1. Name of the game: Spud
Best for: Five- to six-year olds
Number of players: 4 or more, with no limit
What you need: A large, inflated, soft ball
Where to play: An open field or large backyard
How to play: Assign players a number within a range, such as 1–10. Choose a player to be “it.” The player who is “it” holds the ball while everyone else forms a circle around him. “It” throws the ball straight up in the air while shouting one of the assigned numbers. The player with that number catches the ball. Everyone else runs as far from the circle as possible. The player then yells “Spud!” and all others freeze where they are. The player tosses the ball at any player. If he tags someone with the ball, that person (who was unable to escape) gets a letter in the word spud; if the ball misses that player, the “it” gets a letter. The player with the letter throws the ball in the next round. Once a player gets all four letters S-P-U-D, he is out of the game.
Game is over when: Last one standing!
Good to know: You can’t run away from the ball that’s headed in your direction. Also, you can bend the rules for younger children, letting them take three steps before throwing the ball.
2. Name of the game: Red Rover
Best for: Preschoolers and up
Number of players: At least 6 kids
What you need: An even number of players (to create 2 teams)
Where to play: A large backyard or a grassy field
How to play: The two teams line up about 30 feet apart and face each other. Team members hold hands to form a chain. The team that goes first chants, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Robby over.” Robby runs to the opposing team and tries to break a link between two players. If he fails to do so, he has to join that team. If he breaks the chain, he captures one of the two players whose link was broken and brings him back to his team. The teams take turns yelling the Red Rover challenge.
Game is over when: One team runs out of players.
Good to know: Keep a light grip between players. It’s safer.
3. Name of the game: Mother May I?
Best for: All ages (Young ones find it easy to follow the rules, and older kids find it fun to get creative with requests)
Number of players: At least 3, but the more the merrier
What you need: Manners (just kidding)
Where to play: A driveway, sidewalk, or a large pathway.
How to play: One child plays “Mother.” The others are “children,” positioned about 20 feet from where “Mother” is standing. “Mother” turns away from the other players and chooses a child at random. The child then says, “Mother May I _________?”, and asks permission to approach her, using predictable or unusual maneuvers to move forward. Examples include “…take 3 giant steps forward,” or “…do a cartwheel,” or “hop like a frog 5 times.” The mother, in turn, says either, “Yes, you may” or “No, you may not, but…” and suggests an alternate move.
Game is over when: The first child reaches “Mother.”
Good to Know: The more creative the moves, the more fun the game. It’s also called Captain May I?
4. Name of the game: Hot Potato
Best for: A low-energy moment
Number of players: 4 or more
What you need: Small beanbag, music
Where to play: Grassy area
How to play: Children sit in a circle and toss the beanbag clockwise to music. An adult—or a child who is not in the circle—randomly pauses the music. The player who is holding the beanbag—the “hot potato”—when the music stops, is out. The game continues with the remaining players.
Game is over when: One child is left.
Good to know: Hot potato can be played with other objects, like a tennis ball or actual potato. No music? Just have someone yell “Hot potato!” instead.
5. Name of the game: Hopscotch
Best for: Preschoolers
Number of players: 2 or more
What you need: Chalk, flat stones for markers
Where to play: On sidewalk, patio, or driveway
How to play: Draw a traditional hopscotch course—alternating single and double squares, and number them one to ten. Player 1 tosses a stone into the first square—without landing on the lines. Then she hops from square to square, bypassing the one with the stone. She hops on one foot in the single squares, and two feet in the doubles, with one foot in each square. When she reaches the end of the course, she hops back. If she maintains her balance, doesn’t step on any lines, and completes a successful run, she tosses a stone into the second box, and so on. If her stone hits a line or she falters, Player 2 gets a turn.
Game is over when: A player completes the course.
Good to know: No pavement? Draw the course in dirt or sand with a stick.
6. Name of the game: London Bridge
Best for: Younger kids
Number of players: 4–8 (the more, the merrier)
What you need: The words to the song (see lyrics below)
Where to play: On a soft, flat surface
How to play: Two children stand about two feet apart, face-to-face, with locked hands well above their heads. The remaining kids form a line, holding the waist of the child in front of them. The players sing in unison:
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.
As the singing continues, the line travels under the bridge in a continuous loop. The bridge lowers at the last word of the song and the player under the bridge is captured between the arms of the two standing players. The captured player moves away from the other players to a designated area (the Tower of London).
Game is over when: The last player is captured. The two players who formed the bridge then chase the other players. The first two captured form the bridge for the next game.
Good to know: There are additional stanzas to the nursery rhyme and many variations to the lyrics.
7. Name of the game: Limbo
Best for: Preschoolers and up, but toddlers can join the fun too by running or ducking instead of bending backwards
Number of players: 4 or more
What you need: A long stick or broomstick
Where to play: Any outdoor space
How to play: Two players hold the limbo stick about four feet off the ground. The remaining players approach the stick one at a time, bending backward to pass under the stick, without coming in contact with it. The stick is lowered about 6 inches in every round. Players who touch the stick are out.
Game is over when: Only one player can pass under the stick without touching it.
Good to know: For a twist, players can walk backwards or sideways under the stick.