Some of my most precious childhood memories are playing outdoor games with my sister and the neighborhood kids. Whether it was an epic game of kickball in our cul-de-sac, a family Wiffle ball game, or playing capture the flag until after dark, those hours of being outside make me feel most nostalgic for my 1980s childhood.
Even though today’s kids are tech-savvy and spend much of their lives online, outdoor play is still a big part of their lives. That’s the case for my kids, anyway. And I’ll venture a guess that when today’s children are adults, even though they grew up in the digital age, many of their favorite childhood memories will involve a classic game of hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids.
Here is a list of easy outdoor games for kids that can be modified for different ages and abilities and set up in the park down the street or in your front yard. All you need for most of them is one or two items you probably already have and some energetic kids.
30 Outdoor Games for Kids
1. Sharks and Minnows
This classic kids’ sports game can be played with lots of “sports” (my son plays it on the rink with his hockey team), but for backyard purposes, it’s probably best associated with soccer or kickball. It also works best with a larger group of kids.
The basic idea is this:
- Choose two kids to be “sharks” while the rest are “minnows.”
- The minnows must get across the field or yard without a shark stealing their ball or kicking it out of bounds.
- If that happens, that minnow becomes a shark and tries to steal balls from other minnows.
- The last minnow standing is the winner.
2. Obstacle Course
You probably don’t even need to buy anything for this one. You can make an excellent backyard obstacle course with whatever materials you already have. Make circles with jump ropes that kids can jump through. Dig through your garage for balls, cones, baseball gloves, bins, or boxes, and set up as many “obstacles” as you can that your children can run over, around, or between. Maybe you can hang a rope from a tree they have to swing from or anchor a hula hoop they must throw a football through before they can move on to the next section. The idea is to tire those little legs out and promote exercise and fun.
3. Scavenger Hunt
Think about everyday items around your yard. Do you have acorns? Leaves? Nuts? Sticks? Make a list or print out pictures for very young children and give each child a bag to collect their items. Or hand them a pencil and a checklist if they can’t collect the items, like an oak tree or squirrel.
Make it a contest! You could give the first person to complete the list a sucker. Or the winner picks a movie to watch. Or promote your scavenger hunt as a fun kids’ activity that gets their little bodies moving outside.
Sardines offers a fun twist on the classic game of hide-and-seek and can be easily moved inside on a rainy day. In this version, one person hides, and everyone searches for them. As each child finds the hidden person, they join them in their hiding spot. Pretty soon, all the “hiders” are packed like sardines as they wait for the last person to find them. The last “seeker” left standing is now “it” and goes off to hide.
5. Four Square
Here’s how you play:
- Draw a grid with four squares and number each square clockwise from 1 to 4.
- Serve the ball from the highest-ranked square to the lowest. To serve, the player must drop the ball and serve it after the bounce.
- The ball must bounce once in the receiving square, and the receiving player must hit the ball into another square. Players can only use their hands to hit the ball.
- Keep going without catching the ball or letting it leave the four squares.
- Any player who breaks one of the rules is out.
For complete rules, check out squarefour.org here.
6. Laser Tag
Invest in a set of laser tag vests and guns, and you won’t regret it. This one’s a staple in our house for nighttime summer fun, especially when my three kids have friends over. The sound of kids running around the house, laughing, and cheering as they take down their opponents is music to a parent’s ears.
There are not a lot of rules to this one—basically, try to avoid getting hit with a laser. If you do, your vest will let you know. The last one standing is the winner.
7. Kick the Can
An ’80s classic! Kids seem to dig everything vintage and retro, so teach them this throwback from our pre-internet childhood. In case you forgot, here’s how it goes:
- You need an empty tin can and at least five players.
- Place the empty can in an open field or the middle of the yard.
- One person is “it” and closes their eyes while everyone else hides.
- The person who is “it” has to run around, tagging everyone and putting them in “jail” while also keeping an eye on the can to make sure no one can sneak in and kick it.
- If anyone successfully kicks the can without being caught, they free all the captured players.
8. Capture the Flag
Here’s another childhood favorite that brought all the neighborhood kids together. Here’s what you need: a group of energetic kids, a big space like a large yard or an open field (preferably with some obstacles and hiding spots like trees or large bushes), and a “flag.”
The basic steps are as follows:
- Divide the group into 2-4 teams, and have each team find or make a “flag.” Bandanas, socks, and old T-shirts work great—the brighter the color, the better.
- Divide the playing area into territories and place flags where they can be seen by opposing teams.
- Objective: Cross into another territory, retrieve their flag, and return it to your territory without being caught.
If you are caught (meaning you’re tagged while in their territory), you are put into “jail”—hula hoops work great for this, or you mark off a section of each territory with a rope. You are free if one of your team members can tag you out without getting caught themselves.
This game requires strategizing among team members—who will lead the charge and sneak first into enemy territory? Who will create a distraction? Who is the fastest and most likely to get in and out quickly and quietly?
9. Disc Golf
Kids can play frisbee or disc golf in many ways. You can set up your yard like a baseball field with a home plate and bases. You can create obstacles like “Toss your disc through the ring” (hang a hula hoop from a tree) or toss the frisbee across the yard from player to player. If you want to get serious about your disc golf game, you can find the official game rules here.
Are you stuck on ideas? Here’s a Youtube video about how to up-cycle items around your house and yard to create super fun disc golf obstacles.
10. Ghosts in the Graveyard
This one is best played at night; the bigger the group, the better. The object is to find the “ghost” (the one player hiding).
Here’s how it works:
- All players close their eyes and count down from 25 or 50; then, everyone starts looking for the “ghost.”
- Whoever finds the ghost yells, “Ghost in the graveyard!” and is safe and cannot be tagged by the ghost.
- Everyone else must run back to base while the ghost tries to tag someone before they get there.
- If the ghost succeeds, the person tagged is the new ghost.
- But watch out! If someone calls “Ghost in the graveyard!” at the wrong person—not the ghost—they are “it.”
Here’s another old classic that requires only a ball and a group of energetic kids. The object of SPUD is to throw the ball at kids—dodgeball style—so a softer kickball or squishy ball is best.
How to play:
- One player is “it” and holds the ball. They assign all the other kids a number.
- Everyone forms a circle around the player who is “it.”
- The “it” player throws the ball high up into the air, yelling out a number.
- The child with that number must catch the ball and yell “SPUD!” as soon as it is in their hands.
- All the other children scatter, running as fast as they can but must freeze as soon as they hear “SPUD.”
- The child who caught the ball now throws it at a player; if they successfully hit that player, the player gets a letter in SPUD. If the player who threw the ball misses, they get a letter in SPUD.
- As soon as players get all the letters in SPUD, they sit out the rest of the game.
12. Backyard Bowling
Here’s another outdoor game that might require digging up some objects from around the house or garage. Like regular bowling, the object is to roll a ball and knock over “pins.” But in your backyard, “pins” can be empty soda cans, paper cups, or other easily knocked-over items. Or you can invest in a real “backyard bowling kit” if this game is a hit in your family!
13. Red Light, Green Light
Red light, green light is an easy and fun activity, especially for younger children.
The steps are simple:
- All the kids start on the same starting line.
- They run forward when you shout, “green light!” and stop when you shout, “red light!”
- Anyone caught still running when you say “red light” goes back to the start.
- Keep playing until everyone crosses the finish line.
14. Monkey in the Middle
All you need for this game is at least three players and a ball. Any ball works—a tennis ball, a football, a kickball. And you can play in the front yard, backyard, street, at the park, or even in the pool.
There’s not much to it, either. Two players or teams pass a ball back and forth while the “monkey” tries to intercept it. If they do, the person who threw it is now the monkey.
15. Fitness Dice
Fitness dice are the perfect solution to kids saying they are bored. You can purchase this set, or you can make this a crafting project! First, you’ll find a cube-shaped box (empty tissue boxes work great) and cover all the sides with physical activities like “jumping jacks” or “sit-ups.” Then, make another cube with numbers on it. Your kids roll both dice and learn what activity and how many reps they must do.
And you can easily modify this idea for younger children with more straightforward physical activities like “jump” or “skipping.” Also, another option, if you’re not a fan of DIY-ing and don’t prefer these activity options on the set, is to use board game dice and make a list of activities, assigning each roll to something. For example, rolling a four can mean “Do four push-ups.” Rolling a seven might mean, “Do seven leapfrog jumps across the yard.”
I played kickball my whole childhood, and it never gets old. Now my kids play it at recess nearly every day at school. Most people know the ins and outs of a good game of kickball, but in case you need a refresher:
- Divide into two teams.
- Set up “bases” just like you would for a baseball game. As kids, we used the maintenance hole cover as the first base, the crack in the road as the second, etc. But if you want to use actual, real bases, that’s cool, too.
- Whichever team is kicking lines up behind home plate while the other team takes the field.
- One player pitches and rolls the ball to the kicker, who kicks the ball and runs to first base.
- If any player on the field catches the ball before it hits the ground, the kicker is out.
- If it’s on the ground, play is like baseball, and players try to get the ball to the base before the runner tags them out.
- After three outs, or everyone has kicked once, teams switch positions on the field.
- If you want to be serious about your kickball game, read up on the World Kickball Association’s rules here.
17. The Grass is Lava
It’s not hard to figure this one out. Like “The Floor is Lava,” kids play this one outside. They’ll need many items they can hop between, like old rags or blankets, outdoor patio furniture, sleds, cardboard boxes, scrap wood, etc. Anything they can stand on safely or jump onto from the previous “raft” so they never touch the “lava.”
18. Wiffle Ball
Does anything beat a good game of Wiffle ball? With this one, you can go as big as you want or keep it simple. Bases can be old baseball gloves or a random, discolored patch of grass. Or you can invest in materials to build a full-on Wiffle ball field in your yard. However you do it, you need a bat, a ball, and a little friendly competition. Check out the official rules here.
19. Street Hockey
What you need for this outdoor game for kids: Sticks for each player, two nets, and a couple of balls or pucks. Rollerblades are optional, but make it way more fun. The rest, well, you know how to play. Shoot, score, and block each other’s goals. Watch for cars, move the nets when needed, then resume play. This childhood favorite will keep your kids entertained for hours!
20. Jump Rope Games
Sometimes a toy as simple as a jump rope is all you need to create an outdoor game to entertain your kids and get them moving.
Jump rope math is a popular idea that stimulates both the mind and the body. You can either shout out math equations like “What’s 5 + 5?” When the kids respond, they know they need to jump 10 times. Or you can pre-make giant flashcards to add to the fun.
Another jump rope game perfect for young children who need to get their wiggles out is “Snake in the Grass.” The idea here is simple: two kids sit on the ground holding either end of a jump rope. They wiggle it back and forth, creating a “snake,” and the other kids in the group need to run and jump across it without it touching their feet and getting “bitten” by the snake. What a video here for more on how to play this game.
Dig out the sidewalk chalk and play Tic-Tac-Toe in the driveway. Simple, fun, and a great way to get your kids playing together and enjoying the fresh air.
You probably know the rules of this classic, but in case you need a refresher:
- Create a grid with nine squares.
- You need two players—one person is “X,” and one person is “O.”
- Take turns putting Xs and Os in squares, and the first person to get three in a row up, down, across, or diagonally wins.
22. Freeze Dance
If you’ve got some energetic kids with energy to burn, try a little freeze-dancing. They wiggle and giggle and move their arms and legs as much as possible until you stop the music. “Freeze” them for a few seconds, and then they return to doing the chicken, the robot, or whatever their fave move is. Just keep dancing!
You can purchase a corn hole or bean bag set for your yard or make your own if you’re willing to hammer together some wood and sew up some bags. The concept is simple for the boards—just angle one end up and cut a hole near the top. For the bags, you’ll need sturdy fabric like thick cotton, canvas, or corduroy. Stitch up three sides, fill with dried beans, and sew it up. If you want your cornhole set to be regulation-sized, get all the info you need on The American Cornhole Association’s website here.
Once you’ve set up your yard, you need to divide up teams and get tossing. The most important thing to know is you get 3 points for a bag in the hole and 1 point for a bag on the board’s surface. And try not to knock your opponent’s bag into the hole because they get the points, not you.
Set up a badminton set in your yard, and you won’t be sorry. Your kids can hit the shuttlecock back and forth across the net or, if you don’t have a net, just hit it back and forth between them and try to keep it up in the air. I’ll be honest, growing up, we just volleyed back and forth and made up our own rules, but if your family is into competitive games that strictly adhere to the rules of play, you can read up on badminton here.
Badminton is the perfect picnic game and a simple outdoor play option for your kids that will get their arms and legs moving and fresh air in their lungs.
Pickleball has recently gained quite a bit of popularity, but it’s not about pickles! Known to be “friendlier” than tennis, this one does require a flat surface and a net. So, if there’s a tennis court nearby, your kids should head there. Or, if you can, set up a net across your driveway so kids can bounce the ball back and forth and enjoy hours of pickleball competition and fun.
Check out USA Pickleball here to learn all the rules of this game that’s quickly becoming the new favorite for families everywhere.
26. Beer Pong (Without the Beer!)
Pong Toss, known as Beer Pong across college campuses, is fun for all ages, but for kids, rather than filling cups with alcohol, fill them with juice or water or skip the drinking part altogether. Everything else is the same, though you might need to lower the table slightly.
Here’s how you can tweak the rules:
- You’ll need four players (two per team).
- Set up your cups (10 per team) into triangles on each end of the table. Start with four in the back row, then three, then two, and finally, one in the front.
- Kids try to toss ping-pong balls into the cups, but since they’re not drinking, they can remove the cup if it lands in it.
- They can still flip their cups too! The first team to land a ball in the cup AND flip it wins a point.
Your kids will have a ball, and no idea that this game brings back memories of your pre-parenting life when you were allowed to sleep in on the weekends and watch grownup TV on Saturday afternoons.
27. Flag Football
Football is as American as hot dogs and apple pie, but flag football is a safer and less intense outdoor game for your kids. The rules are like regular football, with two teams trying to move the ball down the field into the end zone for a touchdown. The most significant difference is that rather than tackling the player with the ball, opposing players pull their flag off for a “tackle.”
Parents can purchase belts and flags or make their own by tying ropes around kids’ waists and tucking in rags or bandanas that they can easily pull off. The NFL has covered you for complete flag football rules here.
28. Water Balloon Fight
Everyone loves a good water balloon fight, except maybe the parents who spend hours filling up a million balloons only to watch them all popping within seconds. But your kids will love it! We recommend investing in the newest water balloon options that are far easier to clean up and better for our planet and the animals that could eat those tiny water balloon pieces. You can buy reusable water balloons at major stores like Amazon, Walmart, or Target. Or you can make your own reusable crocheted / fabric water balloons.
You can still create the magic of an epic water balloon fight without having to do hours of cleanup afterward. Everyone wins!
29. Freeze Tag
This classic outdoor game for kids is best for large groups of children in the neighborhood and a large field to play on, like a football field or open recreational area with designated boundaries. Two or more players are “it” and chase the other players inside the designated area. If they tag a player, that player must freeze immediately until another player comes and tags them back in. You can vary the rules of how someone is tagged back in or how many “it” players there are.
30. Sprinkler Tag
And finally, another game from our childhoods that kids still love today requires a sprinkler and a hot, sunny day.
Let kids run amok, dodging the sprinkler (or not, depending on how warm it is and how badly they want to cool off), and watch them make the purest and happiest of childhood memories.
Outdoor play is crucial to our children’s mental and physical well-being. They must run around, win and lose in games, and learn to work together as a team. They must feel the fresh air in their lungs and the sunshine on their faces. And what they don’t realize is that sometimes the most basic outdoor games for kids will become one of their favorite core memories. And sometimes, to make those memories, all it takes is a ball, a group of kids, and a little fresh air.
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