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It’s playtime! The best of big outdoor toys

Is your family active, but not necessarily athletic? You can still spend quality family time outdoors this summer. Here, top picks for fun toys that will appeal to kids and grown-ups alike.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

What was your family’s favorite summertime game? For my less-than-athletic family, it was badminton. While we probably weren’t very good at it, I can still hear the laughter and it remains one of those happy “every summer” childhood memories. The game grew and took on a different flavor as our family got older and expanded. We later discovered that bocce was also a non-contact sport that we could play without risk of a trip to the emergency room!

Whatever your family’s age or interests, it’s that time you spend together that makes for family memories. Sharing games that you enjoyed as a child with your own kids is part of the pleasure of being a parent or grandparent. Learning new games together can also be great fun. The key is to have a variety of games and activities so that everyone can participate on some level.

The new HearthSong Great Big Outdoor Playball ($59) was a hit with everyone who saw the huge ball, which is 52” in diameter! Interestingly, it was my own brothers who pointed out that the toy required a great deal of parental supervision. Why? Because they both agreed they would have enjoyed putting me in the middle of the ball (there are two openings that kids can climb into) and rolling me down the hill near our house! Point well taken.

Little Tikes' new 6 in 1 Town Center Playhouse ($399.99) is really a wonderful play center for a large group of preschool and early school-age kids. It's complete with store, gas station (you can make the price of gas as low as you want), bistro and sports center, making this is a good all-around pretend setting. Our parent tester who put this one together (an architect) did comment that putting it together was not easy — so if you’re not particularly handy, you may want to pay to have the store put it together for you. 

Of course we always have a badminton set on our outdoor list. Restoration Hardware has an easy-to-use set ($69) that also fits in a take-along canvas tote. Swingball (Spinmaster, $49.99) is an interesting new twist on tetherball (here it’s a tennis ball attached to the string that you hit with a plastic racket) that appealed to both kids and adults. Fill the base with water and/or sand and you’re good to go — we found that it appealed to younger kids who worked on their eye-hand coordination as well as teens who really played a more competitive game.

Hyper Jump (Wild Planet, $ 29.99) is also fun for older kids — you have to be a good listener and hit the targets with your feet. The electronic caller will have you hit the targets in different sequences. There are three levels of play — it’s much like the classic game of Simon, but for your whole body.

Nothing says summer like water balloons! We liked the idea of the Pottery Barn Kids Water Balloon Toss ($29) since it gives the kids a target other than each other! The canvas has different-size holes for kids to try to toss their water balloons into. A great game for a hot day!

For a fun and unusual set, try Jumbo Inflatable Bowling Ball and Pins (PBK, $89 for a set of three pins and one ball). This is a "wow-wee" kind of outdoor toy that will be enjoyed by the whole family (you’ll need an air pump). There’s something really pleasing about the 42” big inflatable pins (preschoolers will love just moving them about) and the 25”-diameter ball. They do work (unlike many bowling toys we’ve tested). Alex’s Sack Racking ($19.99 for a set of two) was also great for a group, and was strong enough for teens and adults to use. Lots of fun and good for mixed ages!

Whatever you bring home, it really about being together! For more shopping information and other outdoor suggestions, visit