There’s a lot to be said for a solid day of pool play, where you can keep them happy around the clock with simple games that don’t require a single ring, squirt gun, or swan. From cannonball contests to categories, we’ve gathered our favorites. Keep reading for the inside splash on how to play without the pool props.

PoolPhoto: A. Brumby

1. Air Ninja
Adrenaline, meet categories. Starting on the side of the pool in jump-ready position, count “1,2,3” then your choice of any animate or inanimate object. Kiddos will leap into the air, strike their pose, and come up for air giggling. Some sure-fire objects that they’ll love to imitate are tigers, turtles, and trees, but the more creative you get, the more they’ll beg for more.

2. Atomic Whirlpool
Part pool game, part magic trick, this game involves a line of kids inside the pool but along the edge (in the shallow end). Have them walk, then jog, then race as fast as they can—still in single file—around the perimeter of the pool, then yell “switch!” When they turn to run the opposite direction, the current will keep them from running, but certainly increase the laughter factor. Added bonus? Running in the pool will wear. them. out.

Photo: Ed Garcia via flickr 

3. Popsicle
If you’ve ever played freeze tag on dry land, this is exactly that, only in the shallow end of the pool. Start with one person as “it,” and have him or her tag the other players, who are swimming. When tagged, a player must stand frozen like a popsicle until another un-tagged player can thaw him out by swimming underwater between his legs. Just be sure to change the “it” person every so often to keep from having pouty popsicles in the pool.

4. Dive for Treasure
Who needs fancy dive sticks or expensive torpedoes when you’ve got a public pool and a kid with goggles? Just in case you’re a little afraid what Junior might find, however, take a handful of coins and toss them in the water to focus his search.

Photo: Laurelville via flickr 

5. F.I.S.H
Similar to P.I.G. in basketball, the first player in F.I.S.H. is the leader and the other players must follow exactly what the leader does. Jump from the side, do a certain dive, perform a choreographed pool number—whatever the task, the players must follow it or be given a letter from F.I.S.H. The first player to spell F.I.S.H loses the game.

6. Pool Pizza 
This variation on colors involves one person—the “it” one—being named the chef. Other players pick their favorite pizza topping and group together. When the chef calls out their topping, those players swim to the other side of the pool. If the chef catches you, however, you go straight into the pizza “oven” (the out area, usually on the stairs or along one wall).

Chicken FightsPhoto: stapp via flickr

7. Chicken Fights
We give the namesake of this game two thumbs down, but the pool game is a solid 10 in our book. Be sure to set the bar high when you define the rules of engagement prior to shouldering-up. Chicken fights are played with a minimum of four participants (two “bases” and two “chickens” who each climbs onto the other player’s shoulders). A chicken can push, pull, tickle, tackle, splash the other chicken off of its base to dominate as World Chicken Champion (until the next round, anyways).

8. Marco Polo
Forget Marco Polo was the first European to reach China. In America, if it’s June, July or August, Marco (Polo!) is king of the pool. “Marco” catches other players based on their reply to his call, and there’s no adrenaline like daring to be the fish out of water! Just like tag, only in water and with your eyes closed, how many hours did you spend playing this easy but exciting pool game as a kid?

Photo: Nancy via flickr 

9. Sharks and Minnows
While there’s debate as to the proper starting position of the minnows (in the water or out of water on the far side of the pool), and variation exists on the proper call to action by the shark (“Sharks and minnows, one, two, three. Fishies, fishes, come to me!” versus “Fiiiishies! Come out and plaaay!”), there’s no debate this classic pool game will be entertaining our children’s children for summers to come. Could there be anything more thrilling than narrowly escaping the touch of the treacherous shark?

10. Categories
With Categories, the more swimmers you have, the merrier (but we know of confirmed rounds of Categories inolving only two players, so work with what you’ve got). Begin by choosing someone to be “It”, who then selects a category other players are familiar with (think colors for the small set, or candy bars for the older kids). “It” stands outside of the pool with his back turned from the water and all other players line up directly underneath him with their hands on the wall, waiting for his or her selection to be guessed. If it is, the player tries to swim to the other side of the pool without being tagged out.

Pool Funny HairPhoto: Alex Bellink via flickr

11. Funny Hair Competition
You know you’ve done it. If you ever had hair longer than shoulder-length, you’ve done the George Washington (emerged from underwater with your hair flipped down over your face, then rolled it back over your head to for a stylin’ Colonial era ‘do). Other classics include the dinosaur (spiked hair), the Princess Lea (dueling buns), and the sweet roll (spiraled over the entire head).

12. Underwater Tea Party
Goggles come in handy here. In an underwater tea party, two players must sink to the bottom of the pool where they sit criss-cross-applesauce, then partake in a fancy tea fit for a queen. Pouring from imaginary teapots, stirring imaginary cups of tea, offering each other lumps of sugar and passing trays of finger foods and sweets are all par for the course.

Cannon Ball

Photo: Mike Spasoff via flickr

13. Cannon Ball Competition
Best performed from a springy, 1980’s-era diving board, cannon ball competitions are similar to dance offs because each participant tries to “up” the next with his or her artistic interpretations mid-flight and ultimately, by the size of her splash.

14. Mermaid Splash
Little mermaids take turns swimming like a mermaid with their ankles together, then go underwater and rocket out of the water with their arms in the air (a la Ariel in the Little Mermaid) to see who can jump the highest out of the water.

Submarine Photo: A. Brumby

15. Submarine Races
Racers become human submarines as they race underwater to see who can get the farthest without emerging for air. The key to a successful sumariner is a strong start, followed by efficient flutter kicks. Some have been known to dive deep early so not to lose momentum on the surface mid-pool.

16. Octopus
The goal is to be the last swimmer unattached to the human chain of “outed” participants. The octopus begins with one player who tags another player, who then must link arms with one another (hence the growing octopus). As the octopus grows and the number of unlinked players diminishes, it gets trickier and trickier to evade the “tentacle” of players in the pool.

Belly FlopPhoto: Amy Spreitzer Windsor via Flickr

17. Belly Flop Competition
Similar to a cannon ball competition but without the showmanship mid flight, the belly flop competition is all about the biggest smack of flesh on water. Who needs a cool flip mid air when everyone knows you’re going for surface-area-to-contact records?

How do you keep the giggles going all summer long in the pool? Tell us in the comments section below!

—Shelley Massey

feature photo: DavidAKeller2012 via pixabay