16 things your kids can play with instead of screens this summer

Sometimes a new toy or addition to the backyard is just the nudge kids need to get off screens and into the fresh air. Here are some of our favourite active toys and games for kids and families to make the most of our too-short Canadian summers.

Turn on the hose, pack up a picnic, or gear up for a wicked game of driveway hockey. We’ve got something for everyone!

Up your game by practicing sports skills


Swingball Tetherball Game

(Ages 6+, $59.99)

Sometimes called Whack-a-Ball (okay, maybe only by myself and my 12-year-old), this fun and super active game can be played solo or with an opponent. We purchased a set right after school and sports were cancelled because of COVID-19, and it’s become one of our favourite daily activities. We’re working on our hand-eye coordination, timing, and aim while keeping up our racquet skills. This set can be played on almost all surfaces. The racquets, adjustable pole, and tethered ball can all be stored in the base unit. Find it at Mastermind Toys. (There’s also a set for younger kids age 3 and up!)


Boomer Targets

(Ages 3 to adult, $69.95)

Created by two Canadian brothers who wanted a target that wouldn’t break from a hard hockey shot or baseball hit, Boomer Targets are indestructible and fully adjustable steel targets designed to improve your accuracy in any sport. Made with special hardened steel, ultra-high UV protectant decals, stainless steel cables, and locking carabiners, the targets can be used in all conditions. The sound of any ball or puck hitting these targets provides a satisfying “ding!”, motivating your young athlete to continue practicing and developing their hand-eye coordination, strength, and aim. Order your set at Boomer Hockey, where you can use the code “ACTIVE” to receive a 10% discount.


Recess Guardians active8 Box

(Ages 5+, $49.99)

Recess Guardians recently launched the active8 Box, an initiative that delivers fun games right to your doorstep! Each box contains easy-to-use sports equipment for all ability levels, game cards, 28 fun challenges, and other cool swag. The boxes have been carefully curated by the Recess Guardians team, a group of experts in the areas of physical activity, well-being, and play. Proceeds from every active8 Box are put back into Recess Guardians, allowing the organization to continue offering free recess programming to schools across Canada. Learn more about Recess Guardians and order your box at active8.


Rec-Tek Sports Easy Set-Up Badminton Net System

(Ages 6+, $59.99)

My sixth-grader has been raving about badminton since playing it at school. He’s been asking for a set ever since. We recently saw one of these compact versions in a neighbour’s front yard and it looked ideal for dynamic outdoor fun—and without all the tethering ropes to trip over. Will we be getting one? I think so! The Rec-Tek Easy-Up Badminton Set comes with everything you need to play, sets up quickly, and has an all-weather design that won’t rust, so you can leave it in the yard or bring it to the beach. And not only is badminton super fun, but it helps develop hand-eye coordination and timing. It’s a great heart-pumping activity for the whole family. You can find this set and more Rec-Tek products at Canadian Tire.


Related read: 12 toys to get babies, toddlers, and preschoolers moving this summer


Develop movement skills through play


Little Tikes Pogo-It

(Ages 4-10, $59.99)

Ooooh, remember these from when we were kids? So many hours spent bounce-bounce-bouncing in the driveway and down the sidewalk! The classic pogo ball has had a revival, and the Pogo-It combines interactive electronic games with lights, music, and sounds for tons of active fun. Kids can score points as they improve their balance, endurance, strength, and confidence. Once they’ve mastered one side, flip the ball over for the advanced level. You can find the Little Tikes Pogo-It, and more active toys too, at Canadian Tire.


Banzai Twist ‘N Turn Challenge

(Ages 8+, $19.99)

Kids will love this Twister-like game on hot days. Just turn on the water, roll the die, and keep your balance in all sorts of positions while trying not to slip and slide! The water-sprinkling game mat is 64” x 64” and is good for up to four players. This and more Banzai products are available at Canadian Tire.


American Ninja Warrior Competition Set

(Ages 5+, $79.99)

Kids can train like an American Ninja Warrior Champion with their very own backyard obstacle course. This complete set allows for dozens of different set-ups, so no matter the age or skill level, you can create an active and challenging course for great family fun. The set includes diagrams for suggested course set-ups, and includes two reinforced hop sacks, two jump ropes, eight agility rings with dual-use connectors, bear crawl stakes, and over 150 feet of twine. Use the suggested course set-ups or create your own! Endorsed by American Ninja Warrior for top training. Find this set at Mastermind Toys.

Get outside and enjoy nature


Camelbak Kids Mini M.U.L.E. 50 oz hydration pack

(Ages 3+, $81.99)

On our outdoor adventures, I used to always end up with my pockets full of snacks, extra socks, extra-extra socks, and water bottles. And generally, rocks and other treasures found along the way. So yeah, these kid-friendly sized packs are a lifesaver. Designed specifically for children, this pack will keep them hydrated on hikes, bike rides, or even on walks around the neighbourhood. The lightweight (only 7 ounces!) pack holds 1.5 litres of water, has storage pockets, and zippered compartments. It also comes with safety features, including reflective strips and a whistle. With the breathable air mesh back panel, kids will stay cool while they get active. Find all of the Mini M.U.L.E. features and specs at Camelbak.


Beetle & Bee Test Tube Garden View

(Ages 8+, $19.99)

Even if you don’t have a backyard or patio, kids can still enjoy trying their hand at gardening and reap its benefits with this small indoor kit. The clear test tubes allow children to watch the included carrot, onion, and radish seeds growing and to observe each plant’s roots. The kit includes three kinds of seeds, three peat pellets, a wooden tube holder, and three plastic root viewers, as well as easy-to-follow growing instructions and an educational activity journal. Find the set at B.C.-based West Coast Seeds.


Light My Fire Dining Kit

(For the family, $54.50)

We absolutely love this compact set from Light My Fire. The completely stackable set for four includes plates, sporks, and cups. It’s great to bring along on picnics, family hikes, or camping adventures. The less stuff there is to pack and drag along, the better! I was trying to think of which piece I like the most, but the sporks, expandable cups, and the super sturdy plates are all equally awesome. Time to go for a hike! Find it at Canadian retailer Fenigo.


Deluxe Brazilian Double Hammock with Universal Stand

(For the whole family, $139.00)

My tween is an avid reader, and can always be found curled up in the porch or laying on his bed with a book or three. I bought this hammock a month ago so he’d have a cozy place outside, and it’s been a hit. He’ll read a bit, hang out in it with his brother, or lounge in it between outdoor water fights and obstacle course-making. This sturdy nine-foot hammock is available from The Home Depot, Hammock Universe, and other Canadian retailers.

Explore your neighbourhood


Strider 14x Sport

(Ages 4-7, $289.99)

The Strider 14x is designed to grow with your child. Think of it as two bikes in one: your child can start off using it as a balance bike, but later on, you can attach the Easy Ride Pedal Kit when your child is ready to transition to a pedal bike! Read the full description and check it out in action at Balance Bikes Canada.


Globber Flow 125 Scooter

(Ages 6+, $149.99)

This is one snazzy scooter with some cool features. The Flow two-wheel scooter has height-adjustable handlebars (my kids are five years apart in age and height, so I love this!) and can hold up to 100kg. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a scooter that will last from childhood into teenage years. The triple deck structure offers maximum comfort and sturdiness, and kids will have a blast as they develop their balance, coordination, and confidence! Globber scooters are available at Toys “R” Us, Mastermind Toys, Indigo, HBC, and your local toy stores.

Move your body and calm your mind


Tree Fort Toys Yoga Discs

(Ages 3+, $39.95)

Each cotton drawstring bag contains 30 two-inch round hardwood discs laser engraved with child-friendly yoga poses. Children can pull a disc out and practice a pose on their own, arrange the discs and create a flow of poses, challenge a parent, or create a game with a sibling. The hands-on discs are easy for kids to handle, durable, and a fun way to introduce yoga and its fundamental movement skills like coordination and balance. And they’re made by a mom in Victoria, B.C. You can find more simple wooden toys at Tree Fort Toys.

Swingball and hammock photos courtesy of Christine Latreille.

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