Empowering Parents Toward Purposeful Play


Summer Fun Faves

A Pediatric Physical Therapist's Perspective on Purposeful Play Outdoors for Babies + Toddlers

This post contains affiliate links that aid in supporting The Movement Mama at no additional cost to you.

Links to the above products can be found at my

Summer Baby + Toddler Essentials List HERE.

The beautiful outdoor wipe-clean play/picnic/sensory mat can be found HERE.

There are an endless number of fun summer toys, but as a Mama who is easily overwhelmed by the number of toys overtaking my home + a development-minded Pediatric Physical Therapist, I've tried to curate a list of the BEST toys that promote your little one's development, while also encouraging outdoor exploration and fun :)

Here's how each one promotes your babe's development:

  • Watering can/gardening tools: Toddlers love to imitate! You'll be amazed at how long they explore filling/dumping the water, digging into the dirt, or just pretending to be YOU :)

  • Window markers: Even in the summer, rainy days are bound to happen. Coloring with these chunky markers on a vertical surface like a window or storm door is great for fine motor skills related to handwriting and overall postural strength and control

  • Oversized ball: Practice taking those first steps in the grass with this bigger-than-them ball. Oversized balls are also great for making it easy for little hands and feet to learn how to roll, kick, and catch. Balls are a great crawling motivator, too :)

  • Swings: I've linked several swings in my idea list above, but swinging is such an amazing way to aid in your babe's vestibular development (their positional sense), as well as feed their craving for movement! I've linked a platform swing that's awesome for changing it up in tummy time and this swing is perfect for building postural muscles in a seated position. And swings are always a phenomenal way to calm a fussy babe with some Vitamin D and the breeze on those sweet cheeks

  • Slide: Perfect for practicing step climbing, motor planning getting themselves into a seated position, and core strength necessary for remaining upright while sliding down.

  • Bubble machine: As a Pediatric PT, I know firsthand that adding bubbles to literally anything makes it fun :) This keeps babe from dumping the entire container of bubbles out on the ground + Mama's hands free! Practice reaching onto tiptoes or isolating the pointer finger to pop the bubbles for a little motor work!

  • Tummy Float: Tummy down in the water is amazing purposeful play for tummy time muscles that are crucial beyond just the baby years + is a functional swimming position. I love the little shade to keep their soft skin safe :)

  • Water Spray Bottles: Next week is our annual "Car wash" where we bring out the Cozy Coupes , use gardening tools to get them dirty, and then spend an entire hot-coffee's worth of time scrubbing them clean. You can also do so many amazing squirt-bottle outdoor crafts and projects, or just have a water bottle fight :) These triggers are perfect for building strength in the small muscles of those tiny hands

  • Play Sink: Another great pretend play toy! So fun for a makeshift mud kitchen to work on following a multi-step project of scrub, rinse, dry!

  • Splash Pad: The best unstable surface to practice balance and stability for a new walker. Bonus points is it keeps Mama cool + if you've got a little one and a toddler, it's shallow enough to be safe for both!

  • Sensory Picnic Table: this thing has it all: sun shade, double sensory bins, plus functions as a space for picnics! Sensory play is a great way to promote healthy sensory processing and outdoor snacking is always less cleanup for Mama

  • Gardening Tools: another pretend play prize! Your little one will love to follow you around the yard pretending to help :) and in the meantime they're building valuable motor planning skills and core strength

  • Picnic/messy play/tummy time mat: I've linked this one separately above but we are obsessed with this mat! Big enough for a family of four to eat on, perfect for messy play indoors or out, and I plan to use this under our splash pad to prevent pine needles or acorns popping the pad :)

  • Water table: Endless hours of fun. Scooping/pouring, sensory, pretend play, squatting, tiptoe reaching, you name it--a water table has it. I love to bring this inside in the winter for a sensory bin, as well!

  • Chalk: chalk drawing on the ground is perfect for encouraging deep squatting play, which is a strength-building motor milestone, as well as one that helps with babes who are toe walkers! The chunky shape is perfect for little hands just learning how to hold a writing utensil

  • Bubble mower: I love to use this to encourage walking over the uneven surface of the grass. The bubbles coming out are so fun and motivating to "chase"

  • Otteroo float: this one is mainly for littles 6m or younger, but an awesome way to promote early independence in the water with supervision. Otteroo has a great blog post here on how and why they're safe!

I'd love to hear your family favorites, too! I'm always looking for new and fun ways to play in the sun! Stay tuned for my upcoming Summer Safety Favorites post!

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