Letting Children Take Toys Outside

Greysen was deeply occupied in pretend play when she proudly announced an idea: her animals were going to sleep – outside. I offered to help her find a “suitable” blanket. She confidently told me that she was going to use the one from her bed.  I cringed ( just a little). The concrete on our patio was not only dusty, but marked by trails from where the snails had slinked past. I bit my tongue and watched this play unfold. It was “just” a blanket (actually, it was handmade quilt given to her at birth), and this was her play.

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Children do not make the distinction between which toys are appropriate for outdoor versus indoor play in the same way adults do.  Rugged plastic, weatherproof toys made for hard use are the kinds of playthings we as adults deem appropriate for outdoor play. Outdoor spaces are easily marginalized rather than thought of as an extension of our homes.  Children are just as interested in looking at books, playing with puzzles, or building with blocks outdoors as they are when they are inside.  Affording children the trust to choose where to play with the materials, which are theirs to begin with, is a truly important thing we parents can do to support our children’s play.


What are my biggest worries about “inside” toys going out?  Well, at first I worry about them getting dirty, but the thought dissolves quickly when I have a moment to think. I remember that I believe a “dirty” toy is not necessarily a “destroyed” toy.  It may be against our better judgement to allow toys from inside our homes to go outside because of the worry that the toys will be ruined, but toys will become worn with play regardless.  If there are concerns about books or toys becoming “dirty” or “damaged” by the elements, simple adjustments to our home and routines can help make sure that the toys will be properly cared for.  Keeping durable versions of toys outside (e.g., plastic dolls, plastic trucks) will make washing toys easier.  Also, keeping the most used or worn toys (e.g., dogeared books, scuffed blankets) for outside use lessens the concern that these more delicate materials will be damaged.  Adding a storage box outside to keep a few of the most commonly used indoor types of toys makes setting/cleaning up easy.


I’m trying to remember that letting my daughters take their toys outside is important because . . .


It supports the development of a child’s attention span.  If I stop my daughter, who is busily playing with a doll, for example, to encourage her to go outside and play with another toy, then I’m interrupting her play.  A child’s attention is being regularly interrupted and redirected rather than supported if he or she is expected to leave a toy inside when they go outside.


It demonstrates respect for a child’s play.  When I stop my daughters from taking toys outdoors, I’m potentially conveying the idea that material objects are more important than children’s ideas.  Toys are essentials and should be treated well, but they are only important when they are being used.


It validates a child’s instinct.  Children do not make the distinction between the type of play that can happen inside and outside.  Allowing them to continue to use toys outside as they would inside supports their natural inclinations to play, rather than to compartmentalize and (most importantly) limit the kind of play they can do outdoors.



Greysen did not use the quilt at all as I had expected. I think it’s time to reintroduce a toy bin outside.

How do you manage toys going in and out, especially non-plastic ones?

One Comment

  1. kimmy says:

    This post made me smile Marisa. Caleb also enjoys taking his ‘bed’ blanket outside every now and then for his ‘tiger’ during pretend play. Outside toys such as the lawn mower have also been brought in…on our way to bath time, etc. My favorite…rocks that ended up in our bath tub from outside. The dirty thing gets to me a lil. But mainly having an outside bin of digging toys and garden shovels, etc, keeps them occuped outside and inside toys stay in most the time naturally. I really like your points since in the past I’ve wondered if i should prevent the blanket or other ‘inside things’ from coming outside…but then that would prevent the play from unfolding…so thank you for this good reminder!!

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