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Kids’ Favorite Things to do Outside

by Ron King, Natural Playgrounds Company 

25 years ago, we started an assembly with a question to 600 kids in one school. They ranged in age from Kindergarten through 4th grade, and every student in every class participated.

We asked 

On a spring, summer, fall, or winter weekend, with a friend or not, and with no homework or chores to do, 

What is your favorite outside play activity?

I have learned since then to add the following: Riding motorized machines, playing sports, playing with any electronic gadgets, and shopping at malls are not the kinds of outside activities we’re talking about, so they are not allowed on this list! 

The following is what they told me; kindergarteners were every bit as vocal as the 4th graders! They came up with this list while sitting in their classrooms, so they were not prejudiced by their surroundings. 

Read to the end for a short analysis.


What is your favorite outside activity?

Being Quiet 

  • Doing nothing/relaxing Drawing
  • Drawing nature 
  • Drawing with chalk 
  • Finding sticks/carving 
  • Hammock/reading
  • Playing cards outside 
  • Playing with dolls 
  • Rest on a bench 
  • Resting
  • Sewing
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Sun bathing 
  • Trading cards 
  • Whittling 

Building/inventing things

  • Build forts 
  • Building tree houses 
  • Building something 
  • Inventing 
  • Carve wood-bow & arrows 


  • Climbing trees 
  • Climbing mountains
  • Climbing anything
  • Climbing rocks
  • Climbing on net 
  • Climb on rocks
  • Hanging upside down  


  • Exploring
    Exploring in woods 
  • Finding sea shells 
  • Looking for bugs
  • Looking for caterpillars 
  • Looking for gypsy moths 
  • Looking for painted turtles 
  • Observing the neighborhood  

General Games 

  • Adventure games
  • Ball tag
  • Boogy board 
  • Camouflage/hiding
  • Capture the flag
  • Capture the flag
  • Chalk games/hop scotch 
  • Dodge ball 
  • Fencing
  • Fly kites
  • Four squares
  • Freeze tag
  • Graveyard game
  • Hide and go seek
  • Hula hooping
  • Hunting for things 
  • Jump roping
  • Kickball
  • Leap frog
  • Make up imaginary games 
  • Play in clubhouse
  • Play school
  • Play tag
  • Playing games
  • Playing Star Wars
  • Playing Titanic
  • Pretend dog show
  • Pretend games
  • Red rover
  • Rock tag
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Skip it
  • Slip and slide
  • Street hockey


  • Hiking
  • Walk the dog 
  • Walk on a trail 
  • Walking


  • Jump in the leaves
  • Jump off of things 
  • Jumping off rocks 
  • Jump in woods
  • Jump rope
  • Jumping 

Listening to music

Playing With Nature 

  • Camping
  • Catch helicopters from trees
  • Find sticks
  • Jump in a pile of leaves 
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Picking flowers
  • Play in woods
  • Play on the rocks
  • Playing in the woods 
  • Playing in tree house 
  • Relaxing in a park
  • Rolling down the hill 
  • Search for things in woods 
  • Singing outside
  • Study nature by river 
  • Sunning  

Playing in the earth 

  • Archeological digs
  • Build sand castle
  • Dig holes/Look for money 
  • Dig tunnels underground 
  • Digging for gold
  • Digging in the dirt 
  • Digging/playing in sand
  • Gardening Planting flowers 
  • Picking raspberries 

 Playing with wildlife/animals

  • Catch frogs/tadpoles
  • Chasing squirrels 
  • Play with the dog (Hide and Seek, catch) 
  • Playing/fetching with cat
  • Watching wildlife 

Playing Around Water 

  • Clean out the stream Fishing
  • Getting wet
  • Ice fishing 
  • Play in water/creek/lake Play on the bridge
  • Play with the hose 
  • Playing in the mud 
  • Playing in the sprinkler 
  • Stepping on rocks in the river 
  • Swimming 

Playing in the winter

  • Building a snowman
  • Ice skating
  • Jumping into snow 
  • Make snow angels
  • Playing in the snow
  • Shaking the trees so the 
  • snow falls Skiing 
  • Sledding
  • Snow Tubing 
  • Snowboarding 
  • Throwing snowballs at something
    Tubing (winter Sledding)

Playing with a ball 

  • Bouncing dodge ball 
  • Kick a soccer ball 
  • Playing catch  


  • Chasing
  • Freeze tag
  • Play in field
  • Playing chase
  • Playing tag
  • Racing/contest
  • Run in the woods
  • Running/sprinting/jogging
  • Skipping 
  • Tag  


  • Going to friendʼs house 
  • Playing with friends 
  • Play with sister 
  • Sitting/talking 
  • Talking with friends 


  • Throwing things 
  • Throwing ball 
  • Throwing snowballs 
  • Throwing at target 

Walking in the woods 

  • Go in the woods 
  • Hiking in the woods 
  • Playing in woods 
  • Walking on my path 


I also give lots of presentations to teachers and parents, and I don’t share with them what their kids said, but I ask the adults the very same question, with the very same exclusions:

When you were 8 or 10, what was your favorite outside play activity?

And the parents get all excited. They haven’t thought about this for a very long time, so they really get into it, shouting out their favorite play activities, having great aha moments with each other. 

And their list? It looks exactly the same as the kids’ list! And neither one includes playground equipment

So I ask the parents: If playground equipment wasn’t one of your favorite things when you were kids, and your kids don’t like it either, why would you even consider buying it for them now? 

The answer? It’s easy. You have a budget, you pick things out of a catalog, and you’re done.

So please, be more thoughtful. 

Don’t give your kids what you think they want. 

Give them what they’ve told you they want — which is exactly what you wanted when you were their age!


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