Tempt the kids off their tablets with the latest outdoor toys
Get them into the open air with furniture, games and dens to create spaces they can call their own
To offset an increasingly digital existence, I believe every human should have the opportunity to head outdoors and get properly filthy on occasion. Especially the smaller humans. But how can we encourage children to spend hours in the garden during the holidays when they derive all the entertainment they require playing on their tablets and taking snaps of proseccoed-up parents on mobile phones? The answer is to lure them out with the latest furniture, games and dens, designed to create spaces the kids can call their own.
This summer, there has been a boom in demand for the kind of toys that parents will recognise from their childhood as staples of the school holidays. Argos examined its sales figures exclusively for Home and revealed that on Sunday, June 18, it saw its highest-ever sales of paddling pools in one day, selling two every second.
Twenty-five per cent smaller than the famous original by Panton Verner, this mini design icon comes in light pink, tangerine, white, dark line, classic red and blue. Part of Vitra’s Panton Junior collection, the polypropylene chair is suitable for use indoors and out. £129; heals.com
“They have been phenomenal this year, with eight of our top 20 lines being pools,” said Paul Kinge, the company’s buying manager for outdoor toys. Overall pool sales are up 100% year on year, driven by the good weather we’ve seen so far this summer.”
Though the buyers at Argos linked their amazing pool performance to the recent heatwave (remember?), they also observed that the British are increasingly fond of toys that involve getting wet and mucky in the outdoors whatever the weather. The Little Tikes Fountain Factory Water Table (£65) has been a bestseller this summer through the warmer and cooler weeks. It’s a sort of preschoolers’ plumbing kit: a pump fills a tower with water, which then flows to three fountains and can be diverted with various pipes and taps.
Clearly, it’s great to hear that the youth is showing an interest in a worthwhile trade such as plumbing. The downside of the Fountain Factory, along with most of the popular buys for children, is that it comes in such eye-popping colours.
If you look hard enough, you can buy a few designs the kids will love in the kind of materials that please the adult eye. There are jute racing sacks (£4) at Hen & Hammock, plain brown cardboard playhouses (£25) at Notonthehighstreet.com, and carved oak swings (from £149) at Sitting Spiritually. In the main, though, grown-ups are advised to keep their sunnies on to deal with the rainbow of brights on offer in the kids’ departments.
You will certainly want to reach for those shades before checking out the key trend identified by John Lewis. The partnership looked into the summer’s sales patterns for Home and declared its big news to be tropical inflatables. Blow-up pineapples, toucans, flamingos, watermelons and cacti — in confrontational colours, of course — designed for use in and around swimming baths and those paddling pools, are selling 10 times faster than last year.
Outdoor games are also flying off the shelves, with an overall growth of 28% year on year. Surprise hits include Hook a Duck (£20), a home version of the fairground game with an inflatable pond, a couple of fishing rods and six yellow plastic ducks.
Homebase has served up the ideal ingredients for a DIY den. Take four posts (Forest wooden stakes, L180cm, £7.99 each), secure with rope (Handireel twisted sisal, £4.90 for 150cm), cover with a plain dust sheet (Monarch canvas with plastic drop sheet, £23) and decorate to taste — perhaps potato-printing the dust sheet and adding accessories such as a cotton Chindi rug (£2.47).
Since its Christmas 2016 advert featuring Buster the bouncing boxer dog, JL has been a destination for trampolines. The partnership has seen a leap of 261% in spring-loaded sales this year, with a growing tendency for customers to buy the bigger models. Argos has benefited from the John Lewis-driven bounce as well. Its top three outdoor toy lines this year are Sportspower trampolines, which come in sizes from 8ft to 12ft.
The one thing every kid will remember, long after their Fountain Factory has sprung a leak and their flaccid flamingo has been consigned to a spidery corner of the garden shed, is a childhood den. This season, there’s a playhouse at every price point, starting at less than £15, so there’s no excuse not to invest. A space of one’s own is a thrilling proposition at any age. As a child, one’s personal tent, hut or cardboard castle is a magical place. Even if there’s no broadband.
In the excellent kids’ range at Ikea, these gaily coloured garden accessories stand out. The Utter stool is a stackable plastic indoor/outdoor seat (H27cm) that comes in pink, white, yellow or green (£3.50 each). The Utter table (H43cm x W58cm x D42cm, £8) completes the set. Shown with Kalas plastic bowls (£1.20 for six) and mugs (90p for six). ikea.com
Here’s a traditional wooden picnic table, but in miniature (H50cm x W120cm x D50cm). It’s made from FSC-certified wood and comes with a colourful parasol. While you are putting through your Argos order, check out the sandpits and swings from the same brand: the “active play specialist” Plum. £80; argos.co.uk
The Moon chair, from George Home at Asda, is a soft and comfy kid’s seat (H51cm) on a sturdy powder-coated steel folding frame. It’s also available in blue. £9; direct.asda.com
For less than £15, Ikea, Asda and Argos offer tents that can be set up outside or brought indoors to create a den so rain doesn’t stop play. Ikea’s kids’ playhouse, inspired by the big top, is 120cm high and 100cm in diameter. The fabric is polyester, with a polyethylene tent floor. £12.95; ikea.com
Sitting Spiritually’s children’s swing seat (45cm x 18cm) can be ordered in oak or chestnut and engraved with your child’s name. It comes with two four-metre lengths of marine rope. From £149; sittingspiritually.co.uk
The Discovery Mud Pie Kitchen (H116cm) is for kids who enjoy getting close to nature, then turning it into pretend meals. It has an easy-clean screen for displaying those tasty menus. £250; plumplay.co.uk
Can’t abide coloured plastic? Here’s a brace of biodegradable hessian sacks from Hen & Hammock. The firm helpfully points out that the eco-friendly jute bags (85cm x 50cm) are equally suited to sack races or garden waste. £4 for two; henandhammock.co.uk
This superstylish playhouse in forget-me-not blue is based on a beach hut, with pearl-white painted eaves and a mineral-felt roof. It measures H210cm x W120cm x D120cm and has a sheltered veranda — with decking, naturally — that leads to the open front door. £1,400; theplayhousecompany.co.uk
Talk about crustacean chic: novelty inflatables for the pool, including floats and drinks holders, are the surprise sellers of the season. Lie back on this giant Sunnylife lobster (L212cm) and dream of crayfish salad and mimosas. Was £46.50, now £30; oliverbonas.com