10 Outdoor Art Kits Under $30 That Let Kids Get Creative Far Away from Your Furniture

published Jul 26, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Creative activities and games for kids. Watercolor paint, overhead shot of kid painting on table outdoors, covered with paint, supplies
Credit: Yuliya Taba/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I was never the cool mom who had an art table set up inside for my kids. Our home is pretty small and I am not a big fan of markers and paint. (I know hacks exist for removing marker stains — I just don’t want to have to try them.) The outdoors have always been my comfort zone for art projects. Chalk drawings, tie-dye parties, and rock paintings are creative activities my kids and nieces love and can do outside — away from the furniture I paid to reupholster.

Outdoor art toys are perfect for sunny days, but sometimes we’ve used them on not-nice days too. You can do projects on a covered porch while it rains. My stepfather-in-law used to have us spray-paint pinecones outside in the cold, for use in his holiday displays. 

But this list is less about foraging for objects and more about under-$30 kits you can buy and store away for the right time, when you know the kids are in the mood to make a creative mess and you’re cool with taking it outside.

1. Tie-dye some T-shirts, nightshirts, socks, or pillowcases. 

This is a two-day project: You and your kids will roll and dye clothing one day, let them sit in a plastic bag overnight, then wash them and see how they turned out the next day. This kit does not include items to dye; gather plain white cotton shirts, socks, etc., separately. This does come with the 14 dyes, gloves, and rubber bands you need to follow the directions and create easily a dozen projects (if not exactly the 36 that the listing promises). We dyed our things on the driveway, left them in bags in the garage overnight, and then spray-rinsed them with the hose so the mess stayed out of the house.

2. Let preschoolers use fingerpaint.

For the 3, 4, and 5 year olds, finger painting is pure heaven. I always lean into the Crayola ones that wash off their skin and clothing. This kit is the three primary colors — perfect for demonstrating that yellow and blue really does make green, and red and blue makes purple. If your kids are like mine, they will just keep mixing until it all turns sort of weirdly brown, and that’s cool too. Don’t forget to have a ream or pad of paper on hand. But I’ve also seen parents who let their preschoolers finger paint all over the car (which works best if your car is white), then hose it down. So much fun!

3. Paint rocks that glow in the dark.

Take these along on a camping trip or weekend away when there’s a good chance you’ll be sitting outside as the sun goes down. Once these rocks are painted, the kids get a second show when the five colors of special paint glow in the dark. The kit includes additional regular paint, markers, and googly eyes to use with the 20 smooth and ready-to-paint rocks.

4. Harness the sun to make cool prints.

When you place objects on this special paper and then expose it in the sun for five or 10 minutes it develops, similar to camera film. Then you wash the paper in water to set the image. For best results, have your kids brainstorm what they’ll put on the paper and arrange everything in the shade before you take it out into the sun. (Patience and planning help with this craft.) It comes with a clear piece of plastic you can set on top if you need to hold objects still.

5. Paint a fairy door.

Kids love to paint little figurines, but you don’t want a ton of them lining your shelves inside. Get this small resin fairy door that kids can paint outside and then have them place against a tree or by the house as a pretend portal to a magical world. Then they can gather acorns and other gifts to leave for the fairies.

6. Decorate the driveway or walkway.

I probably don’t need to tell you that sidewalk chalk exists (it’s one of everyone’s favorite retro toys) and that it can occupy a kid for a long stretch, but I do want to say that Crayola has more than the usual colors. They also make fancy chalks, like the glitter versions that come in this giant pack. We’ve used them to draw roads for the kids to drive their ride-ons along, with amateur houses and trees and rainbows along the side.

7. Press flowers.

You’ll want to help with the making of stationary, bookmarks, and more with younger kids, but teens can make use of this pressed-flower craft kit on their own. Have them pull flowers or leaves from the garden and make things you can save up as holiday and birthday gifts.

8. Experiment with marbling paint.

Marbling paint with kids is a mess, which is why we’re suggesting you have your kid take the tray included in this kit and mix the colors outdoors, like on the lawn. Note that you prep the paint a day ahead, so this activity takes some forethought. In our experience, young kids can’t make any of the totes or other projects shown by the manufacturer. But they can swirl a bunch of colors together and transfer them to the included paper for posterity. And the results are beautiful!

9. Make a sand box.

This is another set great for preschoolers, and although you can use it indoors, you’ll be a lot happier with it staying outdoors. (Don’t believe the “mess-free” claims.) It’s especially entrancing to kids who love sensory play. It comes with molds that let kids create a little castle village. Put it in a shallow plastic tub for a DIY mini sandbox or get a toddler play table to hold it.

10. Decorate and fly some foam airplanes.

Runaround kids will appreciate this kit that lets them jazz up five foam airplanes and then fly them around outside. The stickers don’t work all that well, but the markers are fun for coloring the planes, and they’re surprisingly durable. This also makes a great birthday party gift for kids 5 and older.