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Outdoor Game Ideas for Kids Ages 1 to 4

Spending time outside is good for children

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, who need sunshine and exercise to grow properly. Games played outside, with room to move freely, help develop large muscle coordination and strength, according to Dr. Sean Brotherson, family science specialist at North Dakota State University. Young children benefit from at least two periods of outside play per day, the Mississippi State University Early Childhood Institute says. Adult supervision and instruction help small kids grasp the principles of simple games.
Small children can develop their creativity by intiating simple games such as “tag” or hide and seek,” according to Brotherson. Traditional outside games like “duck, duck, goose,” “ring-around-the-rosy” and “red light, green light” have few rules for young children to digest and develop large motor skills. Children under age 5 don’t have a good understanding of the concept of competition, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension explains, so it’s not necessary to declare a “winner.” Four-year-olds love games like “red light, green light” or “Mother, may I” because it gives them the chance to “sneak” when you’re not looking, which allows them to feel like rule-breakers and rebels without actually doing anything wrong. Nature walks or scavenger hunts for certain types of animals, bird or plants make children more observant of their environment and also serve as teaching opportunities about the world around them.
Even a 1-year-old can swing a plastic bat at a stationary “T” holding a plastic ball. Basketball hoops for tots also sit close to the ground, increasing the chance of a successful toss. Your child might outgrow a set made for very young children by age 3 or so; invest in a full-sized hoop once your child gets old enough to handle a larger ball. Attach the hoop low to the ground and move up as your child grows. Even a 1-year-old understands the concept of kicking a soccer ball, although he won’t understand the concept of kicking it into his own goal at first.
If you have trikes, big wheels or push toys and a few kids complaining that they’re bored, organize a race or rally course. A straight-line course works best for the really little ones, but for kids closer to 4

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, an obstacle course — with anything you have lying around, such as garbage cans, serving as the obstacles — makes for fun, especially if you time each kid with a stopwatch and record their times on a big piece of cardboard.
Team games like one-legged sack races, relay races where each team member carries a water balloon or other harmless object on a large spoon or on a kid’s shovel and then hands it off to the next team member, or other types of tag-team races might be hard for very young children to grasp, but 3- and 4-year-olds understand competition and enjoy being on a team. On a hot day, have kids toss water balloons to each other, with the last team with balloons left as the winner. Expect lots of deliberate misses and water splashes, which are more fun than winning to young kids.