Your 3-year-old would rather be outside. That’s where toddlers know they can run free, roll in the dirt, and explore the endlessly fascinating world around them. Which is why, weather permitting, you can’t go wrong with a 3rd birthday party that’s an adventure in the great outdoors — that need not go farther than your own backyard. Outdoor birthday parties are easier, freer, and more fun for toddlers and adults alike, and they open a whole new universe of possible birthday themes and outdoor party games. It’s also easier to throw a somewhat messier, more chaotic party that adults and kids will enjoy. For some inspiration, we’ve compiled our favorite outdoor party ideas for 3-year-olds so you can commemorate the terrible twos as well as the dawn of the “threenager.”
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Letting kids play paleontologist isn’t as difficult as you might think. Just fill up a sandbox, buy some dinosaur toys and bury them, give the little scientists some shovels, brushes, and magnifying glasses, and let ‘em go! Watching how excited kids can get just by having a sense of discovery in the backyard is well worth it.
Hidden Treasure Scavenger Hunt
Since reading (and staying focused) can be difficult for anyone who hasn’t even made it to Kindergarten yet, create a backyard scavenger hunt that uses pictures as clues. Print out pictures of different landmarks in a park or your backyard and hide each picture in the place that leads to the next (for example, give the kids a picture of the slide to start, then hide a picture of the picnic table on the slide, etc.). Use four of five pictures as “clues” to lead kids to the treasure—which can be candy, toys, or whatever else your little one loves.
Create Your Own Time Capsule
Let kids make pictures and write out a list of their favorite things (with your help). Then, put the notes and keepsakes in a jar that they can decorate however they like. Bury the “time capsule” in the backyard beneath a tree and dig it up next year on their next birthday.
Throw a Critter-Party
Buy (or make) a few headbands with ears on them and fluffy tails and let kids dress up as their favorite animals. Bonus if you have a few rabbits, birds, dogs, or cats on site that the little ones can pet. Extra bonus if you end the party with a Fantastic Mr. Fox showing.
Build a Construction Site
Give all your guests some hard hats and let them build whatever they like with Legos, blocks, and any other “building” supplies you can find laying around. This one is all about letting kids get creative and have fun pretending to build whatever they want.
Outdoor Art Fest
This party idea is as easy as getting out some chalk, some finger paint, hanging some canvas on fences and trees, and letting kids go Picasso in your backyard (but make sure you use all washable inks and paints). Want to go the extra mile? Let kids decorate their own cupcakes for the birthday cake and candles portion of the party.
Visit a Farm
An easier way to incorporate animals into your kid’s birthday celebration without inviting a fur fest into your home is to find them in their own habitat — a local farm or petting zoo. It’s usually as easy as searching “farm near me” to find a local farmer who regularly opens their gates to visitors and making a quick phone call to arrange a birthday visit. The kids will get to see a farm in action, see where their food comes from, and pet a few furry friends in the process.
Have a wannabe athlete on your hands? Have party-goers dress up in a jersey from their favorite team, set up a Little Tikes basketball hoop, a soccer pitch, and whatever other sports gear you have lying about and let the kids go crazy and play their own games. We’ll leave it up to you whether everyone gets a medal at the end of the day or not.
Create Your Own Carnival
Who doesn’t want to get their face painted and eat cotton candy? Setting up a few yard games, queuing up some fun music, having a couple of carnival classics like hot dogs and funnel cakes, and finding someone who wants to paint faces for a few hours is all you need to pull this one off.
Day at the “Beach”
Take a trip to the local beach — whether it’s a lake or the ocean. Not near any natural stretches of sand and accompanying water? Set up a kiddie pool, a slip n’ slide, and make a “beach” by throwing some sand (you can buy it from your local hardware store) down on a tarp. Have a sandcastle-building contest and an ice cream stand to keep kids entertained with the all-important “loose structure” that toddlers need.