When we were kids, we did not have the internet. In fact, the internet was introduced during my childhood, but it was so new that we did not have a computer – let alone internet connection – until I was at least 11 or 12 years old. For this I am grateful. I believe that kids today are at massive risks for ill health, which may not show up until later in life, but having grown up as perhaps the final outdoorsy, low-tech generation, I learned the values of playing outside and using my imagination with other children.
Of course, with this article, we are listing specific outdoor game ideas for children, so there will be specific guidelines and rules for the kids to follow. However, a lot of these games will make the kids use their imaginations. More importantly, these games encourage social interaction, which is sorely lacking in much of today’s appeals. Where before we would gather outside for a game of hide and seek or street hockey, today kids relate to each other through the use of cell phones (in my opinion, no one under the age of 15 needs a cell phone), or they play live video games online with other kids from around the world, but they do not really interact with others.
The Importance of Getting Outside
We cannot stress enough the importance of getting kids outside. There are all kinds of health benefits that are immediately taken away when the child does not exercise or breathe fresh air. These outdoor games will encourage your kids to get physically active. Physical activity helps children grow, and this is a fact tried and true over the course of humanity, plus it is in our natural curiosities to run and race each other in the spirit of friendly competition. Games foster role playing and relationships between children as they learn to co-operate.
Horrifyingly, only one in three children in the United States engages in physical activity every day, while one in three is obese. Physical activity helps to build strong bones and muscles. Outdoor exposure to germs (through dirt, other kids, and playground equipment, for example) will inspire strong immune systems. Physical activity also helps develop motor skills such as dexterity. They develop social skills, language skills and cognitive functions. Through playing, children learn cause and effect. When children are at play they are in an environment where they can explore their curiosities without repercussion or, should we say, punishment. But through this play they learn trial and error. They learn the roles that others take, and they learn their place in the social setting. They learn (we hope) to take turns and operate in a group setting.
Through the games they play, children learn to communicate their thoughts and imaginations, to express what they think. Through role playing they learn to converse, which involves expressing their needs and desires. Playing will teach them all about problem solving, because in social settings they will inevitably encounter problems and will have to think of ways to solve them. This will foster co-operation and cognitive skills for future interactions. Playing games with set rules gives everyone a fair chance and no one should feel embarrassed (as compared to free play, for example).
We briefly touched upon the physical benefits: children will further develop motor skills like dexterity and muscle strength when playing. They will be having so much fun they won’t think of it as exercise, and they won’t even notice the time pass.
Who knew having fun was such serious business?
We know that it can be quite difficult to get them outside and so we offer some fun game ideas that will inspire and excite them into action.
Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a classic, old-as-time game that has been around as long as humans have had feet to race each other upon. This game touches upon our instinct to hunt and to hide from predators, which, in a more childlike, innocent way of putting it, lets children use their natural curiosities. They love to hide and find things. To play: one player is tagged “it.” This player must count to an agreed-upon number – it can be 10 or it can be 100 – aloud for other players to hear. While they are counting, with their eyes closed and back turned, the other players find hiding spots. When the seeker has finished counting, they set out to find the other players. The first person found is “it” next. Sometimes there is a home base that the hiding players can run to, and if the seeker does not catch them, then they are home free/safe. This game is very easy to play as it requires as few as three players and requires no equipment.
Capture the Flag
This game was always a big deal for us when we were kids. It would take all day and employ a LOT of kids. The large group will split into two. Each team gets a flag or other sort of marker at their base. Basically each team has to run into the other team’s territory to grab their flag and bring it back to their own side. Each side also has a jail. When you catch the enemy players on your side, they are sent to your jail. They can only be freed if one of their players makes it over without being tagged, and grabs them, making it safely back to their side. Whomever captures the other team’s flag first wins.
This game is favoured as many kids can take part, and only minimal equipment is required (just two flags or markers – this can be a t-shirt, etc.).
Good old hopscotch! A very simple game that encourages exercise and co-ordination. All you need is an area of concrete or pavement, like a parking lot, driveway or sidewalk, a rock and some chalk. Simply draw squares in a form that draws the player in (basically) a straight line, while challenging them to hop on one foot and sometimes two, from one square to another. Toss the rock to one of the squares. Players will hop on one foot if there is one square, but if two squares are side by side, then they will change to two feet and so on to the end, but they have to skip the box where the rock landed. Typically the squares are numbered one through ten. Hopscotch can be played by one person at a time and you only need chalk and a rock.
Peaceful sigh. Mention this game to just about anyone born in 1990 or earlier and they will give a big, contented sigh as their eyes float back into their heads, recalling a happier time: a beautiful sunny day on the school’s soccer field with a giant parachute made of rainbow colours. This game is especially good for the young ones under 7. You can find play parachutes at most hardware and toy stores. They will have handles. Take a bunch of kids to a field, lay the parachute down and seat the children all in a circle around the perimeter of the parachute. Grabbing hold of the parachute, they will all ruffle the parachute so it fills with air. Let them behold the wonder of the fabric as it suspends in the sky. You can add little tricks to the game. For example: everyone has to run under the parachute while it’s in the air. Or some players can sit on the edge while others run under the parachute, and they will witness a bubble effect that houses everyone inside. There is endless fun to the parachute!
Using chalk or a school pavement with the markers already delineated, four players stand in the game, one to each square. The square 4 player bounces a ball (basketball, soccer ball, volleyball: anything bouncy) once in their square and then to another square. The ball must bounce once in each square and cannot touch the lines. If the ball bounces more than once, or the player fails to get it inside another player’s box, then they are out and must move to the end of the line. Other players fill the spot. The goal is to move up to square four: the server’s square.
Double Dutch (Skipping)
Skipping, otherwise known as jump-rope, is a fun and challenging way to get kids active. Skipping will enable them to engage in some lighthearted competition while they exercise their real hearts! With an extra long skipping rope, have one person at each end. We played this a lot as kids with endless possibilities. They can count through the alphabet and if they stop on a certain letter, then (they will make the association or rule according to their imaginations – knowing young girls, the letter will typically stand for the letter of the boy they’re going to marry). With two people twirling the rope and another jumping in the middle, you can add a second skipping rope. The people twirling the rope will hold one in each of their hands and either turn the ropes inward or outward alternating so that one hits the ground, then the other, then the first, then the other, and so on. Double dutch is a great competitive game that encourages the kids to go as far as they can (thereby getting all kinds of good exercise in)! Half the challenge is jumping in at the right time. Remind kids to tie up loose hair and tuck in clothing.
The final game on our list is a slightly more calm and calculated one: marbles. This game really makes use of dexterity as well as hand-eye co-ordination. Kids will find all kinds of good places to play this: by digging a hole in the dirt or by sussing out some cracks in the pavement. Essentially there is a large pit or hole. Everyone takes turns shooting their smaller marbles into this hole. Then, you all take turns trying to knock the smaller marbles out with your largest one. Some kids will draw a circle with chalk and this will delineate the area out of which you want to push the smaller marbles. Half of the fun comes in collecting all kinds of different marbles and enjoying their individual artworks. How beautiful they can be: some like little planets, others like cat’s eyes, of course. I wish I had kept my collection!