It’s time to drop your iPhone, drag the kids away from the tablets, and send them out the back door to play enough of the old-school yard games listed below to make them break a sweat and earn that popsicle. You can either join in or finally attempt the near-impossible moves on that PiYo DVD in peace. Keep reading to get started.

photo: Craig via Flickr

1. Kickball
This classic outdoor game requires a group, so it’s a perfect option for a block party. It’s also a great way to get neighborhood kids together on an open weekend day. All you need is a rubber kickball, four bases, an infield, an outfield and a pitching plate. Not surprisingly, the rules are very similar to the game of baseball, and Kids Sports Activities has play-by-play information.

2. Freeze Tag
Best played with a large group, one play is “IT,” and, like regular tag, they race around trying to touch other players. When she does catch someone, that player has to freeze in his spot. Each player can only be unfrozen if someone else touches him. The first person to move after being frozen is now “IT!”

3. Hide and Seek
Let your kids entertain themselves with endless rounds of what might be the most classic game of all time.

4. Blind Man’s Bluff
This classic game is like the thinking man’s tag or a slow-mo version of it anyway. And it’s the perfect pace for grandparents to get in on the fun. All you need is a blindfold and a few players to start. Put the blindfold on the Seeker; then spin her around a few times while the other players scatter. Now it’s time to seek. Using her keen other senses, the Skeeker tries to tag the scattered players who are rooted in place. Sure, they can duck and dodge her outstretched arms, but they can’t move their feet. It’s a giggle-worthy game everyone can play!

5. Capture the Flag
This game requires a few players, so it’s a great one for family reunions, neighborhood gatherings or vacations with friends. Each team attempts to capture the other team’s flag, which is located at the other end of the playing field, at “home base.” Players can tag members of the other team when on their side, sending them jail. Get your teammates out of jail by crossing into enemy territory and tagging each one. First team to capture the flag wins!

6. Red Rover
This one is a recess staple. Two groups of kids interlace their arms in two rows facing each other—the rows spaced a distance apart. One group of children calls, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send (child’s name) on over.” The child who has been called runs toward the opposite line and tries to break through. If he/she is able to break it, he/she takes a kid from the broken line back to his/her original line. If the child doesn’t break through, he/she joins the opposing line.  

7. Sly Fox
Fun fact: in France, this game is called, “One, Two, Three, Piano!” To play, the child chosen to be the “fox” faces away from the other children, standing by a wall or an imaginary line. The other children must stand in a line at a distance. When the fox isn’t looking, the other children must run or walk to get closer to the fox. If the fox turns around, however, the other children must freeze. If the fox sees someone moving, that child must go back to his/her starting place. The first child who tags the fox without being seen moving wins that round and becomes the fox for the next round!

hopscotch_ginnyfiglar_yardgames_redtricyclephoto: Ginny Figlar via Flickr

8. Hopscotch
Using chalk (or paint, if you’re at home and want a permanent fixture on your driveway!), draw a hopscotch design on asphalt or concrete (see here for an example). The first child takes a turn throwing a small stone or similar object (i.e. a bean bag, shell, small toy) onto the first square. (The child loses his/her turn if the stone lands on a line or outside the square, and passes the stone to the next child in line.) The child hops on one foot into the first empty square (i.e. skipping square one) and every subsequent square, jumping with both feet at the pairs (4-5 and 7-8). When the child reaches square 10, he/she hops with both feet, turns around, and heads back to the beginning. When he/she reaches the marked square, the child picks up the stone while still standing on one foot and completes the course. If the child completes the whole course without falling or missing a square, he/she throws the stone to the subsequent square (i.e. square two) on his/her next turn. The first child to get all the way to square ten wins!  

9. Simon Says
Give your bossiest cherub a permissible outlet! One child is designated “Simon” and stands in front of the rest of the group of children. Simon then issues commands to the players, i.e. “Simon says pat your belly three times with your left hand.” The children must only follow commands preceded by the phrase, “Simon says.” If Simon simply says, “Touch your nose,” any players who follow the command are out of the game. The objective is to stay in the game as long as possible.

10. Mother May I
One child is chosen to be the “mother” or “father” or “captain.” The other children stand in a line at a distance. Each child takes a turn asking the mother if they may make a certain movement, always preceding their request with, “Mother may I …” (i.e. “Mother may I take five bunny hops?”). If the child forgets to say, “Mother may I …” before the request, he/she must return to the starting line. The mother either says, “Yes, you may,” or “No, you may not, but you may … instead.” The first person to reach the mother wins and becomes the mother in the next round.

11. Duck, Duck, Goose
You may have played this game at every birthday party until you became “too cool” in, say, second grade. Start by designating one child “it.” The rest of the children sit in a circle on the ground. The standing child walks around the circle, tapping each child (gently!) on the head saying “Duck!” each time until he/she decides to tap someone and say “Goose!” That child leaps up to chase the “it” child around the circle, attempting to tag the “it” child before he/she reaches the Goose’s seat again. If the “it” child sits in the Goose’s spot before being tagged, the Goose now becomes “it.”

jumprope_davidsalafia_oldschoolgames_lastdaysoutdoors_redtricyclephoto: David Salafia via Flickr

12. Jump Rope Rhymes
There are too many songs to count: Bubble Gum, Cinderella Dressed in Yella, Down in the Valley, Grace Dressed in Lace. And these energy-burners boast an assortment of educational perks: coordination, memory, balance, and teamwork, to name a few!

13. Hand Clap Games
Like jump rope rhymes, there are too many to count: Miss Mary Mack, Down Down Baby, Miss Susie, Lemonade Crunchy Ice, even Patty Cake—who knew these throwbacks to your childhood were great for bilateral coordination, memory, and cognitive skill building?

14. Red Light, Green Light
One child is designated the “stop light” and stands at a distance from the other children, who are in a line. When the stoplight says, “Green light!” everyone moves toward the stoplight. All children must immediately stop when the stoplight says, “Red light!” (or the child must return to the starting point). Start a new round when one child reaches the stoplight.


15. Four Square
You might remember this game leading to some heated playground competition. To play, draw a large square divided into four quadrants, with one child standing in each square. Additional children wait their turn in line. The head place is designated, “King.” The King makes rules the others must follow throughout the game (there are countless variations—check this list out for ideas). Each player in the square must hit the ball once, based on the “rules” of the King. Once a player makes a mistake, he/she leaves the quadrant is sent to the back of the line and another player comes into the first quadrant. The goal is to reach the King quadrant and take everyone’s recess snacks. Just kidding.

—Katie Brown


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