Make our yard entertaining
August 3, 2020 12:53 PM   Subscribe

How can we make our front yard fun for a 3 1/2 year old for 15 minutes?

In this time of COVID, my husband and I have been keeping a very careful social distance, working from home and keeping our socializing 99% digital. The one exception is that every couple of weeks a friend of ours walks nearby and we chat at through the screen door + about 10 feet for a short period of time. This is so nice. The challenge is that she has a 3 1/2 year old. He knows us well and sometimes demands the visit himself, but he is also understandably bored by more than about 2 minutes of standing around. We include him in our conversation for as long as he wants, which helps. He's also been engaged for short periods of time scootering in a circle around our flower bed, drawing with chalk on our sidewalk (this mostly ended up being his mom drawing sidewalk hearts for us), and tossing escaped decorative rocks into our flower bed (with supervision).

But in the end, he's young enough that everything holds his attention for a very short period of time. I'd really like if we could talk for say 15 whole minutes. Is there something we put out that might entertain a 3 1/2 year old for that length of time? His mom can definitely help with the activity, it would just be nice if she could also maybe get in a 3-4 sentences of chatting before having to focus her entire attention on her kiddo.

- Yard: Small to medium square patch of soft grass in a residential neighborhood on a quiet street (but enough cars he can't just run around unsupervised)
- Budget: ~$20 (I'd consider a bit more, but no "build a swingset" options)
- Safety: In general, I'd prefer something I could put out before they arrive and then put away in a box by itself for next time before washing my hands.
- Weather: Right now it's nice and warm, but once we hit September the temps will likely drop off quickly. That makes me a bit hesitant to buy a sprinkler or something too temp-dependent.
- Current ideas: We do have a large sized Jenga set, which we are going to try to set out to serve as blocks. Also, bubbles (maybe something that requires running around to generate the bubbles?) Um... I think that's all I've got so far that wouldn't be used for 1 minute and then dropped.

Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by past unusual to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Large cardboard box and markers?
posted by shadygrove at 12:56 PM on August 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: A soccer ball and a football. It's super fun playing catch with kids that age!
posted by Patapsco Mike at 1:06 PM on August 3, 2020

Best answer: Um, this might be the not-a-parent in me, but I feel like if you handed them an iphone with peppa pig/spongebob squarepants playing, they would NOT put it down.
posted by bbqturtle at 1:06 PM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Tennis ball, or, better, a medium sized plastic ball from the big bin at the store. A few stuffed animals. a box of 'dress-ups' - hats, scarves, vest, imaginative or interesting clothing. Plastic measuring cups, bowls, wooden spoons. bucket of water, paint brush(es) to 'paint' house, driveway, etc. Blocks. Bubbles.
posted by theora55 at 1:09 PM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Depending on how ok it it to go home wet/sandy; a small sandbox (like shoe box sized) with some plastic/measuring cups/ sieves/etc. (Or instead of sand, soapy water). Kinetic sand is also very fun and definitely an outdoor activity.
posted by raccoon409 at 1:19 PM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Some toy cars would go great with the Jenga blocks and/or chalk.
posted by teremala at 1:20 PM on August 3, 2020

Best answer: Really stupidly big beach ball.

Garden spade, a hose, permission to dig a hole. Small truck also perhaps. Pile of rocks.

Bubbles with optional ridiculously large wand (like giant beach balls, it's a thing).

Five dollar wading pool from Walmart and a family of rubber ducks.

You could blow $20 on a few bits of junk like that and rotate them in and out and I 100% agree with the idea above: big box plus markers = sky scraper, bus, school, dog bed. Varying boxes of varying sizes might be cool. Mild variety will help.

Also, you know, a Backyardigans episode on an iPad has bought many of us glorious moments of freedom and nobody needs to apologize for it. Twenty minutes of adult conversation is an okay Ask in a pandemic.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:29 PM on August 3, 2020

Best answer: Bucket of plain water and a paintbrush plus permission to paint things in the front yard and sidewalk. This won’t work when it gets cold and it won’t work every day but if you do it twice a week while it’s warm, it should keep the toddler occupied for maybe 10 minutes.

If there is sidewalk chalk, and it’s still warm, the mom can do an outline of the toddler on the sidewalk and then they both can color in the toddler outline. And the toddler can do an outline of mom, which will take much longer because he is a toddler.

Will try to think of some cold-weather ideas as well. (It’s true that an iPhone with Peppa Pig on it will probably do the trick in any weather but that’s not something you want to introduce if it’s not already established as a thing.)
posted by Bella Donna at 1:36 PM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It might blow your budget, but my kid can probably be occupied by a Stomp Rocket for a reasonable 10 minutes. My 5yo can set it up independently; my 2yo can stage a rocket if someone sets up the launcher, I suspect a 3.5 year old could do this mostly solo. You do run the risk of rockets landing on your roof.

Otherwise a little watering can to water the flower bed (maybe with a bucket of water or two nearby for refills). Matchbox cars and a pre-drawn race track (using either chalk or painters' tape), ask him to line up the cars for a "parade" along the track. If you can get plastic Easter eggs, you can stage an off-season egg hunt and put one Goldfish cracker or a yogurt raisin or a tiny cheap toy in each. (hide the eggs in ridiculously obvious places, kids that age are terrible at finding stuff).
posted by castlebravo at 1:42 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bubbles!

Erm, not much to add by way of explanation, I suppose.

More bubbles!
posted by vverse23 at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also, you can get a whole lot of mileage out of a big old cardboard box and some crayons.
posted by vverse23 at 2:33 PM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a child this age. He loves using our hose, playing with water (measuring cups and bowls work), and mowing the lawn with his own lawn mower, which we got for free from a neighborhood listserv. If you have one of those, ask for items - people share really easily with this age group.
posted by melodykramer at 3:31 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get one of those deep plastic storage bins, like this. Fill it up about 2/3 with water.

Put in a few different sized plastic cups, a sponge, maybe a shallow plastic food container to use as a boat, any random little toys that can get wet to ride in the boat, some straws for blowing bubbles into the water, a rubber ducky, maybe a few items from the dollar bins at Target or from the bath toy aisle.

A kid that age will be in water heaven. When they leave, dump out the water, let the toys and bin dry in the sun, and stash away for the next visit. (Maybe warn your friend to bring a dry shirt for the kid, just in case).
posted by Kangaroo at 3:36 PM on August 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Googling “diy sensory bin” might give you some ideas. Dollar store toys, measuring cups, spoons, funnel, in a box or tub with 2-3 inches of rice or beans or bird seed or sand or gravel at the bottom.
posted by beandip at 4:27 PM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Balloons. You could get a little hand pump to inflate so no one actually puts their mouth on the balloon (until the kid does). One balloon per visit is probably ok and they could just take it with them at the end.
posted by tangaroo at 9:26 AM on August 4, 2020

Best answer: Bubbles. Sidewalk chalk. A ridiculously large ball.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:52 PM on August 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So many fantastic ideas! I've already obtained some markers and cardboard, and am working on bubbles, toy cars, and a plastic tub with water and related related sundries.
posted by past unusual at 2:46 PM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

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