A father walks in the forest on a fall day with his four-year-old son on his shoulders. The son carries a bouquet of leaves and branches.

Outdoor activities for 4 year olds

Every age is special, and four is no exception. 4 year olds are filled with wiggles, giggles, and plenty of imagination. They aren’t afraid of asking a lot of questions, striking up a conversation, and trying out silly words. They especially enjoy playing pretend on their own, with other children, or with their imaginary friend. With all the exuberance that comes with being four, it’s common for parents and early childhood educators to scroll the internet in search of fun activities to do with them.

If this is how you landed on this article, welcome! You’ve come to the right place. As a mother of five, I know how helpful it can be to have a list of activities to draw from at a moment’s notice when my preschooler needs a bit of inspiration. Not only will I be sharing some of my favourite outdoor activities to do with 4 year olds, I’ll link to other helpful articles and ideas throughout. However, before jumping into those outdoor activities, let’s take a moment to do a brief overview of common development milestones for 4 year olds.

Development milestones for 4 year olds

As a 4 year old, your child is no longer a toddler. She’s officially a preschooler, and with that comes some new and exciting developmental milestones. While there’s a wide range of normal when it comes to development milestones, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society, there are certain gross motor, fine motor, language, and cognitive skills that most four-year-olds can do or should be able to do soon. Here is a quick summary of what those are:

Gross motor skills: By four, most preschool children can hop and balance on one leg for up to four seconds, kick a ball forwards, catch a bouncing or large ball, and get dressed and undressed.

Fine motor skills: By four, most preschool children can unbutton some buttons, hold a crayon in a static tripod grip, cut with small child-safe scissors, draw circles and squares, draw a person with several body parts, and do hand motions and finger-to-thumb sequence to songs and nursery rhymes like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.”

Language skills: By four, most preschool children can say sentences four or more words long, sing songs and nursery rhymes, use language to negotiate, and cooperate with others.

Cognitive skills: By four, most preschool children can understand counting, follow instructions with three parts, make up and tell simple stories, understand “same” and “different,” engage in creative play, and understand counting.

Important: If you’re at all concerned that your 4 year old isn’t reaching the development milestones for his age, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with your family physician or visit a public health nurse. 

A mom and her four-year-old son crouch in a park and draw in the dirt.

18 fun outdoor activities for 4 year olds

1. Bowl with a big ball

Set up some empty plastic bottles or milk cartons outside and have your 4 year old try to knock them over with a big ball. This activity can be set up on a lawn, driveway, or even an outdoor deck. It also makes for a fun indoor game if getting outside isn’t an option. Bowling with a big ball helps to develop gross motor skills like throwing, along with coordination. 

2. Move through spirals and mazes

Work with your 4 year old to create a maze or spiral using chalk, sticks, pinecones, and rocks outside to see how many different ways your preschooler can explore your creation. Your 4 year old can try walking slowly or quickly, walking backwards, running, hopping, or even crawling through the maze or spiral. Moving through mazes and spirals in a variety of ways builds physical literacy skills and creativity, and can even help with self-regulation.

3. Go on a nature scavenger hunt

Preschoolers love outdoor scavenger hunts. They help 4 year olds work on their cognitive abilities, like counting and comparing, while also encouraging movement. If you’re looking for a seasonal scavenger hunt, check out these great resources: spring activities scavenger hunt, fall activities scavenger hunt, and winter activities scavenger hunt.

4. Try beginner soccer drills

Learning how to kick a ball is an important milestone for 4 year olds to develop, and what better way than with a soccer ball! There are plenty of fun and simple soccer drills for preschoolers to try but here are some of my children’s favourites: kick a ball around a placeholder (cone, rock, pinecone), kick a ball into a “goal” (two markers on the ground, or a basket or cardboard box), move a ball through an obstacle course, and kick a ball back and forth between two players. 

5. Play hopscotch 

Grab some chalk and find a piece of pavement for some old-fashioned hopscotch. This game never goes out of style and it’s so great for preschoolers. Hopping from two feet to one foot, and back again helps to develop the abilities to hop and balance on one leg—a key milestone at this age. Also, counting develops language and cognitive skills. This game is a classic for a reason! For more retro game ideas, check out 15 retro activities for a fun-filled summer.

6. Be a squirrel

Squirrels are funny critters. They jump long distances, balance along branches, and gather and cache nuts for the winter. Pretending to be a squirrel can be a fun way for your 4 year old to practice physical literacy skills while getting to know nature. Encourage your preschooler to act like a squirrel (jump, balance, skitter) while searching for bits of nature to collect (rocks, pinecone, leaves, sticks, shells). Find a place to cache all those natural treasures outside or bring them indoors to decorate your home. 

7. Bounce a wall ball

Have your 4 year old bounce a ball against the side of your home, their school, or a sturdy fence and catch it again. This simple activity helps develop catching skills, coordination, and reflex while also helping with self-regulation.

8. Weave with nature

Wrap a six-by-six inch piece of cardboard with three or four elastics to make a simple loom and encourage your 4 year old to find things in nature to weave into it. Nature bits like flowers, leaves, grass, and sticks work really well, but don’t stop there! This outdoor activity helps children work on their fine motor skills while taking the time to notice the beauty and diversity of nature. Check out some nature-weave inspiration below:

9. Follow the arrows

Using sticks or pieces of cardboard from the recycling bin, make arrows on the ground for your preschooler to discover and follow. This is a simple version of a treasure hunt, so be sure to hide a “treasure” at the end of the hunt. A treasure could be a healthy snack, a favourite stuffed animal, or an “X” to mark the end spot. I recommend starting this game on a grassy area so that it isn’t too challenging at first. Once your 4 year old gets the hang of the game, you can make it more challenging by making the arrows smaller or placing them in a bigger area, like at a play park or along a forest trail.

10. Sing outdoor-themed action songs

Outdoor-themed action songs are plentiful! Here are a few favourites: “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush,” “Five Little Ducks,” “Five Speckled Frogs,” “The Ants Go Marching,” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Most 4 year olds love to sing and move to music, which helps them develop movement skills and language skills. 

11. Make nature confetti

Bring a pair of preschool scissors outside and encourage your 4 year old to cut leaves and flowers into tiny bits to make eco-glitter. Put them in a container for a special celebration or spread them around nature. This activity helps develop fine motor skills and the ability to cut with scissors, which is an important milestone for this age. 

12. Outdoor obstacle course

Gather up whatever you have on hand to make a fun outdoor obstacle course in your yard or nearby park. Balls, hula hoops, chairs, ropes, cones, chalk, and sticks can be set up to encourage your 4 year old to hop, jump, crawl, run, kick, skip, toss, and more. I find preschoolers enjoy the process of setting up the course as much as doing it. This activity is great for developing all those gross motor skills.

13. Paint with mud

Around four years of age, preschoolers start to learn how to hold crayons using the tripod grip. This milestone lays the foundation for writing and drawing that will become more important in the coming years. However, practicing the tripod grip doesn’t have to be limited to holding crayons! Holding a paintbrush helps to develop this fine motor skill as well. For this activity, I recommend using a preschool paintbrush—one that has a thicker handle. Alternatively, you and your 4 year old can make your own nature paintbrush using a stick and tying some grass, leaves, or other bits of nature to the end. Also, if you don’t have mud, feel free to use washable paints like tempera or homemade cornstarch paint

14. Build a fort

Building a fort is a great activity for developing problem-solving skills, creativity, and gross motor skills—plus, 4 year olds love forts! Forts can be as simple as draping some sheets over a few outdoor chairs or as complex as collecting sticks in a forest to make a shelter. Preschoolers enjoy fort-building because it opens the door to their vivid imagination and creative play.

A toddler and his older brother sit in a fort in their living room and read a book together.

15. Go on a bear hunt

“We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one.” These are the first couple lines from the popular British children’s book originally published in 1989. What makes this story so engaging is the various adventures the children go on. They have to walk through long wavy grass, swim across a deep, cold river, stomp through thick, oozy mud and more! Using the book as inspiration, go on your very own bear hunt with your 4 year old and use different movements (stomp, crawl—like this, swim, tiptoe etc.) as you go along. If you aren’t familiar with the story and the actions, you can listen to the author read the story here

16. “Egg” and spoon game

This is a preschool version of the egg run race where children run while holding an egg in a spoon, trying not to drop it. In this 4 year old version, substitute the egg for a golf ball, ping-pong ball, or hard-boiled egg and use a large serving spoon. Encourage your 4 year old to see if he can balance the egg in the spoon while standing still, standing on one leg, and walking slowly. This activity helps to develop coordination and focus. 

17. Pillowcase hop

Grab an old pillowcase, show your preschooler how to step inside of it, and have her hop across an area. This activity is fun for developing jumping skills and getting those hopping legs ready for fun sack races! Just make sure you move the furniture out of the way for this one.

18. Tin-can stilts

Tin can stilts never go out of style. Collect a couple large aluminum cans—tomato or coffee cans work well—and make them into tin-can stilts by making two holes in the top of each can and threading some thin rope through the holes as handles. Walking on tin-can stilts is great for developing gross motor skills and coordination. However, as always, use caution with the sharp edges of cans when your children are using them.

If your 4 year old needs to get their wiggles out, going outside is the perfect solution. Not only will these activities help your child to develop their physical literacy skills and meet their developmental milestones but they’re loads of fun! Did I miss your 4 year old’s favourite outdoor activity? Let me know what it is in the comment section below.

Check out other activities for 4 year olds:

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