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17 fun outside games kids will love playing

Sept. 27, 2018

Sometimes all kids need is a fun outdoor game to release built-up energy and have a blast. Plus, the health benefits of playing outside can't be beat. Players get to run around and yell, and nannies and parents love outdoor games because they stave off boredom and help create tired kids for bedtime. Set outdoor games up for parties or just for a good time with family and friends in the yard.

Here are 17 fun and creative outside games that kids can play.

For toddler and preschool kids

These games are well-suited for the younger set as they are a bit less complicated and not terribly competitive.

1. Kickin' Croquet

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Create a croquet course with pool noodles (or hula hoops), then have the kids kick bouncy balls through the wickets. First, cut up different colored pool noodles, making sure they are long enough to create an arch to kick the balls through. Design your own croquet course with the arches and use garden stakes to secure them to the ground. To play, have the kids kick their balls through the course. Tally up points for the number of wickets passed or for the kid who gets through the course first. You could also call out colors and simply have them kick it through the ones that match what you’ve called out.

2. Colors and Shapes Sidewalk Game

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Let toddlers practice motor skills while learning shapes and colors. Draw different shapes on the sidewalk or driveway in a range of colors in a grid pattern. Tell your little one to go from one end to the other by stepping on the color or shape you call out to them. Assign points for every correct color or shape that's stepped on. This is a turn-taking game that gives everyone a chance to play and toddlers will have a blast while also learning their shapes and colors.

3. Ice Block Treasure Hunt

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For a truly cool idea, freeze little toys and colored ice cubes into a huge block of ice. Start with a large container (it can be any shape) and fill it with about an inch of water. Add four or five small toys and place it in the freezer until it is solid. Once this layer is solid, add more water and more toys and freeze again. Repeat this process until your container is full. Create your block ahead of time as it may take a day or two to get the whole container completed. When your kids are ready to play, remove the block of ice from the container and give them some tools to work with to try to get the toys out of the ice. Tools like spray bottles, paintbrushes, spoons, small screwdrivers and some salt will all be helpful as they try to excavate their treasures. This is best for preschoolers, but toddlers will be able to play with some help from an adult.

4. Monster Bean Bag Toss

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Use cardboard to create monsters for this toss game — and they can even double as fun photo backdrops! You can create your monsters by drawing them onto large pieces of cardboard and propping them up on a wall or, depending on your level of craftiness, by framing them and propping them up in the back with a long piece of wood. Kids take turns throwing three bean bags to see who can get the most inside the monster's mouth.

5. Pool Noodle Ring Toss

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You’ll need four pool noodles for this game. Cut one pool noodle in half to create your two goal sticks. Decide on what distance you need between the two goals (smaller for younger kids, larger for older kids) and use garden stakes to secure the noodles to the ground. Next take one of your leftover noodles, create a circle with it and duct tape the ends together. Do the same with the remaining pool noodle. To play, kids will take turns tossing the circular noodles onto the goal sticks. Keep score and whoever gets the most points after five turns, wins.

For elementary school-aged kids

These games are a little more involved and also incorporate more competitive aspects of game playing — perfect for kids ages 6 and up.

6. Backyard Mud Run

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For kids who like to run and clamber, a DIY obstacle run is perfect. Create an obstacle course with things like tires or hula hoops, hay bales or boxes, string and anything else you have around. Have each kid race and time them with a stopwatch. Add a mud pit (or a kiddie pool of dirt and water) if you can. Prizes can be awarded for the one with the best time, whoever gets muddiest or whoever runs the race in the most entertaining way. Party favors can be plastic bugs or other items the kids dig out of a tub of mud. Get more details on this idea at Under the Sycamore.

7. Water Cup Races

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This is like the popular carnival game, but you can play it in your own backyard. Set up one string for each player by taping or tying one end to a tree or deck and the opposite end to another solid surface. Create holes in plastic cups with a hole puncher and hang one cup on each string with the open end facing the players. Each player uses a squirt gun to spray water into the cup, trying to be the first one to push it to the end. Play in pairs or one string cup for each player.  

8. Nature Scavenger Hunt

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In this game, the goal is for kids to complete the hunt by finding each item on their list. Create your own list of items for the hunt or download copies of the scavenger hunt list from the Taylor House. Give them paper bags for collecting their items and have them compete in teams or as individuals to see who can be the first one to round up things in nature, like leaves, round things, seeds, litter and treasure. The great thing about a nature scavenger hunt is that you can change it up with the seasons so the kids can play this one over and over again.

9. Dunk Bucket

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This simplified version of an old-fashioned dunking booth is perfect for hot days. Make your own with a target attached to a dunk bucket, so when someone hits the mark, whoever is in the chair below gets soaked. Any number of people can play this wet and wild game. The Happy Housewife has instructions for creating your dunking booth.

10. Ping-Pong Toss

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Fill plastic cups halfway with water and place in five rows. Label each cup with a score, making sure that the cups closest to the kids are worth one point and that the cups farthest away are worth the highest amount of points. Set out a basket of ping pong balls and have the kids take turns tossing their balls into the cups. Each player gets 30 seconds to toss as many ping pong balls as they can. The player with the highest score at the end, wins.

11. Bean Bag Ladder Toss

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Grab a step ladder from the garage for this one. Label each of the rungs with points and have the kids toss bean bags to see how many points they can get.

12. Giant Matching Game

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Play a super-sized version of the memory matching game on your deck or lawn with 12" x 12" game pieces. Creating the set is a job for crafty families, but once the pieces are made, you can use it year after year. Once you have your pieces, lay them out as you would with the classic Memory game pieces. Take turns flipping the cards over and trying to find matches. Adapt the size of your game based on the ages of the players. Get instructions for making the memory cards at Studio DIY.

Tweens and teens

The most complicated and competitive games on our list, these are the ones to pull out for kids ages 10 and up.

13. Lawn Twister

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Paint a Twister game board right on your lawn! Cut a 10-inch circle out of the bottom of a pizza box (you could also cut the circles out of large pieces of paper or cardboard) and use washable spray paint to paint the colored circles on your grass. Create a pattern like the classic game (four rows of six), or make the board twice the size. This will work best if you leave at least 6 inches between each circle. If you don’t have a Twister spinner to use, cut up pieces of colored construction or card stock paper and label them (for each color there will be four directions — right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot). How many can play depends on the board size, but everyone can have a turn playing this classic game.

14. Giant Kerplunk Game

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This game is mostly made out of things you can pick up at your local home improvement store. Get three tomato cages, some clear vinyl fabric (1/4 yard is fine), twenty PVC pipes (30-36 inches in length), and some ball pit balls. Stack the three cages on top of one another for height and wrap the vinyl fabric around the top to keep the balls from falling out. Stack the PVC pipes horizontally directly under the vinyl fabric. Put the balls into the cages right above the pipes. To play, take turns pulling out sticks, hoping not to make the balls drop.

15. Frozen T-Shirt Race

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This one is as easy to set up as it is fun to play. Soak a bunch of T-shirts (one per player) in water, crumple them up and then put them in a plastic bag. Place the bag in the freezer and let it freeze overnight. To play, hold a race to see who can unfold and put their T-shirt on first. It may sound simple, but it will take several giggly minutes for the first player to succeed in getting her T-shirt unraveled. This is a great game for keeping kids cool on those really hot summer days.

16. Stumps Tug-of-War

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This spin on the classic tug-of-war game is more about balance than it is about brute strength. Place two milk crates (or something similar) upside down on the lawn with enough distance between them for your two players to be able to tug at the rope. See who can pull their opponent off of the crate first while still staying balanced on their own. Want to kick it up a notch? Create a mud pit in between the two milk crates for some messy fun.

17. Rainbow Tag

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This game is a combination of hide and seek and capture the flag. To set up, first identify a home base. Next, hide six to 10 popsicle sticks or tongue depressors, each a different color. Place a matching paint stick near each of the popsicle sticks. When a player finds a color, he uses the matching paint stick to draw a line in that color on his face. One player who has been designated as the “Pinkie” player roams around trying to tag the others. If a player is tagged by Pinkie, he must erase one paint color from his face. The first player to successfully get all of the colors on his face and make it back to home base, wins.

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