Inside: Here are 15 super fun ways of playing with nature’s best toys. Mud, sticks, water, sand & rocks—fun outdoor toys kids will love!
Nature’s Best Toys for Kids & Grandkids
Delving into the past can be an exciting adventure! Uncovering a layer of history at a time opens up new possibilities of what our ancestors enjoyed and did as children.
While searching my family tree—I discovered 5 things my ancestors loved and considered their favorite “toys” as kids –mud, water, sticks, rocks, and sand—nature’s best toys!
A unique attachment to these toys has been passed down from generation to generation in my family. These toys have never lost their charm and—best of all—they’re free!
For our grandkids to appreciate their ancestors and have fun at the same time, we created a mud kitchen, and sand, water, sticks, and stones stations. Sometimes we change the venue and head to the canyons or ocean to play with more of nature’s best toys.
No matter where you live, here’s how you can use nature’s best toys while celebrating your ancestors.
Sticks & Stones—Nature’s Best Toys!
As a kid, did you ever learn this jingle?
“Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But names will never hurt me!”
Well, jingles aside, kids LOVE sticks!
They’re the favorite toy of our 5-year-old grandson. We call him our “hunter-gatherer!” Anytime we’re outside, he’s looking for sticks.
Go out in nature, gather up different sizes and shapes of sticks; bring them home, and try these fun simple stick activities.
#1 Weaving a Walking Stick
When you go on a hike with your kids/grandkids—bring a walking stick they’ve made.
- Sticks found in nature. Make them large enough to use as a walking stick
- Sharp Knife
- Sand the stick with sandpaper and cut off any rough edges with a sharp knife (adult supervision required)
- Determine where your child/grandchild will hold the stick while hiking. This is the area they need to cover in yarn.
- Wind yarn around the area of the stick they will be holding—about 6-7” down the stick. Tie a knot at the end
#2 Making Bug Sticks
Many sticks just naturally look like bugs. Here’s a fun way of turning those sticks into colorful bugs.
- Interesting sticks found in nature
- Corrugated cardboard for wings
- Googly Eyes
- Gather 6-7” sticks in nature
- Wrap different colors of yarn around each stick
- Make the wings from corrugated cardboard and glue on your bugs or wind the yarn around the wing to secure
- To make a centipede bug, take small sticks and hot glue them to a larger stick before winding yarn around it.
- When complete, glue the end of the yarn to the back of the bug
- Glue googly eyes and pom-poms on for the face
#3 Magic Sticks!
Everyone loves magic so turn a stick into a colorful magic wand!
Here’s how to make them:
- Sticks—no longer than 12”
- Yarn, twine, fabric scraps, stickers
- Feathers, beads & buttons
- Kwik Stix markers
- Clean your stick
- Paint your stick with Kwik Stix markers.
- Wrap different colors of twine or yarn around your stick. As you are wrapping, stick things into the yarn (feathers) or weave in beads or buttons.
Inspiration: Mini Mad Things
#4 Bookmarks Made from Sticks
We used craft sticks to make these colorful and unique bookmarks. Supplies are minimal and fun is maximal!
- Wide craft sticks
- Flower stencils
- White Prismacolor pencil (PC938) (Michaels)
- Mini decorative clothespins
- Pour 2 Tablespoons of red, blue, and yellow watercolors into 3 different jars. Add 1 tablespoon of water
- Put 3-4 sticks in each color. Let sit for 3 hours
- Turn the sticks over in another color. Let sit for 3 hours
- If you put the sticks in red & blue—the middle of the stick will turn purple. Sticks put in red and yellow–the middle of the stick will turn orange
- After the sticks are dry, use a white Prismacolor pencil and a flower stencil and color a floral image on the stick.
- Put a decorative clothespin at the top of each stick.
- Use as a bookmark
Fun with Rocks & Stones
As a child I started a rock collection and a rock hound in our neighborhood helped me identify some of my “finds.”
Do your kids/grandkids love rocks and stones? If so, here’s a creative and fun activity to do with rocks or stones (I call a smooth rock a stone).
#5 Painted Rocks
- Rocks (about 10 per child)
- Acrylic paints
- Gather rocks in your neighborhood of different sizes and shapes.
- Wash and dry them
- Using acrylic paints—paint different colors on the rocks. Let dry
Give each child a piece of cardboard to arrange their rocks on and create something fun and interesting—mountain slope, Stonehenge, Painted Rock, etc.
Or, paint words or sayings on your rocks and hide them in nature. They’re called “kindness stones.” The possibilities are endless!
#6 Nature’s Best Toys: A Mud Kitchen
Kids LOVE mud! It’s one of nature’s best toys!
To add to the fun, we created a “mud kitchen” for my grandkids.
At the thrift store, I found 2 pieces of furniture for $15/each. With sandpaper, white primer, and gray and green spray paint, a mud kitchen was created. I took past pictures of the grandkids playing in the mud, blew them up, and added them to the kitchen along with pictures of ancestors who loved mud and some mud recipes I found online.
While thrifting, I found different size bowls, containers, utensils, sifters, plastic cups, and pans so the kids could make mud pies, desserts, and more.
Our grandkids LOVE their mud kitchen and spend hours making, baking, and creating things with mud!
- Mud recipes from Early Years Outdoors
- Water (put water in a pitcher)
- Bowls, containers, utensils, sifters, plastic cups, pans
- Flowers, weeds, big leaves
- Create a space where your kids/grandkids can play with mud created from wet sand. Make it inviting with pictures of them playing in the mud.
- Supply things they can put the mud into to create something fun
- Use mud recipes (a great way for kids to learn to read a recipe)
Get Excited About Water!
Research over the last 20 years has shown the importance of water play for kids. Here are some advantages of water play:
- Social Interaction
- Increases gross & fine motor skills
- Stimulates imagination & creativity
- A peaceful and calming activity
Undoubtedly, our ancestors didn’t know the reasons WHY water play was so fun—they just instinctively knew it was one of nature’s best toys!
These water activities will inspire and delight your kids/grandkids!
#7 Water Play at the Canyons or Beach
Do you live near the ocean or canyons? We’ve done these water activities at both places. All you need are some plastic boats for your kids/grandkids to sail down the water. If you’re in the canyons, pick a place where the water is somewhat shallow thus allowing the kids to play with the rocks and mud found in the water.
#8 Painting with Water
Easy-peasy last-minute water activity for kids! We’ve done this water play activity for our family reunions or when we need a quick, easy, and fun water activity for the grandkids.
Just need a water bucket, a paintbrush, and a slab of cement! Let the kids “paint” to their heart’s content!
#9 A Water Table—Nature’s Best Toys!
I saw this water table on @thecreativelearningco and downloaded the directions and my husband made it.
It’s a great way for kids/grandkids to play in the water with fun measuring cups and other kitchen tools. You’ll need a plastic pipe, a plastic tub, and water toys!
#10 Water balloons, Water Guns, and Water Blasters!
Celebrate the summer with water balloons, water guns, and water blasters. These are NOT expensive toys—and provide hours of fun for everyone in the hot, hot sun!
Sandpiles & More
Sand, like water, is therapeutic for kids—so create “sand” stations that will provide hours of fun.
#11 The Proverbial Sandbox: Fun in the Sand & the Sun
My parents and grandparents loved playing in their sandboxes For them, it was one of nature’s best toys!
Create a sandbox using a big plastic wading pool as the base. Fill with sandpile sand and add a bunch of plastic construction toys, cups, and other sand toys for your kids/grandkids to play with.
#12 Sensory Play—Finding Treasures in the Sandpile
Hide different plastic things—bugs, snakes, worms, etc., in your sandpile and have your kids/grandkids find these things using ONLY their feet! Super fun sensory activity!
#13 Blacktop Archeology
Bury different plastic bones or plastic dinosaurs in your sandpile. Give your kids/grandkids big paintbrushes and tell them they are archeologists and they need to discover bones in the sand and because bones are fragile, they can only use paintbrushes to uncover hidden gems!
#14 More Sensory Play—Pink & Blue Sand
In 2022, I found different colors of Crayola sand—blue, pink, yellow, and turquoise. I filled our Flitsat table (IKEA) with different colors of sand; added sand toys and the grandkids went to work enjoying nature’s best toys!
#15 Books About Mud, Sticks, Rocks, Sand & Water
- Mud! By Annie Bailey
- The Marvelous Mud House by April Graney
- Mud Pie Maggie by Courage Kernel
- Ricky the Rock That Couldn’t Roll by Mr. Jay
- Stick & Stone by Beth Ferry
- All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon
- Water by Frank Asch
- Under Your Feet: Soil, Sand and Everything Underground by Wenjia Tang
Connect to Your Ancestors
When playing with nature’s best toys—help your kids/grandkids connect to their ancestors by asking them questions:
- What things do you think your ancestors used when playing with rocks, sticks, mud, sand, and water? Did they just scoop up things with a stick or rock? And did they have something to put these things in? Like what?
- Why do you think your ancestors loved nature like you do?
- Do you think they used mud for something more than just playing with it? Like on beestings?
For more ideas about nature’s best toys, check out these posts:
What experiences have your children/grandchildren had playing with nature’s best toys? Please comment in the section below.