Over the past year, the pandemic has forced many of us to revise our travel plans into staycations. Vacations were replaced by revamped backyards, which made us rethink the ways in which we entertain ourselves. The result was an increase in purchases of outdoor and sports toys last summer. You can check out just how drastic the increase was in this report from NPD Group.
Even as the pandemic wanes in the U.S., this summer there are some new playful learning trends emerging in outdoor toys, says Lea Culliton, president of HABA USA. “One thing is for certain: parents are embracing the power of learning through play,” Culliton says. She cites this study, also from the NPD group, which shows that “23% of e-commerce toy sales came in the infant, toddler, and preschool categories, with a huge emphasis on educational elements.”
Based on guidance from toy experts and parent feedback, we compiled this list of the top toys available this summer for children, teens and adults. We’re providing a mix of both the active and educational, as well as focusing on typical summer adventures like trips to the beach or the pool.
Best Beach Toy
Description: Toys are getting more advanced, and yet it is still tough to top a bucket and shovel as the best beach toys. This set also includes a sifter, a rake, and animal and castle molds to make the ultimate sand creations. A clever mesh drawstring bag for carrying home all the toys (and none of the sand) is conveniently included with your purchase.
Why We Love It: Trips to the beach are incomplete without the construction of a sand castle.
Things to Consider: Make sure to label your toys to keep the set intact for future beach visits.
Promising Review: “Everything came in great condition, all items are sturdy and it’s so easy to make the molds! Just a couple taps and maybe a little squeeze and you have the shape! My son loves them!” – Amazon customer K.O.
Price: $15.99 at Amazon.com
Best Pool Toy
Description: Bring the court to the pool with this floating pool basketball game that is every baller’s summer favorite. The hoop weighs less than 5 pounds and is constructed with a sturdy frame that easily pops into place. The solid assembly allows you to use the hoop outside the pool for the little ones. Two balls and a pump are included with the purchase.
Why We Love It: This floating hoop takes pool games to the next level and gives new meaning to a dunk in the pool.
Things to Consider: The foam floats around the bottom of the frame may require occasional replacements.
Promising Review: “Who doesn’t like pool games! This will bring endless fun to your summer pool game experience!! It’s a definite win!!” – Amazon customer VegasStrong26
Price: $34.99 at Amazon.com
Best Yard Toy
Description: This 31-foot water slide features two lanes for racing and an inflatable crash pad at the end to stop the racers’ momentum with a splash. The slide, constructed from heavy-duty PVC material, is designed with a central sprinkler channel and features a 6-point pegging system for a secure hold. Waterproof duct tape is provided in the event a patch is needed.
Why We Love It: The majority of parents we polled agreed that there’s no better summer toy than a slip n’ slide. It’s easy, fun for all ages, and simple to set up – all you need is a hose and some space.
Things to Consider: To prevent injuries, be careful where you place the slide and make sure it is being used properly.
Promising Review: “Our 6 year old son and his cousins love this slip & slide! The pool collection of water at the end adds extra excitement at the end. And its double the length of most others on the market.” – Amazon customer Debbie D.
Price: $78 at Amazon.com
Best Water Table
Description: This water table features 13 accessories to keep kids occupied and cool on hot summer days. Kids can create a waterfall, send a toy frog flying or make a spinning splash. The water table is highly rated by Amazon customers, with an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars from more than 10,000 reviews.
Why We Love It: Water tables are a fun way for toddlers to cool off when you don’t have a pool available. The variety of accessories with this option allows for extended entertainment.
Things to Consider: Some reviewers reported that assembly would be easier with a drill for the screw holes.
Promising Review: “This spacious water table has room for their friends, too! It’s great that it has different levels to accommodate different ages.” – Amazon customer Judah2017
Price: $79.99 at Amazon.com
Related: Best Kiddie Pool
Best Toy When You’re on a Budget
Description: This toy rocket launcher comes equipped with its own launching pad and eight foam rockets. With the right amount of momentum, the rockets can go up to 100 feet into the sky. The stand folds away for easy storage and can be set up at a variety of angles.
Why We Love It: This backyard-friendly toy could be the best 20 bucks you spend this summer, providing kids with hours of entertainment running, jumping and stomping.
Things to Consider: Parents be warned that you may have to retrieve some of these rockets from your roof!
Promising Review: “Very durable… we brought it to a park and were attacked by a mob of happy kids of all ages that stomped their hearts out. It survived and still works great.” – Amazon customer Raegan Esca
Price: $19.99 at Amazon.com
Best Sports Toy
Description: Spikeball consists of a ball and a net placed close to the ground. Players on two teams return the ball to the net or lose a point (you can check out a video of the rules on the Amazon product page). The tightness of the net can also be adjusted so the ball bounces the way you want it to. The kit includes three balls. The legs on the net are foldable, making it easier to store.
Why We Love It: This portable competition kit can be played at a tailgate, on the beach, in your backyard, on a camping trip, or even indoors.
Things to Consider: If you are a beginner, it will take some practice to get the game down. You also need four people to play, and younger kids may have a hard time keeping up.
Promising Review: “BEST GAME TO HAVE ON HAND! I keep it in the trunk of my car and it’s so easy to pop out and assemble anywhere & it’s always a huge hit. Simple game and so fun, definitely worth it to buy!” – Amazon customer Jamie Thomas
Price: $59.95 at Amazon.com
Best Summer Toy for Travel
Description: This engaging game includes 35 Find and Seek cards that can be used to create a scavenger hunt pretty much anywhere. “This toy is suitable for any open space: a beach, your backyard, a park, or pretty much any other outdoor place,” says Mark Coster, the founder of site STEMGeek.com, adding that, for your kids, it can result in “hours of open-ended play to flex their imagination.” The cards are designed to be nonspecific (e.g., find something cuddly) making it possible to play in most environments. The game is designed for up to six players.
Why We Love It: This game provides a fun learning experience and can be played pretty much anywhere you travel during the summer. The cards include helpful pictures to prompt young kids who can’t read yet.
Things to Consider: The game may take a little guidance before the kids can master it on their own.
Promising Review: “The cards are durable, easy to read (especially for beginners) and store nicely in an eco-friendly little drawstring pouch. We take these cards on nature walks, trips to the beach and play dates in the backyard. This no fuss, go anywhere game is such a hit in our house, it’s become a go to gift the last several years.” – Amazon customer Megan F.
Price: $12.99 at Amazon.com
Best Summer Toy That’s Worth the Splurge
Description: This inflatable water park comes equipped with fun features like a water slide, climbing wall and sports elements for shooting hoops, playing volleyball or scoring soccer goals. The large water park measures 15 feet long by 13 feet wide and 8 feet tall and can support up to 150 pounds at once (recommended for ages 5 to 12). A blower to inflate the water park is included, along with a storage bag and repair kit.
Why We Love It: You can bring a water park to your backyard with this creative toy – without the long lines and restrictions of an actual water park.
Things to Consider: This purchase is a little pricey, and you will need a lot of space in your yard to accommodate it (with a hose and outlet nearby).
Promising Review: “Very easy to set up. And even easier to take down. The water drains very easily after deflating. And my kids absolutely love it!”
Price: $779.99 at Amazon.com
Best Summer Toy for Babies
Description: Culliton recommends this spring float for its dual purpose – it keeps your baby safe in the water while also featuring an interactive activity center. A rotating octopus built into the float has toys attached, including stacking rings, a fish teether, a soft touch star and a squeaker fish. The float includes an adjustable canopy with UPF sun protection.
Why We Love It: Safety and play are a perfect combination for your summer baby!
Things to Consider: This toy is limited to the pool. Some reviewers also reported water coming up on the float while in the pool.
Promising Review: “What a hit! After it was set up, our 23-month-old grandson had a wonderful time playing and cried when it came time to get out!” – Amazon customer Jeanne A.
Price: $28.79 at Amazon.com
Best Summer Toy for Toddlers
Description: Another recommendation from Culliton, this toy BBQ set encourages creativity in your future chef. There are 30 pieces included with the set, including food pieces, tools, utensils (including skewers!) and condiments. All pieces are made of wood, including the front knobs which make a clicking sound just like the real thing.
Why We Love It: This set is plastic free and lets your toddlers join in on the summer BBQ fun.
Things to Consider: The set does require some assembly.
Promising Review: “I absolutely love this BBQ set! It was easy to put together and looks fabulous. So glad to have something made of wood instead of plastic. I can’t wait for the kids to see it under the tree!” – Amazon customer Beppy
Price: $69.99 at Amazon.com
Best Summer Toy for Teens
Description: This powerful electric scooter can reach speeds of up to 18 mph with a battery range of about 16 miles. The scooter, which weighs about 30 pounds and has 8.5-inch solid tires, includes safety features like a dual brake system and extended standing area. It can be folded up in about three seconds, according to the manufacturer. This is sure to be your child’s new favorite mode of transportation!
Why We Love It: A teen’s summer adventures are likely to involve lots of visits to their friends. Help them get there on their own with this electric scooter.
Things to Consider: Make sure your teen is taking all the proper safety precautions before heading out on the road. The price tag may also be a little high, but think of all the gas you will save!
Promising Review: “This Scooter was a Christmas gift for my 16 year old son. Lets just say, it was a HUGE! Hit !! The design, battery life, speed & agility is world class!!” – Amazon customer Angie L.
Price: $419.98 at Amazon.com
Best Summer Toy for Grownups
Description: This giant tower includes 54 oversized blocks that can stack up to 5 feet high. In addition to the traditional Jenga-style game, the set also comes with a dry erase board for creating your own variation of the game and a convenient carrying case. The blocks come in four color options: brown wood stain, gray wood stain, natural wood and a patriotic stars and stripes option.
Why We Love It: Take family game night to new heights with this tall twist on the traditional Jenga game.
Things to Consider: You may drive your neighbors a little crazy with the sounds of blocks falling and the winning players screaming with joy. And be careful when the blocks fall that one doesn’t land on you!
Promising Review: “Game is durable and comes in a heavy-duty canvas carrying case! We love that the blocks have a point system to add another level of competition to the traditional Jenga game. The tower really does stack to over 5 feet!” – Amazon customer Eryn Kushner
Price: $69.99 at Amazon.com
Best for the Outdoors
Description: This outdoor adventure kit is packed with all the tools your little adventurer will need, including a magnifying glass, whistle, compass, flashlight, binoculars and a backpack to store it all in. Coster says parents can incorporate some fun ideas to turn the adventure into storytelling practice and STEM-related knowledge. “Give a set of those to your kid and throw a few ideas their way: observe insects and watch birds, collect pebbles, maybe search for fossils and various other artefacts, learn cardinal directions,” Coster says.
Why We Love It: Kids can collect bugs and knowledge using the tools in this educational activity kit.
Things to Consider: Bugs and outdoor adventures may not be for all kids, but we certainly encourage it!
Promising Review: “Took these to Yellowstone for our kids- they were so awesome. The kids used all their tools & felt like they were really apart of the experience.” – Amazon customer Brint H.
Price: $18.99 at Amazon.com
Best for a Rainy Day
Description: Kids can learn how to build, tinker and get creative with this DIY birdhouse, recommended by Coster. Once built, the birdhouse presents “a great opportunity for the budding ornithologist to learn which birds live in your area, when and how they nest and how to attract them to choose the birdhouse for nesting.” The kit includes all the pieces necessary to assemble the birdhouse, as well as paint and a brush to decorate it.
Why we love it: This birdhouse combines construction and creativity! It also creates a continuing learning experience once it’s built.
Things to consider: Parents will have to oversee the construction, and youngsters must have patience while waiting for the birds to nest.
Promising review: “This was a great afternoon project with my kids. They loved it! The construction seemed solid, and there was enough paint to paint more than just the leaves.” – Amazon customer Kelley
Price: $10.79 at Amazon.com