Let’s Go Outside: 24 Ideas for Outdoor Play for Families
When it’s nice out (and even when it’s not), playing outside has a way of putting everybody in a great mood–and wearing everyone out for deep sleep when the sun goes down.
Remember what it was like being a kid outside in the summer? Good times, right?
To remind you what that was like, we’ve put together some classic outdoor games to teach your kids–with a few new ones thrown in.
There are games on this list for every age, every kid, every ability, and every budget. So, get out there and PLAY!
How to Play: The person who’s “it” runs after people who aren’t to tag them. If you’re tagged, you’re now “it.” Rinse and repeat.
What you Need to Play: At least 2 players and a tagging hand.
What Makes It Awesome: Um. It’s tag!
2. Freeze Tag
How to Play: See the instructions above, only add the rule that if the “it” person tags you, you have to freeze in place.
And don’t. move. a. muscle.
The only way to thaw out is if a non-“it” player tags you–but they have to be willing to be tagged themselves. If everyone gets frozen, the “it” person wins.
What you Need to Play: At least 3 players and a tagging hand.
What Makes It Awesome: Again, TAG! With the added benefits of teamwork and social skills.
3. Build a Fort
How to Play: Building a fort can involve everything from constructing something permanent in your yard with your child to throwing a blanket over a bush.
It’s an opportunity to let a kid’s creativity and imagination go absolutely crazy.
What you Need to Play: Simple, gathered materials like pruned tree limbs, cardboard boxes, old plywood, old blankets, etc.
What Makes It Awesome: It’s macro play that never gets old.
How to Play: Pick two bases (real bases, shoes, a hat, anything really) and two throwers. Everybody else is a runner.
Throwers toss a ball back and forth to each other while the runners go from one base to the other without getting tagged. Last runner alive wins.
What you Need to Play: At least 4 players. A softball, tennis ball, or any ball that can be thrown, “Catch-style” from one person to another.
What Makes It Awesome: Everyone gets to play 100% of the time.
5. Red Light, Green Light
How to Play: One person plays the traffic cop. Everyone else stands on the starting line, but the traffic cop stands with their back to them.
When the traffic cop says “green light,” everyone runs toward the finish line. When the traffic cop says “red light,” everyone stops in their tracks.
The first kid to pass the finish line wins and gets to be the traffic cop.
What you Need to Play: At least 3 players.
What Makes It Awesome: Everyone gets to play 100% of the time. The poses that happen when you instantly have to stop are 100% worth it.
6. Scavenger Hunt
How to Play: Make a list of items you might find in the neighborhood, park, yard, or area you designate as the “map” for the hunt.
The items could be things you find in nature like pinecones, a certain kind of leaf, a particularly colored rock, etc., or manmade objects like thread, paperclips, clothespins, etc.
Each team gets the same list of objects they have to find and a time limit.
The team that returns with the most items on the list first wins.
What you Need to Play: At least 4 players, paper, pens.
What Makes It Awesome: Never has a list been important. Never will it be again.
7. Hide & Seek
How to Play: Whoever is “it” counts to a number (usually 20–but you can shift it down or up based on age + level of difficulty) while everyone else hides.
At the “here I come, ready or not!” the “it” person goes searching for everyone. When you’re found (or you make a run for base), if you’re tagged, you’re “it,” and it all begins again.
What you Need to Play: At least 3 players and lots of nooks and crannies.
What Makes It Awesome: There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ll never be found and then BAM!
How to Play: A new classic game that’s basically technology + hiking + treasure hunting.
In the app, you’re given coordinates for over two million real “caches” (or treasure boxes) that are hidden by other players and volunteers all over the world based on interesting spots on the actual map.
Bring a tiny toy to leave behind in the cache for the next person to find.
What you Need to Play: 2 players, a very small, inexpensive toy (not required, but it’s more fun if you can take something from inside the cache and leave something behind), a mobile phone, free geocache app, a vehicle.
What Makes It Awesome: You get to see some places–even in your own town–that you may never have known existed before. Plus, lots of hilarious little things in the cache to take with you as a prize for the find.
How to Play: One person holds out their hands, palms up. The other person places their fingertips on the other person’s hands.
The person with their palms UP tries to slap the back of the other person’s hands before they pull them away. If they’re successful, they get to keep their spot as the slap-ER. If they miss, they switch spots.
What you Need to Play: 2 people. Tough hands.
What Makes It Awesome: Slapping other people’s hands. What’s not to love?
10. Double Dutch
How to Play: With one person on each end of long jump ropes that they turn in opposite directions, the person/people in the middle try to jump the ropes without messing up.
Players can improvise their own jumps, twirls, and rhymes.
What you Need to Play: At least 3 people, two long jump ropes.
What Makes It Awesome: Big builder of coordination, stamina, teamwork, and muscle.
11. Duck, Duck, Goose
How to Play: All players sit in a circle while one person walks around the circle touching each person’s head, naming each one a “duck” or a “goose.”
If the tagger calls one person “goose,” that person jumps up and chases the tagger. The objective is to tag the tagger before they get back to their own spot in the circle.
If they get caught, they have to sit in the “mush pot” in the center of the circle for a turn. If they don’t, the “goose” now becomes the tagger, and the game goes on.
What you Need to Play: 4+ players, the more the goosier.
What Makes It Awesome: Old School, literally.
12. Plant flowers/a garden
How to: Whether you have an acre or a square foot beside your apartment door, you can plant and grow something astounding that your child will never forget.
What you Need: 1 kid, 1 adult, seeds (or a sprout), plastic cups or shovels for digging, water
What Makes It Awesome: Kids get to help something grow, and that can be incredibly exciting–and teach them where food comes from.
13. Silent Ball
How to Play: Toss any ball around. You’re out if you drop it, make a bad pass, make a noise. The last person “in,” wins.
What you Need to Play: 2 people. A ball.
What Makes It Awesome: Ah, the simplicity! Ah, the silence!
14. Three Flies Up
How to Play: The single thrower in this game stands about 50 feet away from the rest of the players and tosses the ball high in the air towards the catchers.
Catching the ball gets a point. The first catcher with three points gets to be the thrower.
What you Need to Play: 3+ players, a softball, baseball, or tennis ball.
What Makes It Awesome: It’s high stakes catch.
15. Treasure Hunt
How to Play: Go for a walk with your kids–through (or TO) a park, to the corner store, to a friend’s house, to the mailbox, etc.–and look for interesting items you see on the ground.
You could see anything from the first blossom of the spring to a lost pair of sunglasses to a toy car to a bird you’ve never seen in your neighborhood before.
The point is not necessarily to pick found things up and take them with you but to make up a story about them.
What you Need to Play: 1 kid, 1 adult, good walking shoes, water.
What Makes It Awesome: Exercise + building a kid’s (and an adult’s) storytelling muscles.
16. Arm Wrestling
How to Play: Two opponents with their elbows on a flat, sturdy surface grip each other’s hands.
The winner is the one who can get the other person’s hand to touch the flat surface without the use of both hands or lifting their elbows.
What you Need to Play: 2 players, a flat surface, chairs.
What Makes It Awesome: The ultimate person-to-person battle of strength and endurance–bragging rights forever.
17. Kick the Can
How to Play: One person protects a can (or whatever small, inanimate object of their choice–not a ball) while other players run up and try to kick it over.
If tagged, the kickers have to hide and join the protector’s team.
What you Need to Play: 4+ players, a “can.”
What Makes It Awesome: Alliances form and are broken in ways that don’t hurt anyone.
How to Play: Hide-and-seek, in reverse. One person hides while everyone else counts.
If you find the hidden person, you have to join them where they’re hidden. Last person to find everyone else loses.
What you Need to Play: 3+ people, places to hide.
What Makes It Awesome: One of the only reverse games that actually work.
19. Sidewalk Chalk Art Contest
How to Play: Find a clear spot of concrete, tape off kid-sized (based on their age) “canvases” on the sidewalk or driveway, hand them a box of sidewalk chalk, give them a topic (family, pets, nature, movies, etc.), and let their imaginations go wild.
After a set amount of time (again, based on their age), have a contest in which everyone wins a prize: best color combinations, most realistic, most imaginative, etc.
Don’t forget to take pictures.
What you Need to Play: 1 kiddo or more + 1 judge or more, lots of sidewalk chalk in many different colors, wide masking tape.
What Makes It Awesome: It teaches kids how to express themselves through art. Being outside is an extra bonus.
How to Play: Two people standing directly in front of each other hold out their hands and try to push each other over while keeping their own feet flat on the ground. The first person to move their feet loses.
What you Need to Play: An even number of people.
What Makes It Awesome: You can change the rules from feet moving to hands moving, etc.
How to Play: With sidewalk chalk, draw a large square (about 6ft X 6ft). Quarter it into equal-sized squares within the larger one.
One person stands in each of the smaller squares. Each square equals one, two, three, and four points each.
The person in square number one bounces the ball into another square. The player standing in that square must hit it into another square before it bounces twice.
Bouncing the ball outside the bigger square or letting the ball bounce twice means that person is out.
What you Need to Play: 4 people, sidewalk chalk (or a four-square court that you can find at some parks or school playgrounds), a ball the size of a soccer ball.
What Makes It Awesome: Kids find endless ways to skyline a ball with their hands.
22. Best Little Piglet
How to Play: Easy. Who can get the dirtiest?
The Best Piglet, that’s who.
Put your kids in a relatively controlled environment (your backyard, an area at a park or beach, etc.) where they have plenty of dirt, water, leaves, grass, sand, etc. that can be washed out of their clothes and hair–and let them “have at it” based on a timer.
When the timer goes off, line them up and have a contest to see who got the dirtiest. The laughter lasts forever.
What you Need to Play: 2 players, a judge, a place to get clean again before they get in a car or track mud into your house, a prize (optional).
What Makes It Awesome: Kids who are taught that it’s okay to get dirty learn to play hard and love the outdoors.
23. Four Corners
How to Play: On the same kind of court as Four-Square, players stand on each of the four big corners while one person stands in the middle.
Each person on a corner tries to swap with each other before the player in the middle can get to either corner.
If the person in the middle reaches a corner, the person they stole it from becomes the person in the middle.
What you Need to Play: 4 players, a Four-Square court (or the sidewalk chalk to draw one on concrete).
What Makes It Awesome: Wishy-washy alliances. 100% fun, unless you’re the one in the middle.
How to Play: Take turns shooting a basketball into a hoop, with a catch: the first player does anything they want from jumping three times to turning their back to the hoop.
If they miss, the next player makes up their own crazy shot. If they make the shot, every player after them has to copy the same shot.
If you miss, you earn a letter beginning with H and ending with E to spell HORSE. The last person standing who hasn’t spelled out HORSE with their misses, wins.
What you Need to Play: 2+ players, a basketball + a hoop.
What Makes It Awesome: Tons of people can play, and the creativity involved makes it endlessly entertaining for those waiting their turns.
All dads are welcome!