Our family has made some great purchases over the years when it comes to backyard water play. From baby’s first mini splash mat to a full-sized slip ‘n slide last year, it seems like every summer we invest in some new iteration of rubberized plastic that hooks up to the hose and sends the water bill through the roof.
And then every year, when the newness of their water toys wears off, my kids ask for wet rags to play with in the backyard.
Yep, wet rags. Something about the cool, wet cloth and the satisfaction of “cleaning” any surface they want keeps them busy for at least as long as anything from the store. Just like the “play with the cardboard box” phenomenon, very often what keeps kids occupied for longest are simple playthings we already have around the house.
As we heat up this spring and head outdoors to play, here are a few other backyard water toys you probably already own (but maybe didn’t know it):
Plastic Cups & Utensils
You can buy a colorful pre-packaged set of sand and water toys at any retailer OR you can rinse out used yogurt containers and round up all the red plastic Solo cups from the back of your pantry. Add some plastic utensils and Voilà! – water table, sandbox, or just your everyday dirt and gravel fun.
Fun for ages: 6 months and up (minus the plastic forks and knives for babies, of course)
You know when you get off the elevator on the 3rd floor of the Phoenix Children’s Museum and there are those little rock tables with paintbrushes and water? It’s so simple and it WORKS. Bust out your paint brushes (bigger ones are more fun, and a pastry brush from the kitchen is even better) and let kids “paint” every surface they can find with water. Why is it fun? Who knows, but it is.
Fun for ages: 12 months and up
A spray bottle filled with water is quite possibly the best bang-for-buck backyard water toy I have EVER personally experienced. If you don’t have one already that you can rinse out to reuse (I’d probably be wary of any that previously held harsh cleaning supplies, even after washing them out), you can find them at any grocery, pharmacy or dollar store. Kids love to spray each other, the house, the dog – you name it – and it’s harmless water fun with minimal mess.
Fun for ages: 3 and up (kids younger than 3 may have trouble working the spray trigger on their own)
Yes, wet rags are fun to play with outside. It’s one of life’s great mysteries. Don’t question it, just try it.
Fun for ages: 2 and up (or any child who won’t insist on sucking the water out of a disgusting dirty rag)
One hot afternoon when her boys needed diversion and some physical outdoor play, my genius friend got out a umbrella and the backyard hose and let them take turns spraying each other with the hose and trying to deflect the spray with the umbrella (or spraying the hose into the air and experiencing “rain” as only an Arizona child can). Don’t laugh at us, rest of the country. We have to find SOME good use for our umbrellas!
Fun for ages: 4 and up (pretty sure my 3.5-year-old nearly took out his sister’s eye with the umbrella, so this is definitely an older kid activity)
What keeps your kids busy in the backyard? I’d love to have some more ideas to try this year!
Red cup image: Kristin Nador, via Flickr Creative Commons