40 Classic Outdoor Games for Kids: Backyard Games, Playground Games, and More
It's hard to beat classic outdoor games for kids when it comes time to entertain them during the long school-free summer months, at birthday parties, or when they've spent too much time on screens. From hide-and-seek to ghost in the graveyard, these outdoor games are sure to keep your crew, and whichever neighborhood kids stop by, busy for hours. Best of all, you can play almost all of these playground and backyard games listed below without spending any money. Time to load up the sunscreen, head outdoors, and play!
If you don't mind getting wet, check out these Favorite Water Games to Play With Kids, and keep the party going in the great outdoors with one of the activities from our Guide to Outdoor Activities for Kids.
Classic Outdoor Games for Kids
1. Jump Rope Games
It's a timeless outdoor exercise and sport ... and most definitely a game! Jump rope games are endless outdoor fun for kids (and adults) of all ages. If you're playing with friends, there's the good ol' double dutch; if going it solo, grab a rope and see how many jumps you can do in a row. We've also rounded up some unique jump rope games and fun, including Snake in the Grass and Jump Rope Math.
2. Steal the Bacon
Divide your group into two and assign each player a number. Each team should have a one and a two, for example. Set a boundary line for each team and place your "bacon" in the middle. The bacon could be a ball or any toy of your choosing. When you call out a number, that player from each team tries to capture the bacon and get it back over to their boundary line. The first person to do this without being tagged wins. It's one of those quintessential games for kids that parents likely remember playing during PE class.
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3. Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a classic outdoor game that everyone knows and loves to play it seems. Make the outdoor version extra fun by using trees and patio furniture for hiding places. One person is the seeker, counting loudly with their eyes closed until everyone finds a hiding place. Once the counting is finished, the seeker tries to find where everyone is hidden.
For the game of horse, you’ll need a basketball and a hoop. Younger kids can play with a Little Tykes hoop or even a bucket if needed. The first player attempts a shot. Once they make it, the next player has to stand in the same place and duplicate it. If they miss, they accumulate the letter H. You keep going back and forth until one person gets all five letters in HORSE. This is a great game to play at the local basketball court, too.
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Traditional hopscotch is a timeless favorite!
Draw your traditional Hopscotch board with rectangles stacked on top with the numbers one, two, and three, in each rectangle. When you get to numbers four and five, you’ll put those side by side. Continue stacking, number six, seven, and eight. Place the final two side-by-side for numbers nine and ten. Have each child hop on one foot for a single rectangle and two feet for the two side-by-side. Switch it up by making kids spin or do it backward. Have younger kids recite which number they landed on.
Using washable paint or sidewalk chalk, create a massive Tic-Tac-Toe board. Draw out a # or number sign symbol on your surface. There should be nine blank spaces when you’re finished. You’ll need two players to play this game; if you have more, play it tournament-style. One player is an X, and the other is an O. The object of the game is to get three in a row of an X or an O. Find your trio vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.
7. Double Dutch
We mentioned it above, and now it's time to highlight this outdoor game all on its own. To play double dutch, you’ll need two jump ropes and a minimum of three people. Two people stand across from each other holding a jump rope in each hand. Twirl each in opposite directions in unison until the two turners find their rhythm. The third player, also known as the jumper, enters when they are ready, jumping both ropes at the same time. You can also do this with two jumpers at a time. Jump rope games for kids are terrific at wearing 'em out, but we also love that kids can play without our supervision!
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Get kids laughing with Hot Potato; use any object as your 'potato. Photo by the author
Backyard Games for Kids
8. Hot Potato
Play Hot Potato for free by enlisting any soft ball or roundish, soft object you have in the house as the "potato." If you have an actual potato, even better. You’ll need at least three people for this game. Start by sitting everyone down in a circle and practice tossing the item back and forth underhand. When the game begins, play music or say 'Go' and begin tossing the ball to each other. When the music stops, whoever is holding the potato is out. In the non-music version, if you drop the potato, you’re out.
9. Red Light, Green Light
This one will really get the energy flowing and the adrenaline pumping. Perfect for even the youngest kids in the family, this game teaches you to be quick on your feet and obey the "stop light." One person is chosen as the stop light and they stand at one end of the yard. The rest of the players are the "traffic." When the stop light calls out "Red Light!", they face the traffic and try to catch anyone who is moving toward them. Then, he or she will turn their back to the traffic players, saying "Green Light!", and those players will rush forward until he or she turns again, saying, "Red Light!" Anyone caught moving must return to the starting line. The first person to tag the traffic light player gets to be the next traffic light.
10. Capture the Flag
Capture the Flag is easily among our favorite outdoor games for kids when we really want them to break a sweat, or if you have a large group of kids, such as for a summer birthday party. To start, collect old T-shirts, bandanas, or socks to use as flags if you don’t have any flags on hand. The brighter the better—and try to keep them all the same size, if you can. Divide your group into two or more teams. You can give each team one or multiple flags to hide in their designated territory of the yard or park. Once the game starts, teams try to steal their enemies’ flags from the opposing teams and bring them back to the home base. The kids can decide who should guard their flags and who should seek them out. If an opposing team member taps or tags you, you are either out, frozen in “jail” until someone from your team tags and thus unfreezes you, or the player can join the opposing team.
For the game of spud, all you need is a ball and a group of kids. To start, throw the ball into the air and choose one child’s name to yell out. You can also assign each kid a number if you have a large group. That child must catch the ball while all the others scatter away. Once they have the ball, the other players are frozen. The player with the ball can walk toward the closest player, taking four steps and spelling out SPUD. Once they reach a player, the kid can roll or toss the ball toward the player trying to tag them. Balls should be aimed below the waist. The player can’t move their legs, but they can duck or swerve. If they get hit, they now have an S. If they are missed, the ball thrower has an S. Once you spell out SPUD, you’re out. The last one standing wins this backyard game.
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Kids of all ages can play Freeze Dance together. Photo by the author
Outdoor Birthday Party Games for Kids
12. Freeze Dance
Freeze dance is one of the easiest games for kids—and maybe the most fun to play. All you need is a little bit of space and some music. Start the music and everyone in the group dances. When the music stops, everyone should FREEZE. Those you keep grooving are now out. Don't move again until the music starts. To make the game harder, keep the music off for a few seconds and see who wiggles.
13. Musical Chairs
For musical chairs, all you need are chairs, some tunes, and a group of three kids or more. Start by placing chairs in a circle. You want to have one less chair per person. When the music plays, everyone walks around the circle. The object of the game is to grab a seat and sit down as soon as the music stops. Whoever doesn’t have a chair when the music stops is out. After each round, remove a chair. The last one standing wins.
14. Corn Hole or Bags
Corn hole is a popular backyard BBQ diversion for adults, but it also makes for a great outdoor game for kids. It is one of the few among our top games for kids that typically requires purchasing a set, but shop around as prices vary fairly wildly. Place each bag set on opposite sides with a few feet between them. Give each team their colored bean bag and let them toss them toward the hole. Depending on how you’d like to play, points can be awarded for getting it into the hole and a lesser number of points for getting it on the board. Determine how many points earned will mark the end of the game. If you don’t have a corn hole set, it is possible to create one using cardboard and small whiffle or nerf balls.
15. Duck, Duck, Goose
Among our favorite games for kids ages 5 and under is Duck, Duck, Goose. In case you need a refresher on this classic: Get all your ducklings to sit in a circle. One of the players walks around the circle saying, duck, duck, duck, duck while patting each player they pass on the head. Whenever they want, they tap a player on the head and shout GOOSE. The player who was tapped with goose gets up and runs around the circle to try to get back in the goose player’s original seat without being tagged. If they make it, the goose has to do it again. If they get tagged, they become the goose.
16. Pin the Tail
You don’t need anything fancy or store-bought to play pin the tail, among the most classic of party games for kids. Use sidewalk chalk or washable paint to draw an animal or something with a "tail" on a piece of poster board or a dry erase board. Give each player a tail with something sticky on the end such as tape. Line the kids up. The first one up gets blindfolded with a bandana, shirt, or towel. Spin them around in a circle and have them walk toward the picture to pin their tail on. Whoever gets the tail closest wins.
17. Bozo Buckets
Place six buckets in a row to kick off this fun game for kids. These can be sand buckets, gardening buckets, or whatever your family has handy. Take a handful of ping pong balls and give them to the first player. Have them stand in line behind the buckets and try to get a ball into each. Award prizes for each bucket if you like; decide on a set number of strikes until it’s the next player's turn.
18. Ghost in the Graveyard
To play Ghost in the Graveyard designate a home base in your yard. Ask for a volunteer to be the ghost. Everyone on the home base turns around so the ghost can hide in the yard. Once you’re ready the kids run through the yard. The object of the game is for the ghost to try and catch as many players as they can. Once you’re tagged, you become a ghost. If you see the ghost while you’re running, you yell “Ghost in the Graveyard” and try to run back to home base before you get tagged.
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Kids can socialize while learning good sportsmanship. Photo courtesy of Total Pickleball, Facebook
Outdoor Ball Games for Kids
This increasingly popular sport is a perfect outdoor game for kids to play during summer vacation, especially if they've already learned all the rules and strategies at school. Grab a pickleball paddle and some balls and head to a local court or tennis court to practice and play. We've rounded up some helpful tips to remember the rules and help you choose the right paddle. Read more about pickleball in our detailed guide to pickleball rules.
Can you think of a more invigorating outdoor game for kids? A ball and a minimum of three players are all that's needed for this old-school gym class staple. The goal is to eliminate all players on the opposing team by hitting them with a ball (keep it below the shoulders). To start, divide your team into two. Place two balls on each side of the starting line. When the game begins, each team races to the ball to start eliminating players by hitting them with the ball. You’re out if another player catches one of the balls you throw, if you get hit with a ball, or if you cross the centerline. The last team standing wins. Even bigger kids who think they're too cool for backyard games have a blast playing.
21. Flag Football
To play flag football, you need a football and a flag belt or flag for each player. You can also use an old T-shirt, socks, or bandana. Toss a coin to determine who starts the game with a kickoff and which side they’ll defend. The object of the game is to get your ball over the line and to do so without getting your flag pulled. If you have the ball and another player pulls your flag, the ball is dead.
To play kickball in your yard, you’ll first want to set up your bases as you would for a baseball game. You’ll also designate a pitching mound. Use a placemat, yoga mat, or folded beach towel to mark your bases if you don’t have any. You can also use an empty baseball diamond at a local park. Divide your teams into two and have each team choose a kicker. Instead of pitching like a baseball, the pitcher must roll the ball underhand to the players. Remember, the ball can only be kicked by foot.
This game requires a very small ball and jacks, of course! This is more of a sit-down ball game for kids to play in the great outdoors, nonetheless exciting to watch and play. Best played with two players, this game can be played on any flat surface, such as a porch or sidewalk. Players take turns bouncing the ball and seeing how many of the game pieces they can pick up in one swoop of the hand, with just one bounce of the ball.
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Bobbing for apples isn't just for Halloween!
Outdoor Water Games for Kids
24. Bob for Apples
If you have apples and a baby pool or large bucket, it's a great time to play Bob for Apples. Load up your baby pool with apples and fill the pool with water. Have each child kneel over the pool to try and bite the apples with their mouth. To make this more sanitary with kids from different households, you can also give each child their own small tub with apples. The first one to bob out the most apples wins. Rinse the apples and use them for snacks later. Requires supervision, of course!
25. Water Balloons
Water balloons are a staple for any hot summer day. You can grab a pack of inexpensive balloons at a dollar store in a variety of colors. With snazzy new inventions like this hose attachment, fill multiple water balloons at the same time. Set up a balloon toss game or give the kids buckets of filled balloons for a round of water balloon tag.
26. Sprinkler Tag
The old-fashioned sprinkler is always a hit with the kids (and it’s great for your grass). Throw the sprinkler on and let the kids run wild. Make it a game of sprinkler tag to see who can run under without getting hit. If you can’t cross to the other side, you’re out. Check out more water games for kids to keep cool this summer.
27. Marco Polo
If you, your family, or your neighbors next door have a swimming pool, then this outdoor game is for you. You can also take this outdoor, kid-friendly game to a local, community pool, as it does not require any materials or items to purchase. Be sure that players can swim, have an adult to monitor, and that it is played in the shallow end with a small group. One player is "it," and he or she closes their eyes and yells, "Marco!" Other players yell, "Polo", and the person who is it tries to find them to tag them to be the next "it" person.
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Decorate the sidewalks, deck, or walkway with sidewalk chalk. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
More Outdoor Games and Playground Games for Kids
28. Sidewalk Chalk
If you’re looking for something quick without a lot of prep work, sidewalk chalk is for you. You can make chalk art, practice writing, or even play chalk Pictionary where you draw something, and other players have to guess what it is. You can also make a little drawing with directions for kids to hop on one foot, twirl around, do a jumping jack, and so on.
Some of these games include a few materials, but feel free to get creative and try your own version if you don't happen to have all of the supplies. Imagination in outdoor games is one of the key factors and benefits.
29. Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt is a great game to play indoors or outdoors. Try our printable scavenger hunts for inspiration, or take a walk or grab some objects from around the house and find some hiding spots. Have the kids find them using a map of clues. For small objects, give each a bucket or basket to collect their treasures. This can be as easy or detailed as you like.
30. Paper Airplanes
Paper airplanes are a great craft and activity combination. Gather up those paper and craft supplies and start folding and decorating paper airplanes. Take them outdoors to see which model goes the farthest for a little competition.
Frisbee is a fun and easy way to spend time outdoors. If you have more than two people playing this outdoor game, set up a circle where everyone can toss the frisbee toward each other. Up the fun by acting like the frisbee is a "hot potato." Whenever someone misses the catch, they're out.
32. I Spy (Cloud Edition)
If you have a blanket and a clear day, play I Spy, Cloud Edition. Essentially, everyone lies down and looks up at the clouds. When you see a shape, animal, or object in the clouds, call it out and let the group try to find the shape that you’re describing.
Consider a round of Tug of War to keep a group of kids entertained!
33. Tug of War
To play Tug of War, all that is needed is a sheet or a rope and an old T-shirt or bandana. Place an object or another rope on the ground to create the center point. On the rope, tie the T-shirt or bandana at the center. The object of the game is to have two teams on either end of the rope trying to pull the bandana on the center over to their side of the center line on the ground. The first team to pull it across the center is the winner.
34. The Grass Is Lava
When we play this popular game outdoors, we use pool floats, blankets, towels, yoga mats, and even a trampoline to devise the course. The goal is to have your kids reach each item on the ground without stepping on the grass (the lava). If someone falls off or falls into the lava, they are out. The last one standing wins. If you don't have a backyard, this can be played in a driveway or at the beach.
Turn an ordinary game of Rock, Paper, Scissors into a special game of tag. Photo by the author
35. Rock, Paper, Scissors Tag
A game of Rock, Paper, Scissors Tag, only requires two people. Start off by playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, and whoever wins the round becomes the tagger. The other player runs, and if the tagger tags them, they're out. Repeat as many times as you like or play best out of 10. You can also play with multiple people, assigning two to start off playing Rock, Paper, Scissors each round.
To play parachute, all you’ll need is a large bed sheet or blanket and a lightweight ball (a Nerf or beach ball works great). Everyone in the group takes a corner or an end so that the sheet lays flat. Place the ball in the center, and then let everyone in the group wave the blanket up and down so the ball rolls around and even pops up. If you have enough people to keep the "parachute" up, some of the group can take turns running under it.
To play Telephone, there are no supplies needed. The more people you have, however, the funnier this game becomes. Start by choosing one person to kick things off. Separate your group in a line in the yard far enough apart so that you can’t hear each other whisper. This is the trick that makes the game of Telephone better as an outdoor game! The first person makes up the first line of a story and whispers it to the person closest to them. The next person in line has to make up another line of that story and tell the original line with it. Once the story reaches the last person, they have to say it all out loud to the group. You’ll get a lot of giggles seeing what gets lost in translation.
38. Spider Web
Making an outdoor spider web takes a little prep time, but it’s a great way to get kids outside. Rope or ribbon work well to create a spider web pattern on the grass. Have your kids try to jump between the ropes into the grass sections without touching the "spider web." Whoever makes it into every open space without touching the web wins.
Twister is a great yard game as the wide-open space works well for this one! Spin the wheel to indicate which color dot you need to put your hands or feet on. With multiple players, many end up twisted together in funny positions. When players topple or knock out another player they are eliminated. To make your own, use placemats, dish towels, or rubber circles of different colors. Use dice to indicate the colors on your homemade "dots."
Who can hula the longest?
40. Hula Hoop
A hula hoop is for more than just hooping. If you have more than one, have the kids compete to see who can go the longest without dropping their hoop. You can even make it a tournament. For more hula hoop fun, place them on the grass in a line and have the kids jump inside the circle. Freeze dance is another fun game to play with a hula hoop.
Additional reporting by Vanessa Leigh. This post was first published in June of 2021.