Even though the health benefits of outdoor play are well established, sometimes it’s hard to get the kids out of the house to go play. Maybe you just need a few new ideas: Are there new outdoor games that can get them inspired?
We asked parents and nannies to give us their go-to recommendations for easy, simple solutions. Here’s a list of backyard games for kids of all ages that will keep them entertained and build their motor skills and coordination.
1. Water Balloon Catch
We’ve all played catch before. You can switch up this classic game by playing with different balls, water balloons or bean bags. Toss the ball at a short distance and, with each catch, take a step back and continue tossing to see how far you can get before missing. This is best played in teams — the team with the furthest distance between them wins. If you’re playing with water balloons, the first one to get wet loses.
2. Kan Jam
Kan Jam is a great backyard game for kids to work on their hand-eye coordination. It involves one Frisbee, or disc, that gets thrown into a garbage-can sized container. The goal is to score the most points by sending your disc into the allotted container. If the disc is thrown directly into a special slot on the side of the container, your team is an instant winner.
3. Nine Pin
This great, outdoor bowling game dates back thousands of years, but kids will love it today. If you’ve been to a regular bowling alley, you already know how to play — just set up nine pins instead of 10. Pins should be set up in a diamond and can be anything from empty milk cartons to small cones or 2-liter soda bottles. Find a plastic ball that’s heavy enough to knock over some pins, and you’re all set. For simple rules, award players points per bowl. The person with the most points wins.
4. Ladder Ball
You can buy a kit for this game or build your own. It’s played with bolas (a string with a ball — usually a golf ball — connected at each end) that players then toss toward a three-rung ladder. The object of the game is to attach your bola to the rungs and score points. Different points are awarded depending on which rung is hit (i.e. more points if the player wraps his bola around the highest rung). The person who reaches 21 points first, wins. This game can be played one-on-one or with teams, and is great for all ages.
If your kids like basketball, this is a great way for them to practice their shots. Played with at least two people, each player attempts to miss the least amount of baskets. Once a basket is missed, the player receives a letter H, O, R, S or E. When the player misses five shots (thus earning all five letters of the word), they have lost the game. Kids can make the game more exciting by trying to knock the other player’s ball out of the way.
6. Capture the Flag
This is a popular game among kids of all ages (especially at camps!) and will certainly keep them active and engaged. It’s played in a large backyard or field with two teams who each defend their own flag (or some specific light object like a beach ball or even a stuffed animal) from home base. The object of the game is to capture the other team’s flag and successfully return it to home base without getting tagged. If a player wanders into the other team’s territory, they risk getting tagged and therefore being frozen or ousted from the game.
All you need for this game (which is also known as bean bag toss) are two pieces of plywood tilted at an angle on opposite ends and eight bean bags. Each piece of plywood has a single hole cut through it near the higher end, and the object is to toss the bean bags through the holes. Cornhole sets can be bought in most recreation and toy stores — buy a customizable set and allow the kids to decorate their platforms for some added outdoor fun. A customizable set also allows the game to be played by kids of different ages; simply lower the difficulty by lessening the distance between the two platforms or make the game harder by increasing the angle of the platform.
8. Freeze Tag
This is a must-play for any rambunctious young kids in your family and is best for a large group. One child is “it” and has the responsibility of catching others. Once another player is tagged by “it,” they must “freeze” and can only be unfrozen if another player taps them again. You can mix up the game by having multiple “its” or by having other players go under the legs of a frozen player to unfreeze them. Another way to spice up this classic game is to set it to music — everyone can dance and run around while the music is playing, but when it stops, everyone must freeze. The person who moves first becomes “it” and it’s then their chance to DJ.
9. Outdoor Checkers
Checkers might not seem like the ideal activity for outdoor play, but when you blow it up on a larger scale, it becomes it fun for the whole family! This game is great because it combines arts and crafts and cognitive reasoning with outdoor play. Grab some sidewalk chalk and draw a giant square, then outline the horizontal and vertical lines to make up the board. Mark an “X” in the alternating boxes that should represent the white squares, and tell the kids to color in all of the boxes that contain an “X.” Get creative with the checker pieces — the kids can spend some time creating their own by coloring the backs of paper plates with the color of their choice, or they can use different objects like blue and red Frisbees.
Croquet is a lot of fun, especially when you have a good-sized group playing. The game dates back to the nineteenth century, but is still a fun backyard game for kids and adults to enjoy. Croquet involves using a wooden or plastic mallet used to hit small balls through a course of gates or “wickets.” The object is to get your ball through all of the wickets before anyone else.
11. Wiffle Ball
This game is played the same as baseball, except the ball used is much lighter and there are no bases. Played with a wiffle ball, this game can be enjoyed with as few as two players (a pitcher and a batter). The wiffle ball cannot be thrown or hit as far as a baseball, so three zones are set up on the playing field and points are awarded according to where the ball lands, if it is not caught. The zones act much like bases — if the ball lands in the first zone, the player has made it to first base; if the ball makes it past the third zone, the player has hit a home run.
There are so many options for outdoor fun you and your kids will enjoy. Play more traditional games like hopscotch, horseshoes or jump rope, or try out some new games like kan jam and cornhole. The best part about backyard games is you don’t need very much to keep the kids entertained — you can often find what you need in your garage, so start collecting and have fun!