10 ways to keep kids busy in the garden these school holidays


Getting outside is really good for us. Harvard Health reports that being outdoors is good for:

All that, plus being in the great outdoors is a whole load of fun! So it’s good we parents are constantly urging the kids to “go outside and play,” right? Because outside is exactly where they should be.

Here are 10 ways to entice them out the back door and into the fresh air:

1. Create a scavenger hunt

Kids outside scavenger hunt

I am a huge fan of scavenger hunts for kids (I wrote about them here, here, here and … well, you get the idea). There are loads of reasons I love them:

These school holidays we are going to have a different type of hunt each day. Try these ideas for inspiration:

Click here for loads more ideas.

2. Set up camp

Even if the kids don’t sleep out there, set up the tent, drag over a few chairs and create a fun little cubby house for them to enjoy. You can use a play tent or a real tent, or make your own by draping a sheet over a small table. Add some cushions and blankets to make things cosy. You can further inspire their camping play by bringing out some props to encourage different creative play:

Box 1 – Safari adventure

Binoculars; magnifying glass; old camera; stuffed animal toys

Box 2 – Campfire play

Sticks and red / orange / yellow cellophane to make their own campfire; marshmallows; tin cups; cloud identification tool

Box 3 – Wild West pretend

Feathers; bandannas; dress ups; rope for lassos; a broom for a horse (or make your own)

Box 4 – Deserted island fun

Blue fabric for the ocean; paper fish; coconuts; volleyball (hello Wilson!)

Kids outside bugs

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. Make a pine cone bird feeder together to really up the chances of finding birds in the garden. To record their sightings, the kids can make a simple journal from a single sheet of paper:

Sheet of paper journal

Find the full set of instructions here.

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 child. 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! Be sure to test each branch that the kids are allowed on before they go up. Other things that trees are great for are:

5. Make art from nature

Collecting bits and pieces to make art is a relaxing way for kids to walk around the garden. Then you can set up an art table under a tree and help them 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. Children just love getting squishy in the mud and 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! A mud pie kitchen is an easy thing to set up to really make the mud corner fun. Make two even stacks of bricks, set a plant of wood between them, draw a stove and sink on the plank and then add some old plastic cups and plates from the kitchen. Be prepared to eat lots of mud pies!

Click here to see a great mud pie kitchen made by Learn With Play At Home.

Other activities that might like to try in the dirt include:

7. Give them their own patch

Kids outside

Kids love getting their hands dirty in the garden and school-aged kids are ready for the responsibility of caring for their own patch. Use string to rope them off a little corner (or a whole bed if you can spare the room) and allow them to plant whatever they wish. 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 fossick for the perfect vessel. Here are some suggestions:

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. 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:

  1. Turn Location Services on by going to Settings then Location Services then flicking the button to ‘on’
  2. In the apps listed in Location Services, make sure Compass is on
  3. Press the Home button to exit Settings
  4. Open the Compass app
  5. Put the phone right next to your hidden geocache and the GPS coordinates are displayed at the bottom of the screen.

You then give these coordinates to the kids and encourage them to use the Compass to find the geocache. It might be tricky for them 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.

Click here for step-by-step instructions for making a ‘real’ geocache.

9. Make an obstacle course

Kids outside 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 a timer. You can change the obstacle course around as regularly as you please, but you can also use the same course over and over, just racing to beat their personal best score. Here are some ideas to get you started:

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 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 holiday fun: