikes Inflatable Jump ‘n Slide is great for birthday parties, family gatherings, and backyard BBQs. It’s simple to set up (takes less than 30 minutes) and requires access to an outlet to inflate.

When inflated, the Jump ‘n Slide measures 12 feet by 9 feet and can withstand up to 250 pounds. Whether you’re entertaining the neighbor’s kids or just want to wear yours out, this is a worthwhile investment that will get you on the road to an early bedtime, every time.

Gazillion Bubbles Hurricane Machine

Price: $
Ages: 3 and up

Bubbles are messy and usually a lot of work on your end. But the Gazillion Bubbles Hurricane Machine pumps out — you guessed it — a gazillion bubbles per minute, so say goodbye to sticky hands and lightheadedness from endless bubble blowing.

This machine dispenses bubbles from the front of the device, so I suggest placing it on a higher surface to prevent tampering.

I should note that the bubble solution reservoir can hold one small bottle of bubbles (4–6 ounces) and lasts between 15 to 25 minutes before needing to be refilled. But it’s worth it to stock up on solution and AA batteries because this toy is a hit for children of all ages.

KidKraft Wooden Backyard Sandbox

Price: $$$$
Ages: 3 and up

Bring the beach home with this wooden sandbox from KidKraft. This backyard oasis can hold up to 900 pounds of play sand. It’s large enough to hold multiple children, making the possibilities for play endless.

A few features that make this model stand out among the rest are the built-in corner seating and the mesh cover — you know, to protect the sand from becoming a litter box for your neighborhood strays.

There aren’t any digging tools included in this box, however, so you’ll have to BYO. The other challenge of this box is filling it — 900 pounds is a lot of sand!

Screen time can be great in moderation, but there’s nothing quite like outdoor play when it comes to stimulating, energy-burning activity.

As the weather warms, seize the opportunity to get your kids running and playing outside with safe, stimulating toys. You’ll probably have fun, too!