Outdoor Play

6 High-Spirited Outdoor Games for Kids

By: Joanne Van Zuidarn
Children playing the outdoor game tug of war
Ages 3+
Critical Thinking
Fine Motor Skills
Social Emotional

When your kids are looking for something new to do, introduce them to these high-spirited, old-school outdoor games you played as a kid. Warning: you may not see them for hours! Try these all-time outdoor game faves to keep your kids happy, busy and active.

1. H-O-R-S-E

Best for: Competitive kids’ hoop skills and imagination

Number of players: 2 or more

What you need: Basketball, basketball hoop (or basketball hoop alternative) and a flat surface

Where to play: Your driveway (or a public court)

How to play: Kids take turns matching the exact shot and location of the previous player. If Player 1 creates (and sinks) a shot the opponent can’t replicate, Player 1 wins the round and the opponent (Player 2) earns the letter “H.” If Player 1 misses their own shot, Player 2 can attempt any shot from any location, and if they sink that shot, Player 1 must duplicate it. The game continues until one player accumulates all the letters H-O-R-S-E.

Game is over when: One player is left standing

Good to know: You can flip a coin to determine the starting player.

2. Double Dutch

Best for: Skilled jumpers with timing and coordination

Number of players: 3 (2 to hold the ropes, 1 to jump)

What you need: Two 16-foot double-dutch jump ropes

Where to play: A driveway, large patio, blacktop or another flat surface

How to play: Two children stand face-to-face, several feet apart, holding one end of a jump rope in each hand. They start by turning the ropes in opposite directions as a third child jumps in. Kids can decide beforehand whether to jump for fun, add a speed round (the most jumps per minute) or go for a freestyle round with tricks. Kids take turns once the jumper misses a jump.

Game is over when: One player becomes the first to reach a pre-set number of points, based on the number of jumps or tricks achieved. (Or kids can quit when fatigue sets in.)

Good to know: Adding rhymes helps keep the rhythm going. Try this motivator to start:

Cinderella, dressed in yellow

Went upstairs to kiss her fellow

Made a mistake

And kissed a snake

How many doctors

Did it take?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . .

3. Kick the Can

Best for: Competitive older kids

Number of players:  4 to 6  

What you need: An empty metal soda, soup or paint can

Where to play: A large outdoor space with places to hide

How to play: The kid who’s “it” places a can in an obstruction-free location, closes their eyes and counts to a pre-designated number while other players hide. The “it” then seeks the other players. If they spot a kid who’s hiding, they call out that name and the two players race back to the can. If the “it” gets there first, the captured player goes to jail. If the captured player prevails, that player kicks the can, finds a new place to hide and the “it” resets the can. (A kicked can also frees previously captured players.) 

Game is over when: Only one person is left hiding  

Good to know: Jailed players can stand off to the side of the play area, on a porch or at some other visible location.

4. Foursquare

Best for: Kids with balance and coordination

Number of players: 4 or more

What you need: A rubber playground ball, chalk (to make the court)

Where to play: A blacktop or other flat surface

How to play: Kids draw a large square, divide it in quarters and number the boxes from 1 to 4, representing a king, queen, jack and ace. One player stands in each quadrant. The player in quadrant one (the king) serves the ball to another player. The receiver then hits the ball (after a single bounce) to another player of their choosing. If the ball heads out of bounds, or a player misses the ball, the at-fault player is out. Players advance to higher-ranked squares, in what is, essentially, a knockout competition. New players take a spot on the lowest-ranking square.

Game is over when: One kid is the supreme ruler, but play can continue indefinitely

Good to know: The king can customize the game by adding rules, such as single-handed or one-legged hits.

5. Tug of War

Best for: Teamwork, and kids with a competitive edge   

Number of players: An even number for two balanced teams (an extra kid can serve as judge)

What you need: A long, sturdy rope, tape, chalk or flour

Where to play: A large grassy field or lawn

How to play: In teams, kids divide the field in two (using flour or chalk) and mark the center of the rope with tape or chalk. Each team holds one end of the rope; players pull to drag the opposing team over the line to their side.

Game is over when: Most of the rope crosses over the divider

Good to know: Put the strongest kids at the end of the line.

6. Ghost in the Graveyard

Best for: Responsible tweens who respect curfews

Number of players: Unlimited

What you need: Moonlight and places to hide

Where to play: On a field or around the neighborhood within a set number of blocks

How to play: The “ghost” hides while the remaining players stay at home base and count: 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock…up until midnight. At midnight, ghost hunters spread out and start their search. The first to spot the ghost yells, “Ghost in the Graveyard!” The ghost bolts out of hiding to chase the other players. Players race to home base before the ghost tags them. The tagged ghost hunter is the ghost for the next round.

Game is over: At curfew

Good to know: The ghost can emerge from hiding to tag another player before they are seen. 

When it comes to summer activities for kids, you can always find fun at Highlights. Summer crafts, science project ideas, summer art projects and more things to do this summer … how will YOU summer this year?

Author Joanne van Zuidam
By: Joanne Van Zuidarn