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Outdoor Toys: Then and Now

Playing out in the great outdoors can bring a smile to almost anyone’s face, especially when the weather is at its best. After looking at over 100 years of Met Office weather data, its been predicted that this summer’s peak conditions in the UK will be the week of 21st to 29th July, so getting out and about around that time is an absolute must. Playgrounds and gardens give kids an ideal opportunity to play with outdoor toys with other kids, so we decided to take a look back at how the outdoor toys we know and love became an essential part of playing outdoors.

A brief history of outdoor toys

The world’s first publicly available playground was built in Manchester in 1859, giving the local children the chance to try out some outdoor toys in a safe space. The original intention behind playgrounds was as a developmental aid proposed by psychologists, giving children a safe environment where they could learn good manners and fair play while socialising with other children.


No one quite knows exactly when the seesaw was invented, but it’s considered a core part of playground equipment the world over. The name ‘seesaw’ is an Anglicised version of the French phrase ci-ça, which literally translates to ‘this-that’ and relates to the back and forth motion that a seesaw makes. The design hasn’t changed much over the years, although it originally has people hang off bars on either end rather than using seats.

Swing set

Although the humble swing set is a staple part of playgrounds and a firm favourite outdoor toy, the origins of the swing set can be traced far back into our ancestry. Ancient Greek vases found from the 5th Century B.C. show paintings of people swinging and even some ancient cave drawings show similar swinging scenes. Considering their popularity has spanned centuries, it makes sense that they’re one of the most cherished outdoor toys that people fondly remember from their childhood.

Climbing frames

Incorporating elements of monkey bars and jungle gyms, climbing frames give kids the opportunity to climb in a safe environment. The first one was originally assembled and patented in the 1920s by a lawyer from Chicago by the name of Sebastian Hinton, inspired by a structure this dad had made for him as a child. Modern climbing frames come in all manner of materials, shapes and sizes, with some now incorporate platforms to give kids something to safely sit on.

Family Favourites 

Outdoor toys play a big part in our childhood, with UK adults ranking the swing set highest in regards to their favourite outdoor toy as a kid. In contrast, when we asked what their children’s favourite is, trampolines secured the top spot and beat out both climbing frames and swing sets.

Outside of toys, outdoor games are another activity which gets people playing together. Hide and Seek proved to be the most popular childhood game, while British Bulldog and Kerby shared second place. Although Kerby might not be an instantly recognisable game, its premise is surprisingly simple and is probably more familiar than you’d expect.

Official Rules of Kerby

For two players

What you’ll need:

  • a bouncy football or basketball
  • a quiet, safe road with two kerbs not too far apart

How the game works:

Step 1 – Players stand on the kerb opposite each other on either side of the road

Step 2 – Player One throws the ball at Player Two’s kerb. You get one point if it hits and an extra 4 points if you catch it on the rebound.

Step 3 – If Player One hits the kerb, then they can take a second shot from the middle of the road. The same points system applies.

Step 4 – Players swap over, and the first player to 50 points wins.

Playtime’s Over

When we asked UK parents about their kids playing outdoors, over a third said that they wished their children would get outside more often. With more and more kids growing up around screens, whether that’s phones, TV or video games, it has never been more important for kids to play outside and socialise with friends in real life.

Adding an outdoor toy to your garden can get your child more interested in playing outside, especially if it’s something that you can get involved with or they can do with their friends.

What was your favourite outdoor toy growing up? 

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