Whew. We’ve made it through the time change (can we just get rid of Daylight Saving Time already?) and spring is officially on its way, which means two things for dads: March Madness is in full swing, and it’s still light enough at the end of the day to get outside and run off some energy with the kids after work.
Honestly, we could all use the fresh air and endorphins after a long, cold winter. And sure, you can always kick a ball around together, or shoot some hoops, or even try one of these great ideas for a nature scavenger hunt—ultimately, your kids won’t care what you do as long as they get to spend quality time with you.
But if you’re looking to try something new and different, it’s fun to introduce them to some of the games you played when you were their age and roamed the neighborhood with your pack of friends. Who can forget the thrill of getting called over during a game of Red Rover or sneaking past the guard in Capture the Flag to break your teammate out of jail?
Ah, those were the days.
Without further ado, here are 8 classic outdoor games from your childhood that you can play with your own kids. They can be easily adapted to appeal to any age and ability level, and you can always change or make up your own rules to fit your needs.
Just one piece of advice before you start: make sure all players are on the same page so you avoid hissy fits or meltdowns. Trust us on this one!
Red Light, Green Light. One person is the designated traffic cop. All remaining players stand on the starting line, with the traffic cop’s back turned to them. When the traffic cop says “Green light!” players try to run to the finish line. When the traffic cop says “Red light!” the other players have to stop before the cop turns around and catches them. The first player to pass the finish line wins and becomes the traffic cop.
Red Rover. This is a fun call and response game that uses teamwork and strategy, but absolutely zero equipment. The only downside is that it tends to be more fun with bigger groups, so you might need to recruit some neighborhood friends to join.
To play, everyone is divided up into two groups who stand in parallel lines facing each other, with each line holding hands. One line decides on one person they would like sent over and yells, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jenny over!” The designated person, Jenny, runs at the line trying to break through the arms of two players. If she can’t break the line, she must join the opposing team. If she can, she can go back to her own team and bring a player from the opposing team with her.
Hopscotch. A classic that’s easy to pick up and can be played solo if necessary. Use some sidewalk chalk to make a hopscotch grid, similar to the picture below. Number the squares from 1 to 10 and pick a small object that is good for tossing—this could be a rock, a bean bag, or a small toy. Start by tossing it onto Square 1. Jump over it and hop with a single foot or both feet depending on the hopscotch pattern all the way down to the end of the grid. Turn around and come back, stopping on Square 2. Balancing on one foot, pick up the marker in Square 1 and hop over Square 1 to the start. Continue this pattern with Square 2. And so on. If you toss your rock and miss the correct square, your turn is over.
Fun side note: Did you know that a man named Ashrita Furman holds the Guinness World Record for completing the fastest game of hopscotch, coming in at 68 seconds?
Monkey in the Middle. This one’s pretty simple—no points, no one wins, you just have to keep away! You only need 3 players, so it shouldn’t be hard to get a game going. Not to mention, it will definitely get your heart rate pumping! The objective is to try to keep the ball away from one person while throwing it back and forth with the other participants. If the person in the middle manages to get the ball, whoever threw it is now the monkey in the middle. Try to be fair and avoid picking on people by making sure everyone takes a turn being the monkey.
Capture the Flag. A childhood favorite that even adults can enjoy, this game is largely about strategy. There are several different variations and it’s important to make sure ground rules are established before play begins. Participants are split into two teams, and each has a designated flag at their base. The object of the game is to run into the other team’s territory, capture their flag, and make it safely back to your own territory. You can tag “enemy” players in your territory, sending them to your jail. They can be sprung from jail by a member of their own team running into your territory, tagging them, and running back. It’s important to decide how to utilize each team member: Who will guard your team’s flag? Who will make the attempts to steal it? You must carefully plan your modes of attack and work together to win.
Duck, Duck, Goose. A classic that has been played for generations and involves a lot of running (read: wears them out faster!). Everyone sits in a circle, while one person is designated as the tagger. The tagger walks around the outside of the circle touching each player’s head and says either “Duck” or “Goose.” If they say “Duck,” things continue as is. If they say “Goose,” the person tagged must try to catch the tagger before they get back to the tagged person’s spot and sit down. If the tagger makes it, the tagged person becomes it. If he doesn’t, he’s out.
Hide and Seek. Straight forward, easy-to-learn, and no equipment needed. The real challenge is finding an area to play with ample good hiding spots. Someone is designated as the seeker. He or she must count to a designated number with their eyes closed while everyone else runs off to find hiding places. Once the seeker has finished counting, he or she yells, “Ready or not, here I come!” At this point, they must try to find all of the other players who have hidden. The first player found becomes the next seeker.
You can jazz this one up a little by playing a few different variations. Try adding a home base that the hiders must get back to without being tagged. Or play Sardines, which is just like Hide and Seek, but in reverse! This is where one person hides and everyone else must find them, but rather than tag them, they join them in the hiding place until there’s only one person left trying to find all the others “sardined” together in the same spot.
Tag. Really need your kids to sleep well tonight? Tag’s your game. One person is “it” and runs after the other players trying to tag them. Whoever gets tagged becomes “it.” If the traditional version isn’t exciting enough, try a variation like Freeze Tag or check out one of these fun and unusual ways to play.