Fun Backyard Game Ideas

Keep your little ones active with games you used to play.

Game On!

You remember these classic games, but you probably haven't played them for years. See if you can find your favorites, offered here with variations to make them more fun -- and secretly healthy -- for you and your kids.

Ghost in the Graveyard

This one's best played on a gloriously moonlit summer night. (Don't forget the bug spray.) Start off by picking someone to be the "ghost" -- it might as well be you. Hide while the kids count to 100 at the "base." Then they fan out in search of the ghost. When one of them discovers your ghastly hiding place, he yells, "Ghost in the graveyard!" and all the kids sprint back to base. The child you catch becomes the new ghost.

Kick the Can

Set an empty can (the bigger, the better) on a flat spot (the "base"). You're "it," so cover your eyes and count to 100 while the kids run and hide. Then search for them. When you find one, the two of you immediately race back to base to see who can kick the can first. If you win, the child you raced becomes "it," and everyone hides again. If you lose (and shame on you if you don't let your kids win at least a few rounds), you remain "it."

Red Rover

Here's a good game for a family reunion, neighborhood party, or any gathering that involves several families and lots of kids (plus an adult to supervise). Divide into two teams, evenly matched, and form facing lines. Flip a coin to see who goes first. Members of that team hold hands and call for someone on the other team to try to break through their line. Surely you remember the chant: "Red rover, red rover, send ___ right over!" The person called runs toward what he thinks is the weakest link in the chain (to keep things fair and safe, impose a rule that adults can only run at other adults -- no charging little kids). If he breaks through, he gets to pick anyone from the line to go across the yard and join his team. If he bounces off or ends up dangling in the air on two players' arm, he has to join the other team. The game goes on until everyone is on one team.

Freeze Tag

This is "tag" with more moving parts. When you're "it," the players you tag have to stay frozen wherever you tagged them. But other players can then tag them, which has the effect of "unfreezing" them until you get them again. The game ends if whoever is "it" manages the impressive feat of freezing everybody, or when any one player has been frozen three times (or five times for younger kids). At that point, he's "it" and the game resumes.

Sharks and Minnows

Establish two base lines at opposite ends of the pool. One person stands, or treads water, in the middle, while the other players stay along one of the sides. When someone yells "go," the group dashes for the opposite side. Anyone you tag becomes a "shark" and has to stay in the middle and help you catch the other "minnows." The round ends when the sharks have devoured all the minnows. The game resumes with a new shark in the middle. You can also play this game in the yard. All you'll need to do is establish two base lines -- the rules are the same.

Steal the Bacon

This game works well as a sports drill, especially to help kids sharpen their speed and defense skills. Here, an even number of players line up on opposing sides of the yard. In the middle, between the two teams, is the "bacon" -- it can be a ball, a glove, anything. Have each team take turns counting off from 1, so that every team member shares a number with someone on the opposing side. The umpire or "caller" -- that's you -- calls out a number, and the players on each side who have that number step out onto the field. Whoever grabs the bacon first has to try to bring it back to his side, while the other player on the field has the task of tagging the runner with the bacon. If the runner gets tagged, the bacon goes back and the umpire calls a new number. A runner cannot be tagged until she touches the bacon, so players will alternate between making mad dashes or hovering around the bacon and trying to fake an opponent out.

Hide and Seek

The original rules are simple enough, but just to refresh your memory -- one person is "it"; she covers her eyes at the designated "base" and counts to 100. Then she goes off looking for the others, who try to sneak or run back to base before "it" tags them. Whoever is tagged is then "it."

Here's a cool twist that makes for exponentially more frantic running, especially if you play the game in a big yard or park with lots of hiding places: Instead of using a fixed object or landmark, make the "base" a person, and make sure that person hides, too. He doesn't have to hide in one place, either -- he can move around as much as he wants during the game. Most players have no idea where "base" is at any given moment, and they'll have no choice but to keep running until they find him. "Base" also has the option of running away from the kids who are trying to reach safety.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Everyone sits in a circle as one person -- the "fox" -- walks around the outside of the group, tapping heads and saying "" until he finally decides to tap a "goose," who then jumps up and chases the fox around the circle. If the goose gets the fox before he reaches the spot the goose vacated, the fox has to try again. If the fox makes it around without being tagged, the goose takes his place.

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