Summer Fun: Ten Old-fashioned Outdoor Games to Teach Your Kids

Running and playing out of doors is a healthy way to spend a summer day. But, let’s face it; busy schedules and screen time often rob kids of this natural, healthy exercise. Do you remember playing running, hiding and tag games as a child? Did you play with neighborhood children well into the evening until your parents called you in for bedtime? Or maybe you remember playing outdoor games at summer camp where you experienced the thrill of a mad scramble to capture the opposing team’s flag. Winning the game wasn’t as important as the exciting participation.

No doubt you look back on your childhood playtimes with fondness and even a sense of loss. Today’s kids tend to be couch potatoes, or if they do engage in sports, it’s the organized kind. And, don’t get me wrong, there is much to be gained from team sports. But there’s also a lot to be gained from open-ended free play where kids run and hide and make up their own rules as they go. Neighborhood games can include kids of all ages and lend themselves to creativity as the games morph and change over time.

Your children probably know some of the games listed below. But they may never have played others. You can be their hero. Teach them several of these exciting group games and you’ll have to call them twice for dinner, just as your parents did a few years ago.

Capture the Flag
This old favorite requires a large, flat field such as a soccer field or a park area. Two teams are each trying to capture the other team’s flag and return it to their home base. Enemy players can be tagged and put out, sent home, or “frozen” depending on the rules decided upon at the beginning of play. Flags can be a variety of objects from fabric flags to balls. This game requires strategy, leadership and trickery along with running skill and the courage to attack. There are many variations of this game, be sure to choose team leaders and decide on the rules beforehand.

Kick the Can
In this game for a large number of children, a can or similar object is placed in a central location. The person who is “it” counts to a designated number as all the other players hide. “It” tries to defend the can while all the rest of the players attempt to get to the can and kick it before being spotted. Again, there are many variations of this game. Players may be tagged out, or the person who is “it” can simply call out their name as they are spotted.

Duck, Duck, Goose
This circle game for younger children requires no equipment. Children are seated in a circle and one player is “it.” The person who is “it” moves around the outer perimeter of the circle, touching each child’s head as he says, “duck, duck, duck.” At his choosing he touches a head and says “Goose,” which is the signal for the seated child to stand and run after the first child. If “goose” can tag the “it” child before running all around the circle to the beginning spot, he is safe, otherwise he becomes the new “it.” There are other versions of this game, for example one in which the toucher is called the fox and the sitters are the hens.

Flashlight Tag
This game is also known as Army Tag or Spotlight. In this tag game players are caught by a flashlight beam. In some versions the “it” person must also accurately call out the name of their captive player. Those caught in the light must either go to a jail spot until they are rescued by another player’s tag or they’re frozen until released. Only the “it” person has a flashlight. All rescues are done by hand.

Hide and Seek
Also known as Hide and Go Seek, the designated “it” person counts to a number while all other players hide. Players are put out as they’re found and the last person to be found is the new “it.” This game originated in 19th century England and traditionally was passed on to younger children by older ones. It has many variations. Some versions have the “it” call out “Olly, olly, oxen free” to signal all players to return to home base.

Mother May I?
One player is Mother (or Father or Captain). All the others line up a distance away facing the Mother. Each player is given instructions in turn. “You may take 5 baby steps” or “You may take two giant steps.” The player replies, “Mother, may I?” and the Mother replies, “Yes, you may.” If the player forgets to ask permission he or she returns to the starting position. Mother can give backwards steps which also must be obeyed. The player to successfully reach Mother first becomes the leader. A variation of this game is “What’s the time, Mr. Fox?” The Fox answers with “It’s five o’clock,” indicating each player can take five steps. But if he calls out “Dinner Time” or “Midnight” the Fox then chases and tries to catch a player who then becomes the Fox.

Statues is a popular tag game played in many areas of the world. The “it” person turns his or her back on the rest of the players and they are free to move toward a goal until the “it” person turns. When “it” turns the players must freeze and not be seen moving or they’re directed to return to the starting point. Each country has words the leader must say before turning. Sometimes they count or, for example, in England they may spell out the word London before turning to catch their opponents.

Cat’s Cradle
String games have been around for many years. They involve placing string on the fingers and moving in a certain order to create shapes. Some string games have accompanying stories. Cat’s Cradle is one popular string game shape. These games have been found all over the world in various cultures. While diagrams are helpful to learn the games, they most often are passed from child to child.

Red Rover
Red Rover is a traditional game first played in England and later played in Australia, Canada and the U.S. Two teams of children face off holding hands, usually about thirty feet apart. The captain of one team calls out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send ___ right over.” That person from the opposing team then runs and tries to break through the hands of two players. If they are successful, they’re allowed to choose a person to take back to their team. If they fail they become part of the opposing team.

In this version of hide and seek one person is it and is allowed to find a hiding place. All the others search for “it” and when they find him or her they join in hiding in that spot. (Thus beginning to feel like sardines) Each player in turn joins the hiding spot until one last person becomes the new “it.”=

The rules to all of these games are simple and a minimum of equipment is needed. Playing them involves a lot of running and physical exercise. The joy is in the play. Share these old-fashioned games with your children—soon.
Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and freelance writer specializing in family life articles. She can be found at

Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program for the kids of America:
See for more information
·    Launched on February 9, 2010
·    The goal: to improve the health of American children by
o   Fighting the epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.S.
o   Teaching healthy nutrition via education in gardening and cooking
o   Increasing physical activity to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous
play every day.
·    Aimed at parents, schools, community leaders, elected officials and….KIDS.