Warm weather is upon us and my daughter just can’t get enough of the great outdoors. We could be outside all day and she would be the happiest girl in town. But here’s the thing: When a trip to the park isn’t an option, and one of us is bored of the backyard, the sidewalk holds plenty of opportunities for entertainment. As a mom, nothing brings me greater joy than seeing my little girl and her buddies have some much-needed outdoor fun. I love to play out front of our home with her, where there’s always a crowd and it’s never boring. We currently live in the city, where friends and neighbors tend to head outdoors after lunch to see who’s hanging on the block. Soon, we’ll be moving to our first home in the suburbs and I’m excited to bring some of our favorite sidewalk games along.
Growing up we always played out on the sidewalk, calling across the street to our neighbors to join. Nowadays, I’m all about recreating this tradition for my own little girl, and it’s even better when the activity doesn’t come with a hefty price tag. Cheap sidewalk activities are perfect for city kids, serving as a nice change of pace from crowded public playgrounds. A built-in play date on a sunny afternoon is pretty much my idea of childhood encapsulated. And while there are plenty of big-kid activities on this list, your littlest kids won’t be disappointed either, as many of these are toddler-approved by my own daughter and her little friends. Here are some of our favorite affordable sidewalk activities that the whole gang will love.
More Imagination Builders:
Cheap Sidewalk Activities
Big and small, bubbles are a blast. You can make your own with a 6:1 ratio of water and dish soap; or buy it cheap on Amazon. Whether everyone gets a little wand or you invest in one huge one to share, bubbles of all shapes and sizes make for magical moments. Get creative by using the plastic containers for beverage 6-packs, or morphing a wire hanger into an oval for really big bubbles (just be sure to cover any sharp edges with duct tape if you try this method). Pour the bubble solution into a baking tray and go!
Sidewalk chalk is pretty much the best. I like to bring a pack of baby wipes or a bucket of sudsy water out to keep their hands from getting uncomfortably dry and chalky, but basically you can have a free-for-all with the stuff. Designate a square of sidewalk for each of them to decorate in a theme. Practice writing letters and numbers with preschoolers. Older kids can draw entire cities or families of bugs. Trace their hands and feet. The list goes on forever, and the stuff tends to cost around $5 a box.
Draw the board with chalk, or lay it out more inventively with colored duct tape or water-soluble finger paint. While a classic game of hopscotch is fun for all, you can make your board extra long, challenging, or goofy depending on the kids involved. Let them decorate the squares and agree on as many sets of rules as they can think of for each new round. This activity is basically free, since you have the chalk already.
My little one hates taking a bath, but she sure does love making a mess with water. Bring a large plastic food container (or a few) outside, about halfway full of water. Place some favorite bath toys inside and let the games begin. If you have more than one tub to work with, consider grouping toys by color, theme, or shape. Tiny tots will likely just want to splash around but preschoolers and even older kids can practice sorting or go bobbing for bath toys. I'm calling this one "free" since you can use things you already have at home.
Whether they're just learning the
ropes (had to!) or are more skilled, a jump rope is one of those childhood standbys every household needs. I'm partial to a classic rope as opposed to segmented plastic -- these tend to be less aggressive when used by little kids. Once they've mastered a standard jump, teach them to double-up, criss-cross, and so on. You may as well throw in some of your old favorite street rhymes like "Miss Mary Mack." Once they've learned those, it'll only make jump rope games even more fun.
You can go totally cheap and nab them for even less, but a simple splurge of just under $10 gets you a
gorgeous jacks set complete with a handbook, two balls, and a collectible tin. Once they get the hang of this simple, classic game, you won't be able to drag them in off the sidewalk. It's seriously that addicting.
Stretch the value of that jacks set by using the balls for other games, too. (I got the ball pictured above in a pack of four at Target for $7.) There are about a million and one things kids can play with a rubber ball, but box ball is perfect for sidewalk fun. Simply set the kids up facing each other on two sidewalk squares where the crack is halfway between them. That will serve as the "net." Just as in tennis or volleyball, they will pass a ball back and forth to each other, each scoring a point when the other misses. Teach them how to open-palm or back-hand the ball for variety.
It's amazing how many things can be done with the spare change in your pockets. They can hold up their hands in the shape of a field goal for a game of penny football. Bring outside a piece of foam board and help or let them transform it into a miniature hockey rink. The pennies can be slid across like pucks! Tossing the coins in the direction of a tree or lamppost until someone's penny hits it is another good one. You can also play a kid's version of Quarters where they have to toss a quarter into a small plastic cup or plastic container sans lid.
There are so many ways kindergarteners and older kids can enjoy marbles. Create a makeshift board for a game of Mancala by cutting up a few paper towel rolls into one-inch rings with a jar top at either end as the "goals." Each "cup" contains a few marbles to start and the kids take turns moving in one direction, dropping one marble in each one until they're out and competing to see who gathers the most in their "goal." Marbles can also be shot into a chalk-drawn circle, or ricocheted off walls. If they're old enough for the marbles to not be a choking hazard, chances are they'll come up with some pretty cool games of their own, too.
Your own childhood memories will come rushing back when you see your kids grab a stack of hula hoops and get twirling. Dollar stores typically sell them for around $2-3 or you can "splurge" on an easy-store, segmented one
like this for $9. Aside from the standard hula-ing, your hoops can be used for a funky twist on hopscotch and many other imaginative games they'll invent themselves.
DIY Bird Feeder
Dig into your recycle bin and get creative making bird feeders for the neighborhood's winged inhabitants. A bag of bird seed runs around $7 on
Amazon and is good to have on hand for all sorts of do-it-yourself feeding crafts with the kids. An easy method is to apply peanut butter to the cardboard tube of a paper towel or toilet paper roll and cover it with the seed. String gift ribbon or twine through it and hang on a nearby tree.
Who knew a piece of string could be so exciting? A quick Pinterest sweep will give you all sorts of detailed instructions on old go-to's like Cat's Cradle and Jacob's Ladder. You can also give each kid a long piece of string with its ends ties to together to create a circle and offer them a series of challenges. Have them manipulate the string into increasingly difficult shapes from hearts and stars on to a self-portrait! That'll bring on lots of giggles while keeping them focused and engaged.
Riding scooters (or skateboards)
This one is a bit more of a splurge, but you can find skateboards or baseline scooters at or below the $20-mark at toy stores or online. The investment in a season of fun ahead (and many more to follow) is well worth it. Riding on the sidewalk is a safe alternative where you can keep track of their activity without panicking about traffic. Nothing beats the thrill of a good set of wheels, so they'll be at this one for hours.
Jumping in puddles
The first time my daughter jumped in a puddle, the dual look of mischief and fun that spread over her face was seriously one of the sweetest things I've ever seen. On cooler spring days, a good pair of rubber boots is all they'll need to make this one easier on you. When it's warmer outside, I let the little one go barefoot for maximized puddle-jumping joy.