There’s no doubt about it: Kids benefit from outdoor play. Whether they’re swinging on a swing set or playing kickball, these activities help them develop—physically, socially, and emotionally. But what types of play should your child be engaging in the outdoors? Are there specific games they can (and should) be playing?
From capture the flag to tag—with a twist—we’ve rounded up our favorite outdoor games for kids.
Capture the Flag
This classic outdoor game for kids requires six or more people and two flags (pieces of fabric or paper in different colors). Start by dividing the available outdoor space into two adjoining courts that are roughly the same size and large enough to make the game fun (but the size can vary depending on available space). Split the players into two teams, and have each place a flag near the back of their court.
The object of the game: Players must dash into the opposing team’s court and steal their flag. A player becomes “out” if they get tagged, and they win the game if they successfully capture the flag.
Parents might remember SPUD from their own childhoods! To play, designate someone as “It” for the first round. This child throws a ball high in the air and shouts another player’s name. Everyone runs away except the called player, who must try to catch the ball as quickly as possible.
Once they grab the ball, they yell “SPUD!” and everyone freezes. They then throw the ball at someone else. If the ball makes contact, that person gets an “S” and becomes the next “It.” The first one to get the full set of letters (S-P-U-D) loses the game.
Tag With a Twist
This fast-paced game gives traditional tag a colorful twist. You’ll need several sets of rubber bands or bracelets (these can be store-bought or homemade): one color for each player (so for six players, you’d need six red bands, six blue bands, and so on).
One player is chosen to be “It.” At “Go,” players start trading their bands, trying to collect one band of each color. It, meanwhile, tries to tag a trader. When they do, the trader must trade a bracelet with them and become the new It. The first player to collect a bracelet in each color wins.
Kick the Can
Gather four people and designate someone as “It.” This child kicks an empty can while the other players hide. After they count to 100, the kicker sets the can upright, and they shout, “Ready or not, here I come.” They then search for other players in the area.
Once they find someone, they yell the player’s name out loud. Both people race to the can and try to kick it. The game ends if the hider succeeds in kicking the can first. But if the kicker succeeds, the hider becomes trapped near the can and the game continues. Captives can become free if other hiders kick the can without being spotted. The game ends once everyone has been captured.
Looking for solitary outdoor games for kids? Get out the colored chalk and help your child draw a huge hopscotch path of 10 squares, with each one in a vertical line, except the fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth, which are drawn side-by-side in two pairs. Each square gets a number in it from 1 to 10.
Use a bean bag or other marker to toss into one of the squares. That’s the one to skip when you hop your way through the course and back again. Add extra fun by trading traditional hopscotch square shapes for cars, butterflies, fish, and other fun designs. Add extra challenge by timing your kiddos as they race through the course.
Disc Golf Games
For a homespun version of disc golf, hang a hoop from a branch or clothesline, then grab a Frisbee and try these spins on the game.
D-I-S-C: The game’s the same as H-O-R-S-E in basketball. One player throws a disc through the hoop, then the others have to match that shot or earn a letter; the last one to spell D-I-S-C wins.
Disc baseball: Set out four bases (cardboard squares work well) with a home plate near the hoop. Players start at home and work around the diamond, shooting from each base. Three “strikes” (misses) and you’re out. Complete the circuit to earn a run and another turn (with three strikes).
Obstacle disc golf: Starting and ending with a disc shot through the hoop, players race to complete a course of challenges (jump rope 25 times, kick a soccer ball into a net, and so on). Keep time—the fastest player wins.
Sardines is a twist on hide-and-seek. Here’s how to play this easy outdoor game for kids: One person hides, and everyone else searches for the hider. Once a player finds the hider, they join them in the hiding spot.
The last person to find the hidden group (who ends up looking like a bunch of sardines) loses the game—and becomes the first person to hide in the next round.
Backyard Obstacle Cours
With supplies you already have on hand, you can build a set of obstacles just the right size for your kids. Jumping over and crawling through the hurdles will help your kids improve their agility. You can also host relay races or competitions, which make fun outdoor games for parties!
The best outdoor games for kids improve mental and physical development and teamwork, such as these three fun balancing exercises:
Back to back: Have your kids sit on the ground with their backs to each other. See if they can stand up without using their hands. (Hint: They’ll need to simultaneously press against each other with equal force to pull it off.)
Do the hop: Drape a bandana or other lightweight fabric over one of your child’s feet. With that foot lifted, can they hop up and down without losing the fabric?
Don’t drop the ball: Have your child hold a ball between their knees (use one they can squeeze comfortably) then try to walk. Now, see if they can hop or skip.
Memory Game on the Move
This fast-paced outdoor game for kids, based on a simple sprinting drill, exercises their bodies and minds!
On index cards, write down various sequences of at least five numbers (such as 1, 2, 7, 4, 9). Gather nine numbered cones or simply use a marker to number milk cartons or other boxes. Place the cones in an open area, spacing them several feet apart.
Then, have two players stand at a designated starting line. One is the caller and the other is the runner. The caller draws a card from the deck and announces the first number in the sequence. The runner runs to that numbered cone, tags it, then runs back to the starting line. The caller then yells out the first two numbers on the card, and the runner must tag both cones, in order, and return.
Play continues in this manner, with the runner memorizing the sequence and tagging cones, until all the numbers have been called out. Then the caller and runner swap places and continue with a new card from the deck.
Ghosts in the Graveyard
One player dubbed the “Ghost” must hide, as the rest of the players count from 1 o’clock to midnight. Once they reach midnight, they recite a chant in unison while walking around: “Star light, star bright, hope I see a ghost tonight!”
The Ghost can appear at any time, and they try to tag players before they reach their designated safe space. Anyone tagged by the Ghost must take over their duties. Note: This fun outdoor game for kids is especially spooky at night!
Have a host of little ones to entertain? Consider Red Rover. Have participants split into two teams. Spaced about 20 feet apart, each team must hold hands in a line and face the opposing team.
Someone from Team One shouts “Red Rover, Red Rover, let (child’s name from Team Two) come over!” The designated player runs towards Team One and tries to break through a pair of held hands.
If the player breaks the chain, they get to recruit a player from Team One to Team Two. If not, they need to join the opposing team. The teams swap turns until one person is left standing alone.
Once you’ve gathered four players or more, draw a 12′ x 12′ square on cement, and divide this into four smaller squares (labelled A, B, C, and D). One player will stand in each square, facing each other.
Player “A” (the server) bounces a rubber ball in their designated square, then swats it into another square with open hands. The ball must bounce inside another player’s square. That player must hit the ball into yet another square without letting it bounce again.
When any player misses the ball, holds it, lets it bounce too many times, or hits it out of bounds, they move to D (or to the back of the line to wait for a turn). Then, the players behind them advance, and the game begins again. The object is to become and stay the server.
All you need for this outdoor game is a jump rope. Have kids gather in a circle with one person (the Snake) in the center. The Snake spins around while holding the jump rope, making it move in a circular pattern from the middle of the circle. The other players must hop over the rope as it approaches—and if it touches (bites) them, they’re out. To increase the fun factor on a hot day, each player can hold a cup of water while playing.
Encourage your kids to set up a makeshift bowling alley with cans or bottles. They can take turns rolling a semi-heavy ball towards the pins. See how many tries it takes to knock them all down. Increase difficulty by moving the starting line farther and farther away from the pins.
Red Light, Green Light
Red Light, Green Light builds listening skills—and it loads of fun for kids of all ages. Designate one player as the “Traffic Light,” and have everyone else stand in a horizontal line about 20 feet away. The Traffic Light says “green light” whenever their back is turned, and the other players inch closer to them.
At any time, the Traffic Light can shout “red light!” and quickly face the other players. Everyone must stop in their tracks, and if they move during a red light, they must return to the starting position. You win the game by tagging the Traffic Light.
Monkey in the Middle
This easy outdoor game for kids works best with three or more players. The “Monkey” starts in the middle of the other players, who throw a ball back and forth to each other. The Monkey must intercept and catch the ball to win—and the person who threw the losing ball becomes the next Monkey!
Get your kids’ fitness plan on a roll with a set of homemade movement dice. To make a pair, use duct tape to seal the edges and cover the sides of two small, cube-shaped boxes (like empty tissue boxes).
With a permanent marker, write numbers on one die (numerals no higher than 10 are best) and various movements (“Hop on one foot” or “Spin around,” for example) on the other. Players take turns rolling the dice, then performing the movement for the number of times shown.