When folks talk about summers back in the day, they say things like, “We just went outside and played.” OK, but what did we play—anyone remember? We’ve got hundreds of ideas for playtime with your kids, but we especially love these throw-back games that used to keep us entertained until the streetlights came on. So Red Rover those neighborhood kids right on over and teach the whole crew a few of the games that the Brady brood played in their AstroTurf backyard!
1. Red Rover
The more kids the better for this game. Players are divided into two facing lines, holding hands and spread out, with enough distance for a running start between the lines. The first team beckons a person on the second team by calling, "Red Rover, Red Rover, send ______ right over!" The named child must run at full force, in a decidedly non-seatbelt-era way, toward one of the gaps in the opposing line, trying to break through a pair of clasped hands. If the player gets through, he returns to his original line. If he fails, he must join the line he couldn't break. The other team now calls for someone to run right over and do the same. The game continues until one team has absorbed all the players.
2. Frozen Tag (Freeze Tag)
Depending on where you grew up, you may call this game by either name, but in the years of Disney's Frozen, why not go for the moniker that inspires a few choruses of "Let It Go?" In this version of the classic game Tag, if the person who is it tags a player, that person must freeze in place until tagged and set free by another participant. When the one who is it tags everyone, the last person caught becomes it. And perhaps belts out, "The cold never bothered me anyway!"
This game is really practice for a rare situation in baseball (called a pickle), but my brother, neighbors and I filled many summertime after-dinner hours playing Pickle in the street. Two bases are marked (with chalk, beanbags or whatever you like), and each is guarded by a player who throws and catches a baseball, tennis ball or Wiffle ball. One or more players try to run back and forth between the bases without being tagged out by the people with the ball.
4. Red Light / Green Light
One child is it and turns his back to a line of players. When it says "Green Light," the players move forward trying to reach him. When it says "Red Light," he turns around to look at the players. Anyone seen moving has to return to the starting line. The first child to reach it wins and takes over that job for the next round.
This game is essentially an all-out Tag war, played with two teams. Each team has an area that is its "jail," where tagged players from the other team are kept prisoner. Jail can be anything—a front step, a park bench—and imprisoned players are freed by someone from their team who has not been captured, barging in to tag them and shouting some version of "All in, All in, free!" The game ends when one team has successfully captured all of the other team's players, which can easily take until the street lights come on.
6. Ghost in the Graveyard
Kids can play this at any time of day, but it's particularly fun when light is low. Ghost in the Graveyard is essentially a hybrid of Tag and Hide-and-Seek; the child who is it hides, and when the others are finished counting they start looking for the hidden child. The first player to see it shouts, "Ghost in the graveyard!" and everyone must run back to base with it in hot pursuit. If someone is caught, that person becomes the ghost for the next round.
7. Kick the Can
Yet another classic blending of two famous children's games, this one starts like Hide-and-Seek, with it counting while the other players hide. As the hidden players are found, they are sent to a jail that has a can nearby. A player who has not yet been caught can free the jailed players by kicking the can, either one at a time or all at once, depending on the rules you employ.
In this version of Hide-and-Seek, only one person hides and all the others look. Anyone finding the hidden player joins her in the hiding place. This continues until the kids (squeezed like sardines) are found by the last remaining child, or everyone ends up hidden together.
9. Mother, May I?
The setup for this game is similar to Red Light, Green Light: Players in a line try to reach one child who monitors their progress a few steps at a time. In this one, the kids ask for permission to move forward, as in, "Mother, may I move one giant step forward?" "Mother" either says, "Yes, you may," or "No, you may not, but you may take two small steps instead," or whatever substitution the "Mother" prefers—baby steps, steps back, etc. If the game is reaching a stalemate with the "Mother" facing the other players (sometimes that player just doesn't want to let anyone reach the end), try playing with "Mother's" back turned, so she doesn't see how close the other players are getting as they take their allowed steps.
10. Flashlight Tag
Summer vacation means bedtime can be more fluid—so why not play tag after dark? Hand all the kids flashlights and start a round of Hide-and-Seek; the first kid caught in a beam of light takes over the role of the seeker. Nothing says vacation better than staying up late and running around playing after dark, right?
Have fun reliving your own summer vacation years sharing these games with your kids; and if you run through all of these, try our 25 Water Games, or our ideas for Games from Classic Children's Books.