Summer Games

Featured Article, Home & Family, Kids, Outdoors, Traditions
on July 13, 2014
Mixed race girls playing wheelbarrow in backyard
Image by © JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Corbis

In the not-so-distant past, it was nearly impossible to drag kids away from a good old-fashioned game of kickball, tug-o-war or capture the flag. But today’s children, whom experts agree spend far less time outdoors than their parents did when they were young, seem increasingly glued to TV, video games or other digital devices.

“The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need,” says Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods, the 2008 book that spawned a movement to get kids back outside.

One sure-fire way to get back to nature, Louv and other outdoor proponents believe, is to put down the video remotes and head to the nearest lawn for some classic water-balloon-throwing, grass-stain-getting backyard games.

“The beauty of most of these games is that a lot of them don’t even require equipment,” says Paul Tukey, a father of four and the author of Tag, Toss and Run, a guide to 40 do-it-yourself backyard games. “They require nothing more than motivation, an imagination and some loose rules.”

Field Day Fun

Take advantage of warm summer days and set up an at-home version of the fun relays and friendly face-offs many of us remember from field days at school.

  • Crab soccer—For the backyard variation of the traditional game, players scuttle—crablike—across the field with both hands and feet touching the ground and their bellies pointed skyward.
  • Sack race—In the late 1800s, most college track and field meets included this event, where competitors put both legs in a burlap sack and hop or waddle to the finish line.
  • Tug of war—Once an Olympic sport in which two teams tugged opposite ends of a rope and attempted to pull their opponents across the finish line.
  • Wheelbarrow—The “wheelbarrow” walks on his hands while his partner holds his legs. In 2009, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia, set the Guinness World Record for largest human wheelbarrow race with 1,554 pairs of children.

Who’s On First?

Here are four classic methods for choosing who takes the first turn.

  • Coin toss. Used by professional football teams as well as playground athletes.
  • Rock, paper, scissors. Paper crushes rock, scissors cuts paper, rock crushes scissors. (A variation of the Japanese hand game called Jankenpon.)
  • Drawing straws. Whoever draws the longest straw (or stick) among several of similar lengths goes first.
  • Guess which hand? The leader holds a pebble or small ball in one hand behind his back. The person who correctly guesses the hand that holds the item gets the first turn.


Do-It-Yourself Pastimes

  • Lawn Twister—Paint four rows of red, white, yellow and blue circles (six in each row) on a smooth area of grass. Write body part names on strips of paper and drop in two jars. A caller pulls a slip from each jar and instructs each player—“Right foot red!” regarding what to place where.
  • Water bomb relay—Cut several kitchen sponges each into three vertical strips. Wrap an elastic band or hair tie around the long side of nine neatly stacked sponge strips. Place empty buckets and buckets of water about 15 feet apart. Each player or team dips their sponge bomb in water and relays the water to the empty bucket.
  • Lawn bowling—Fill 10 empty one-liter plastic bottles with water. Add a few drops of several shades of food coloring to each bottle and replace cap. Stand bottle bowling pins on sidewalk or smooth area of lawn and let the good times roll. No smelly rental shoes required!
  • Water balloon fight—Fill several small balloons with water for a fun—and wet—game of toss.


Build your own ladder golf game

In the Wild West version, players threw and wrapped dead snakes around fence posts and tree limbs. Today’s more civilized version uses PVC plumbing pipe, golf balls and clothesline.

What you need:

  • 22 feet 1-inch PVC pipe, cut into:
  1. three 3-foot rungs
  2. six 18-inch “feet” and lower support
  3. four 1-foot sides
  • 6 PVC tee connectors
  • 2 PVC elbows
  • 12 golf balls, three colors
  • clothesline

What to do:

Assemble pipe framework with connectors and elbows. Drill 3/8-inch holes through golf balls and con- nect two balls of the same color with clothesline.