15 DIY Backyard Games for Kids
By Jenna Braddock, MSH, CSSD, RD, ACSM-CPT, a mom and consultant sports dietitian who works with Clif Bar & Company
The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health- and nutrition-related activity.
When the weather starts to warm up, parents instinctively feel the itch to get their kids playing outside. As the gray of wintertime fades into sunny days, kids feel more drawn to be in the great outdoors, stretching their legs and imaginations.
You may have big plans for parks and trails to get your kids moving and playing, but don’t forget about that plot of space right next to your home. It might be a backyard, an open field, a strip of sidewalk, a slab of concrete, or even a driveway, but any of these spots can become a venue for fun when equipped with DIY outdoor kids’ game ideas.
Sending your kids outside to play for hours on end may feel like a hope and dream right now. I’ve certainly had my fair share of failed attempts that resulted in the dreaded “We’re bored!” cry for help. Just like any activity, it may take some parental effort the first couple of times to get the backyard games rolling. With time and practice, you’ll watch their imagination and ingenuity grow while they find their way to outdoor game bliss (and you tiptoe your way back inside).
Ideas for backyard games for kids are very helpful, but they may not be quite enough to keep them occupied for hours. Kids also need fuel to stay energized and keep their imaginations running at full speed. Nothing is more of a bummer than having to stop an awesome outdoor game because someone is hungry.
When kids set out to play, let them know you’ve set out a bowl of nutritious CLIF Kid Zbar® energy snack bars and water for them to grab whenever they’re ready. These bars deliver great taste and energizing whole grains from organic oats to fuel kids’ active bodies and imaginations during play. Having kids take their water bottles outside from the get-go will also help ensure kids stay hydrated, which is easily forgotten in the midst of an epic outdoor game.
Armed with a solid plan for playtime snacks, all you need now are some great outdoor game ideas. Check out these 15 backyard games for kids that will keep them entertained all summer long.
1. Obstacle Course
Kid-created obstacle courses are one of my most treasured backyard game ideas because it got me through a couple of long summers with young boys. Creating their own web of challenges allows kids to exercise both their minds and bodies –having to think critically while moving physically. I thoroughly enjoy watching my kids build masterful courses filled with imaginary lava pits and treacherous rocks.
To get started, collect items that can be used for obstacles and pathways in the backyard. Items from around the house like jump ropes, PVC pipes, patio furniture, step stools, flattened boxes, pool floats, or balls all work great. You can also purchase items like agility ladders, stepstones intended for kids to play on, and baseball bases, but the sky’s the limit. Instruct kids to either work together or take turns building a unique obstacle course they must demonstrate for the rest of the group. Encourage them to use their imagination — not just make a line to walk across or a pool floaty to jump onto — and tell us a story about the raging river we must pass and the huge canyon that must be jumped over.
2. Treasure Hunt
Turn snack time into a treasure hunt by hiding a shoebox (or real treasure chest) filled with CLIF Kid Zbar energy snack bars somewhere in the backyard. Once it’s been discovered and the snacks have been enjoyed, kids can take turns hiding the treasure box for each other. They can even go so far as drawing a treasure map to go along with it.
3. Backyard Artist
Challenge your budding artists to sketch, paint, or color a scene from the backyard. You can choose the backyard as is or bring in their imagination with these ideas:
- Draw our backyard with a circus happening in it.
- Draw our backyard like it’s a zoo.
- Draw our backyard as if it were a farm.
- Draw our backyard like it’s your birthday party.
- Draw our backyard with our whole family in it.
Alternative idea: Challenge kiddos to build a robot (or other structure) out of recycle bin treasures. In the backyard (lay out a tarp if desired), give your kids access to the recycle bin of cans, bottles, and boxes (avoid anything with sharp edges!) and a roll of sturdy tape and see what they come up with!
4. Hula Hoops
I am kind of surprised that hula hoops are still just as exciting to kids today as they were “back in the day.” Truly, they are an affordable toy that can be used in so many backyard and outdoor games. The old school hula hoop contest of who can hula hoop the longest is still a winner with kids. They can also turn them into targets for tossing balls or beanbags into or they can use them as part of that obstacle course mentioned above. Tap into your kid’s imagination by asking them to create a new game using hula hoops.
5. Alphabet or Color Hunt
On a piece of paper, write the letters A through Z or list all the colors of the rainbow in a column down the page. Challenge your kids to find something that starts with each letter of the alphabet or corresponds with each of the colors in the backyard.
Croquet is the perfect backyard game for kids because it’s easy to learn and can be played with however many siblings, neighbors, or friends are around. Give kids the responsibility of setting up a new course pattern each game. To make it even more fun, have them dress up in costume. A simple croquet set is not very expensive and is readily available in outdoor stores and online sellers.
7. Bean Bag Toss
Set up a simple bean bag toss game. A 6’ ladder makes a really easy target with each hole being a different value of points. Kids can compete individually or as teams with a certain number of tosses per round with a set point total to achieve to win. If you don’t have a ladder, set out pie pans, delivery boxes, or shoe boxes.
8. Fort Building
For kids with a sense of adventure and a knack for architecture, there’s no better outdoor game than good ole fort building. Now I know from experience that “fort building” can cause many parents to hyperventilate when it’s indoors because of all the materials that appear in your living room. When you move this activity to the great outdoors, however, the living room is safe from destruction, and kids are free to build the forts of their dreams. Good materials to use are tarps, old sheets, ropes, boxes, buckets, hula hoops, PVC pipes or garden stakes, tents, and umbrellas.
9. Simon Says
Simon Says is a great backyard game for kids because it gives them more room to be creative in their movement requests. If you don’t quite remember, Simon Says is played by one person being “Simon” and leading the group through a set of movements by speaking “Simon Says … clap your hands” (for example). The group is only to follow when the leader specifically says “Simon Says.” The goal is for the leader to try to trick the group by throwing in a movement request without saying “Simon Says.” If anyone from the group does the movement where “Simon Says” wasn’t spoken, they are “out.” The game continues until the last person is out or beats Simon by only moving when they hear the words “Simon Says.”
Nothing gets kids laughing more than being all twisted up together with their friends. To play this simple game, kids stand close together and reach out both hands. Then they grab the hands of two different people creating a knot of their arms. The goal is to work together to untangle themselves to form a circle. I like that this game encourages teamwork and communication to solve a fun problem.
11. Bocce Ball
Here’s another vintage outdoor game that is absolutely great for kids to play in the backyard. A bocce ball set is required, but you could also make your own with two colors of tennis balls. Two teams compete in pairs to see who can throw their balls the closest to a target ball called the pallino. Visit this site for the full set of easy-to-learn rules.
12. Kick the Can
Kick the can is a fun cross between tag and capture the flag. This game is best when there is a group of five or more kids. To play, set an empty can (think soup can or coffee can) in the open space of your backyard. One person is designated as the capturer (“It”) and the rest of the players are trying to avoid getting tagged by them. The “It” person closes their eyes and counts to a certain number while the other players hide. Then the “It” person tries to find each person and tag them, sending them to an area designated as “jail” or the “out” place. To free your teammates from jail, another person must kick the can over without getting tagged by “It.” The game is over when either the jail is full of all players or the “It” person is ready to change places.
13. Four Square
A couple of years ago at a family birthday party I attended, a game of Four Square broke out with both adults and kids. I hadn’t played since grade school, but the fun was immediately contagious. I kicked myself for not introducing my boys to this amazing outdoor game sooner.
All you need is a hard, flat surface and a playground ball. You can draw the four squares of the playing court with sidewalk chalk or use masking tape. The goal of this game is to advance to the highest square by getting the person occupying each square out. You bounce the ball between players in squares until someone makes an error, sending them back to the line to wait their turn to enter the square or back to the first square. The rules take a little practice to get the hang of, but once everyone knows them, a game that occupies kids for a long time is sure to break out!
14. Theme Tag
Maybe you remember it as “TV Tag,” the game where one person tries to tag someone in the group. But to avoid getting tagged and subsequently frozen, you squat down and state the name of a TV show. If you can’t get one out quick enough before being tagged, you’re frozen till a teammate can tag you to unfreeze and return to play. These days, TV show names are just the beginning. Kids can use movie titles, book names, foods, locations, superheroes, or anything!
15. Game of Three
Challenge kids to find three items from the house (think ball, umbrella, and truck), then create a new game out of them. Additionally, you could challenge them to come up with a story that uses these three items that they then act out for you or others in the group.
Snack Ideas to Fuel Outdoor Play
Looking for more snack ideas to fuel outdoor play? Here’s a list of portable and grab-and-go options to keep kids fueled up for playtime:
- CLIF Kid Zbar
- Clementine oranges
- Cheese sticks
- Trail mix
- Squeeze tubes of yogurt
- Roasted, flavored chickpeas
- Box of raisins