Outdoor fun for the kids
Kids are not meant to be stuck indoors 24/7, and they naturally thrive when they play outside, says Meghan Fitzgerald, a former school principal and the cofounder of Tinkergarten, a company that designs outdoor games for children. Even the simplest outdoor play teaches kids skills in a fun, hands-on way that nothing else can – especially not a screen. Kids just think they’re playing and having fun together, but in the process, they’re also learning scientific principles, having valuable social interactions, getting exercise, and releasing stress, Fitzgerald explains. Plus, as long as the pandemic is around, playing outdoors is safer for everyone.
Whether you’re looking for classic backyard games, lawn games, water games for kids, or games that will boost your kids’ IQ, we’ve got you covered. These outdoor games for kids are simple, frugal and easily adapted to any age.
Capture the flag
Teamwork is the name of the game in this classic outdoor game for kids. Start with at least six players, and divide into two teams. Mark a designated playing space and establish a home base with a “flag” for each team. On “go,” each team tries to run into enemy territory, steal the flag, and make it back safely to their side. However, if you’re tagged by an opposing team member, you’re frozen and can no longer help your team. Keep the space small for younger kids, but for older children, you can add obstacles, hideouts, or play it in the dark.
Ghost in the graveyard
Gather at least five kids, and designate a home base as the safe spot. Choose one person to be the ghost. The ghost hides while the rest stay at the base and count to 30. The kids then spread out and look for the ghost. When someone finds him or her, they yell, “Ghost in the graveyard!” and everyone attempts to run back to base before the ghost tags them. If the ghost tags someone, that person becomes the new ghost. If the ghost doesn’t tag anyone, the last child back to home base is the ghost.
This easy outdoor game for kids is like reverse hide-and-seek. Start with a group of four or more children, and pick one kid to be “it.” All the kids count to 30 while the child who is “it” finds a hiding spot. The kids then spread out and look for the hidden child. When they find him or her, they quietly hide with the other kid(s) until all the children are hiding in the same spot or as close as they can without being seen. The last one to find the spot becomes “it” for the next round.
Kick the can
Pick an open area, preferably paved, like a driveway, and set an empty tin can in the middle. Gather at least four children, and pick one of them to be the “guard” or “it.” The guard counts to 30 while the other children hide. The hidden children’s goal is to kick the can without getting tagged by the guard. The guard’s goal is to protect the can, keeping it from getting kicked, by tagging any kid running toward it. Once tagged, that child is frozen where they stand. The child who kicks the can wins, or the guard wins if he or she tags all the other players out.
Regular tag is fun, but these tweaks to the rules can take it to the next level. Choose someone to be “it.” That child chases the other kids, trying to tag them. Once a child is tagged, they have to cover the spot where they were tagged with their hand to keep playing. The second time they are tagged they cover that spot with their other hand and keep playing. The third time they are tagged, they have to go to the “hospital,” where they are out for the rest of the game. The child who is “it” wins when all the other players are in the hospital. The first child in the hospital is the next “it.”
Divide at least 10 children into two groups. Place each group on separate ends of an open space, like a field or large yard. Each group forms a line, holding hands. One line starts the game by chanting, “Red rover, red rover, send X right over,” where X is the name of a child on the other team. That child then runs across the field and tries to break through the line at any point. If the child fails, they join that team’s line. If they succeed, they choose a player to bring back with them to their original team. Play until all the kids are in one line.
Red light, green light
Gather a group of at least five children, and choose one to be the traffic light. Put the traffic light at one end of an open space and the rest of the kids at the other end. The traffic light starts with his or her back to the group. When that child yells, “Green light,” the group runs toward them. At any point, the traffic light can turn to face the group and yell, “Red light,” and everyone must stop running. If a child keeps running through a red light, they are out. The traffic light continues saying “red light” or “green light” until they are tagged by another child, who then becomes the next traffic light.
Mother, may I?
Start with a group of at least five children, and choose one to be “mother.” Line up the group of kids on one end of the open space, and place the “mother” on the other end, facing the group. Kids in the group take turns asking, “Mother, may I…?” filling in the blank with a request to move. They may ask things like “May I take three hops on one foot forward?” or “May I do one cartwheel?” or “May I run backward for two steps?” Mother then says “yes” or “no.” The first child to successfully reach mother and tag him or her is the next mother.
This game is also a good way to instill some of the manners you should be teaching your kids.
Skipping rope copycat
There are many skipping rope games to play, but a popular version involves copying the other players. For this outdoor game, start with at least two children, each with their own skipping rope, and space them apart in a circle. One child starts by doing a trick – say, jumping the rope once on one foot. The next child then performs the first trick and adds one of their own, like jumping in a circle. The third child must perform both tricks in order and add one of their choosing. Continue around the circle, with each child adding on a trick. When a child fails to perform the sequence in order, they are out. Continue until only one child is left.
Chalk is a wonderful medium for creativity, and while kids love drawing with it, there are also many ways they can use it for interactive games. One fun way is to play Story. Choose a large sidewalk or driveway, and give one child some chalk. Ask them to draw the introduction to a story while saying it. For instance, “Once upon a time there was a puppy…” and draw a puppy. The next child takes the chalk and adds onto the picture story—”…who got lost in a forest.” Each child continues, adding onto the picture and the story and creating a fantastical tale as they go.
Hopscotch is another classic game to play with chalk. Have the child or children draw a hopscotch board on a flat, paved surface. The board should be made up of connected basic shapes with numbers showing the order they should be jumped on. You may need to help kids who are younger or who have never seen a hopscotch board before. Once it’s completed, each child chooses a token (usually a small rock or wood chip). They take turns tossing it onto a space, in order. If the token lands on the space, they jump the whole board but skip the spot where their token is. The first child to complete the whole board wins.
Jacks is a great game to play when it’s hot or the kids are tired from running around. It’s best played with one to four kids, but you can add more children if you purchase more than one jacks set. Seat the children in a circle on a flat, paved surface. The first child tosses the jacks into the middle, then takes the bouncy ball, bounces it, and grabs one jack before the ball hits the ground again and catches the ball after its second bounce. The child replaces the jack and passes the ball to the next player, who repeats the action. In each round, one jack is added to the number that must be grabbed before the ball bounces, until they are scooping the whole pile of jacks at once. If a child misses, they are out. The last child wins. You can also play this one inside when the weather isn’t great.
Sharks and minnows
This playground classic works best with large groups of children—the more kids, the better! Identify one child to be a “shark,” and the rest are “minnows.” The shark stands in the middle of an open space, and the minnows line up at one end, facing the shark. When the shark says, “Fishy, fishy, come out and play,” the minnows walk slowly around the field. When the shark yells, “Shark attack!” all the minnows try to run to the opposite end of the field. The shark chases the minnows and tags as many as he or she can. Every tagged player is now a shark. Repeat the round until all players are sharks.
School-age kids will get a kick out of this classic outdoor game that’s like tag but played on playground equipment. Start with at least four children, and designate one to be “it.” The child who is “it” starts on the ground, counting to 10, while the rest of the kids climb up on the playground equipment. “It” then tries to tag another player. If “it” is on the ground, they can keep their eyes open, but if they climb on the equipment, then they have to close their eyes. If “it” thinks another player is on the ground, they can yell, “Groundies!” and that player becomes “it.” A child can also become “it” if they are tagged by the current kid who is “it.”
This old-school bean-bag toss is a fun outdoor game for kids and grown-ups alike, and it’s easily adjusted for different skill levels by moving the goals closer or farther apart. It can also be played solo or with others. Start by setting up two cornhole boards (buy online or make your own), spaced as far apart as you need. Children play one at a time, and when it is their turn, they can throw three bean bags at the board, aiming for the hole. Each bag in the hole earns a point. It’s fairly simple to make your own cornhole game or you can get this starter set, which comes complete with boards, bean bags, and official rules.
Keep it simple by setting up wooden poles and letting kids toss plastic rings on them, or up the ante with another creative version of this game. Use inflatable pool rings and have kids toss them onto people. You can also change the difficulty by using different items for the rings, like plastic bracelets, hula hoops, rope rings, or pool diving rings.
Create a list of items that can be found around your home or neighbourhood—some easy to find and others a little more challenging. Gather two or more children and give each one a list. Whichever kid collects all the items on the list first is the winner. If you have a large group, divide children into teams with one list per team.
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