Classic backyard games are a great way to get kids to play outdoors. These outdoor play ideas for kids will have them begging to run out and play. Warning – playing these games may bring an influx of kids to your yard. 😉 And when cool weather threatens to chase them indoors, some of these can even come inside!
Classic Backyard Games
Many backyard games require nothing more than energy and imagination. Others may require a ball or other game equipment, but are well worth the investment. Our favorite classic backyard games include…
Duck, Duck, Goose
Duck, Duck, Goose is a common indoor game that translates well to the backyard. Players sit in a circle. One player is the fox and walks around the outside of the group, tapping heads and saying “Duck, duck, duck . . . ” until she names a “goose.” The goose has to chase the fox and tag her before the fox can run around the circle and sit in the spot vacated by the goose. If the goose tags the fox, the fox goes in the pot (in the middle). If the fox makes it back to the empty spot before being tagged, the goose becomes the fox.
Red Light, Green Light
Red light, green light is another indoor game that is well played outside. In this classic game, one player acts as the stoplight. The other players stand in a line several feet away. The stoplight player can either hold up a green light (circle of construction paper) and or turn his back and say “green light.” When the light is green, the other players run toward the stoplight. The stoplight player then either holds up a red light (again, construction paper) or says “red light” and turns around. Anyone that moves after “red light” is called is eliminated from the game. The game continues until the first player touches the stoplight. The winner gets to be the stoplight.
Mother, May I
Mother, May I is like red light, green light in the way that there is one player that leads the game. That person is called the Mother. The rest of the players start at a given point and attempts to get to Mother first. Each player starts off asking the Mother, “Mother, may I…” with some sort of amount of steps they can take. They may ask, “Mother, may I hop three times?” or “Mother may I jump five times?” or “Mother may I take seven giant steps?” Mother responds, “Yes, you may” or “No, you may not.” The first player to reach Mother gets to be the Mother for the next game.
Pepper Pong is a fun game that can be played just about anywhere that has a flat surface. Dining table? Game on! Picnic bench? Get ready! This game if good for fun at home or on the go. Using a free-standing fence, players use specially designed rackets to hit a uniquely designed ball over the fence to score points. The learning curve is low enough that anyone, at any skill level, can play. Its pacing, rules, and scoring are similar to pickleball. The balls for this game are made for different speeds, which makes gameplay super competitive. This is one game that can be played indoors or outdoors. If played indoors, make sure you have plenty of room for wild swings. The balls are super light and unlikely to cause any damage to household items, but the players may be another story. Ooops. LOL.
Kids love to play Red Rover. In this classic game, players divide into two even teams and form parallel lines. The first team holds hands and chants, “Red rover, red rover, send [insert name] right over!” That person has to run toward the other team and try to break through their line. If he breaks the chain, he picks a player from the line to join his team. If he doesn’t, he joins the other team. The game is played until one team is remaining.
Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a classic game that requires at least two players. In this game, one person is “it” and has to close their eyes and count to a given numbers. While the “it” player counts, the other players hide. When the “it” person reaches the number they are counting to, they call out, “ready or not, here I come” and attempts to find the hiding players. When the hiding players are found, the “it” player attempts to tag them. The game is often played with a “home base” which players can run to for safety. The first person tagged by the “it” person is the next to be “it.”
Freeze tag is a fun variation of a game of tag and requires two or more players. In freeze tag, one person is “it” and chases other players in an attempt to “tag” or touch them, usually with their hands. When players are tagged, they are “frozen” and must stand in place with their arms stretched out until they are unfrozen. An unstuck player can unfreeze themby tagging them. The last player left unfrozen becomes “it.”
Simon Says requires 3 or more players. One player becomes “Simon” and gives instructions to the other players to complete an action. Typically the instructions are to do something physical, like do a jumping jack, touch your elbow, or stand on one foot. The instruction should only be followed if prefaced with the phrase “Simon says”. Players are eliminated from the game when they follow instructions that are not immediately preceded by “Simon Says” or by failing to follow an instruction which does include the phrase.
Kids partner off in groups of two. One child assumes the wheel barrow position by placing her hands on the ground. The other child assumes the pusher position by grasping the the ankles of his partner. On the signal, the pair advance to the designated turning point, quickly switch positions and return to the starting line.
Capture the Flag
Capture the Flag is a traditional outdoor game where players are divided into two teams and the playing field is divided into two territories. Each team has a team flag, which is located at their base. The objective is to capture the other team’s flag, by entering their territory, and bring it safely back to their own base. While in the enemies territory, players may be tagged “out” or “frozen” by members of the opposing team, whichever is agreed upon before the game begins. If a player is “frozen” they may be “unfrozen” by a member of their own team tagging them. Capture the Flag is especially fun if played after dark with glow sticks as the flag. 😀
Tug Of War
Tug of War is one of those games that doesn’t really need much explaining. Players are divided into two teams. Each team is positioned at the end of the rope. The object of the game is to pull the opposing team toward you, until they pass the middle. This one is a ton of fun when played with a small pool or mud pit in the middle. We got our tug of war rope from Oriental Trading last year. We like it because it is soft and doesn’t hurt our son’s sensitive hands.
H-O-R-S-E or P-I-G
Our kids love to play basketball and they love to challenge us to a good game of H-O-R-S-E or P-I-G. In this classic basketball game, each player attempts to miss the least amount of baskets. Once a basket is missed, the player receives a letter. When the player misses enough shots to earn the letters of the word used, they have lost the game. Sometimes we switch it up and use spelling words, too. <– see that there, that’s a homeschool mom WIN!
Kickball uses the basic rules of baseball. Each player gets three chances to kick the ball, there are four bases to run and there are three outs to an inning.
Seriously, I had no idea that Stomp Rockets could be so much fun! They are 100% kid-powered, require no batteries and are super fast and easy to assemble. Kids can race their Stomp Racers or run and jump to launch their rockets to see whose rocket flies higher. Talk about low tech, high powered fun!
Four Square Ball
Playing four square ball requires that you draw a square, so either grab a can of spray paint or opt for a smooth surface. The larger square gets divided into four squares and numbered one to four, moving clockwise. In this game, a player stands in each square. The player in the first square bounces the ball into one of the other squares. The player in that square must bounce the ball into another square. If a player fails to bounce the ball into another square, he or she must move to the fourth square or rotate out of the game. The point of the game is to stay in the first square as long as possible. If you have a large group, this game can also be modified into Nine Square, with the center square being the serve position.
Potato Sack Races
Potato sack races are seriously fun. Participants climb into a burlap sack and hop to the finish line. Children of all ages are amused by this game.
One game that my kids love is ladder ball. It’s played with bolas (a string with a ball at each end) that you toss toward a three rung ladder . The object of the game is to wrap your bola around the ladder rungs to score points. Points are awarded according to which rung is hit, with the top rung being the highest points.
Yes, I said snowball fight. Kids love snowball fights, but they hate freezing hands. We have a fun set of “snowballs” that we like to use for snowball fights in the middle of the summer. They are designed for indoor use, but they are machine washable (dry on gentle cycle) so we play with them outside, too.
Water Balloon Catch
We all love to play catch, and we love to switch up the classic game of catch by playing with water balloons. We like to play in teams. The first team with all team members wet loses the game.
To save ourselves some time, and some headache, we like to get the easy fill water balloon kits. There is nothing worse than spending thirty minutes filling water balloons for a game that lasts three seconds. This way, we can fill a ton of water balloons in just a few minutes and extend play time.
Three Legged Races
If you have a group of kiddos to entertain, three legged races are awesome. In a three-legged race, two people run together with the left leg of one runner strapped to the right leg of the other runner using three legged race bands. The object is to beat other teams to the finish line, preferably without falling over in the process. This one is great for building team work.
Bean Bag Toss
Bean bag toss games quintessential! Kids love these games where the only object is to toss bean filled bags at a target. There are different variations of bean bag toss games, including upright targets with multiple openings or a target that is an inclined wooden platform with a single hole at one end. Regardless of which variation you choose, all the kids will love playing.
One of the games that I remember from my own childhood is horse shoes. Whether you’re hosting the backyard barbecue or just have a bunch of kids over, a horse shoe set that is suitable for kids is a sure win.
Washers is a game that involves standing next to box and throwing washers into the opposing box to score points. Scoring is very simple in this game. Players score 1 point if your washer lands in the box and 3 points if the washer lands in the center circle. If the washer lands on the box edge and stays put, you automatically win. For older players, the boxes should be placed 21 feet apart. For younger players, it’s okay to shorten the distance.
B3 Rift Ball
The B3 Riftball game is a great new game has two nets for twice the fun from Creative Brainworks that provides interaction and engagement in a fun, competitive paddle game. It is a perfect addition to your backyard games. With it’s carrying case, it’s portable, so you can take it to the campground, use it while tailgating, or even take it to the park or beach.
***This post originally published in 2017 and periodically updated with new and fun games and activities that are instant classics. ***