My kids spend a lot of time outside, even now that they are older. Sending them out for a play is something I’ve done since they were small and we just never really stopped. But I get that coming up with outdoor activities for older kids can be problematic.
My girls (age 10 and 12) had a friend over to play last week and they spent the whole day out in the ‘bush cubby’ they’ve created somewhere in the reserve beside our house. I have no idea where the bush cubby is or what it looks like or even what it’s for, but they enjoy being there and that’s all that matters.
When their playmate’s mum came to pick her daughter up, she couldn’t believe they’d spent the day in the bush. “My daughter never goes outside,” she said.
“Never?” I had to ask. I mean, never.
“Never. She wouldn’t know what to do out there,” came the reply.
So, I give you this list of outdoor activities for older kids. It’s really a list for an 11-year-old girl who had such a good day outside last week that she begged to come back again tomorrow.
10 outdoor activities for older kids
1. Create a scavenger hunt (or two)
• They encourage kids to work together to solve a problem
• They allow for independence, especially if they take in a whole neighbourhood
• They are suitable for any age, just adjust the challenge level accordingly
• They are a ‘set and forget’ activity solution for busy parents
• They offer a sense of achievement for kids
• They are super-simple to put together
• Who doesn’t love a collection!?
Yup, so many reasons why hunts are one of the best outdoor activities for older kids. Try some of these for inspiration:
• A simple shades of colour hunt
• Nature treasure hunt for non-readers
• Nature treasure hunt for readers (with poem)
• The colours of nature hunt
• Make a summertime observational walk around the garden
• A hunt to photograph all the colours of the rainbow
• Take a counting number find walk
• We’re going on a word hunt
2. Set up camp
When holiday time comes around, you can pitch a tent and let the kids live permanently outside for a while. Let them set things up the way they want everything – this is their patch. They could invite a friend for an overnighter if it suits. They’ll still be in wi-fi range, so no panic there.
3. Get into wildlife
The backyard has a surprising number of insects, bird life and mini-beasts. Encourage the kids to explore by recording what they find in a nature journal. Arm them with a pair of binoculars, magnifying glass, camera and their journal and see who can find the most mini-beasts in an afternoon. Some kids will get really into this activity and keep their journal going week to week. Others will simply enjoy an afternoon or morning outside.
4. Climb a tree
Kids don’t climb trees like they used to, but there is bound to be at least one tree in your garden or a neighbour’s garden that is begging for a resident kid. This is one of those classic outdoor activities for older kids that we so often forget about. We won’t let them climb trees when they are younger, but now they are older…
My dad hammered small planks of wood into the side of a tree so we had some steps to climb up to the nearest bough. This is an easy thing to do and as far as I know, no tree was harmed in the making of our tree house! That old tree is still standing strong in the backyard, even though the old wooden planks are long gone. Be sure to test each branch that the kids are allowed on before they go up.
Other things that trees are great for are:
• Being ‘base’ for a game of hide and seek
• Decorating with leftover Christmas decorations
• Painting with chalk paint
• Adding a fairy door to the base (never too old for fairies!)
• Collecting the nuts and berries that drop
• Suspending a swing from
• Adding a rope ladder for climbing
• Holding one end of the rope for a skipping game
5. Make art from nature
Collecting bits and pieces to make art is a relaxing way for kids to walk around the neighbourhood. Then you can set up an art table under a tree so they can get busy creating something special. The great thing about art outdoors is that the kids can get as messy as they like. Get the paints out! Here are some ideas to get the kids started:
6. Let them get really, really dirty
Dirt is only dirt and if the kids are in their swimmers or a set of old clothes, there is absolutely nothing that mud can do that can’t be undone. Older kids love getting squishy in the mud just as much as younger kids do. It’s easy to make a corner of your backyard the ‘mud corner’. Rake up a load of dirt and set up lots of plastic containers, sticks and spoons for the kids to make their own mud kitchen. Then just add water!
Other activities that might like to try in the dirt include:
• Building a mud village with castles, roads, mountains, etc.
• Building a mini-maze using their old LEGO and dirt mortar
• Painting the fence with mud (then washing it off again!!)
• Burying things for each other to find in the mud
• Planting a leaf and branch garden in the mud
• Making mud shapes and seeing what happens when the mud dries
• Making mud foot and hand prints on the cement
• Throwing mud at a chalk target on the fence or footpath
7. Give them their own patch
Most primary-aged kids are ready for the responsibility of caring for their own veggie or flower patch and high schoolers could be growing all the veggies you need. In fact, gardening is genuinely one of the healthiest possible outdoor activities for older kids and could well be the start of a lifelong hobby.
Starting with sunflowers is a good idea as these are so easy to grow and they start growing within the week for fast reward. The kids could also plant some bulbs, make a herb garden or grow their favourite vegetables. If you’re short on space, container gardening is an option. You can use any kind of container to grow herbs and vegetables. The kids will love helping you forage for the perfect vessel.
Here are some suggestions:
• Tyres laid on the ground and filled with potting mix
• The bag the potting mix comes in (just cut a square out of one side of the bag and plant straight in)
• Old food vessels like tins, fruit punnets, egg cartons, plastic jars
• Old kitchen containers like colanders, plastic tubs, bowls and teapots
• Drawers from old cabinets (check the side of the road on clean up day)
• Old bathtubs and sinks (your local salvage yard might have something for you)
• Old toys like dump trucks, wheelbarrows and carts
8. Make your own backyard geocache
Your kids can use a smartphone to hide treasure and set the coordinates for their siblings to find it throughout your neighbourhood or just the garden. Hide something small in the garden and use your phone to display the latitude and longitude coordinates of the hidden location. Record the degrees, minutes and seconds using the Compass app in your phone:
- Turn Location Services on by going to Settings then Location Services then flicking the button to ‘on’
- In the apps listed in Location Services, make sure Compass is on
- Press the Home button to exit Settings
- Open the Compass app
- Put the phone right next to your hidden geocache and the GPS coordinates are displayed at the bottom of the screen.
It might be tricky for the kids to set up (and even find) the first couple of times, but once they get the hang of it, there will be no stopping them! Remind them to be creative with what they hide in their geocache container, or even where they hide it. You can buy in a few small toys for them to hide for each other or they can hide some sweets, a note, a drawing, a joke or even a secret.
9. Make an obstacle course
You don’t have to build anything to get an obstacle course going in the backyard. Think of all the ways kids can go over, under, around and through what’s already set up. They will enjoy racing each other or beat their best using a timer. They can change the obstacle course around as regularly as they please, but you can also use the same course over and over, just racing to beat their personal best score. Encourage them to set up a weekly ‘Ninja Warrior’ style event with their siblings and friends.
Here are some ideas to get them started:
• Race around the clothesline five times, back to touch the back steps, jump 10 times up and down, race over to touch the tree, do five star jumps, come back to the back steps and touch each step three times, run back to the clothes line and FINISH.
• Walk backward for 20 steps, turn around three times, crawl over to the back fence and touch it three times, hop to the clothes line and spin it around five times, walk backwards over to the tree and hug it and FINISH.
• Run five times around the whole garden, walk once as fast as you can, crawl from one side to the other, race around three more times and FINISH.
You can add things in, depending on what’s in your garden. Under the trampoline is a good one. Leaping over the herb garden another.
10. Bring on the water works
With older kids, just add water for fun! You might be lucky enough to have a pool for instant backyard fun, but it’s not the only way to enjoy water at home. Check water restrictions and then try some of these ideas for instant fun:
• An empty plastic bottle, a large tray and some coloured water are all you need for a water table for younger kids
• Run the hose and whip it back and forth for the each other to jump over the ‘snake’
• Take a backyard bath – fill the toddler pool with warm water and pass the soap
• Fill water balloons and have a fight
• Make some slime
• Paint the back fence with water
• A simple bucket and hose challenge is fun – get them to come up with as many different games as they can
• Try some old-fashioned pool games
#1 way to get the kids outside?
Of course, one of the quickest ways to entice older kids into the garden is to go outside with them… lots of us need reminding of that from time to time.
Got some favourite outdoor activities for older kids to add to our list?