Let's Play Outside!

Here are 14 games for you to bring to summer camp, a neighborhood gathering, or a birthday party!

By Stef Durr

children in a circle

Summer is here! The mosquitos are thick in the air, and the kids are growing restless! Whether you work at a summer camp, or you’re looking for some new games to play at the next summer get together, we’ve got you covered! Gather up a group of kids, and check out these fresh ideas because, let’s be honest, how many hours can you keep a group of kids playing capture the flag? Provided below are about a dozen games that I picked up from attending summer camp, being a summer camp counselor, and hosting field days at school. If you have other tried-and-true games, please add them to the comments below.

Traditional Tag Variations

  • Chain Tag: The first person to get tagged joins hands with the tagger to become a team. As the line grows, teams must master running in sync with each other. Only the very first person and very last person in the line are the taggers.
  • Dinosaur Tag: Likened to the water game sharks and minnows, dinosaur tag has all of the kids line up on a wall (or on one end of a field). These dinosaurs are the prey. Then, depending on the size of the group, two or three dinosaurs are in the middle; they are the predators. As the prey run across the field, the predators attempt to tag as many as possible before they reach the other side of the field. As kids are tagged, they transform from prey to predator! By the end of the game, only a few remaining prey will be left. Let the kids vote beforehand on what kind of dinosaur is the predator and what kind is the prey; they love being part of the process, and it’s a great learning opportunity!
  • Hide and Seek Tag: This is my favorite type of tag! It’s the perfect mix of run and rest, meaning that it is sustainable for longer periods of time than traditional tag. The tagger stands at a predetermined location and counts to 20. Meanwhile, the kids scatter and hide (also in a somewhat specified location). Then, when the tagger calls out, "Ready or not, here I come," the kids attempt to make their way back to a base you’ve set up. The tagger then tries to tag a player before he or she reaches the base. If the tagger is unsuccessful, he or she remains it for one more round. Then, if two rounds pass without the tagger successfully tagging another player, he or she gets to choose the next tagger. Note: If you have a small group (up to seven or eight), you can use a Hula-Hoop for the home base. If you have a large group, you might want to use jump ropes to outline a larger area.
  • Zombie Tag: Zombies have taken over our world! Well, if you look at young adult literature and some of the most popular television shows, it sometimes seems that way. Older kids particularly enjoy playing zombie tag, but it works well with all ages. One or two zombies start, and the remaining players are living humans. The trick is that no one can run! It’s a speed walking game, so it’s good to play when it looks like your group is in need of a slower-paced game. 

You’re Out!

  • Dance Contest: Break out the stereo and some kid-friendly music for this one! Basically, when the music starts, everyone has to go crazy and dance up a storm. Then, when you turn it off, everyone freezes! See someone moving? They’re out! Enlist them to help you spot movers from the sidelines.
  • Helicopter: All you need is a jump rope and a flat surface for your kids to hop on (driveway, parking lot, etc.). One kid starts in the middle, as the helicopter, and all of the other kids are spread out around him or her in a circular shape. The helicopter quickly drags a jump rope on the ground in a circle. As the helicopter spins, the players have to jump over the rope without getting tagged. If you get hit, you’re the new helicopter.

Perfect for the Younger Set

  • Obstacle Course: Setting up an obstacle course is a great activity for your younger kids. Get boxes, Hula-Hoops, crates, balls, and other objects to help them create their course. Better yet, break the kids into teams and have each team build their own course. That way they’ll have more to keep them busy! Break out the timer to increase the excitement and keep them engaged.
  • Whipped Cream Eating Contest: Perfect for all ages, but especially fun for the youngsters, having a whipped cream eating contest is a sweet summer activity. Get simple paper plates and pile them with whipped-cream. Who can clean his plate the fastest without using any hands? It’s especially good for youngsters because no chewing is involved, which lowers the risk of choking.
  • Alphabet Line-Up: Reinforce their knowledge of the alphabet with this scavenger-hunt-type game. Use chalk to write the alphabet on the ground (each letter should be at least a foot apart from other letters). Then, encourage kids to look around the yard, closet, or garage for items that start with each letter. For example, if you have an apple tree, a smart youngster might grab an apple and place it on the letter A.
  • Grab His Tail!: You’ll need strips of fabric to play this game, and I highly suggest playing this game on day when everyone has secure bottoms on. (De-pantsing is a possibility!) Each player is a tagger, and they each get an eight to ten inch tail that hangs on the outside of their pants. As they run around, they attempt to collect as many tails as possible before their tail gets taken. The winner is whoever has collected the most tails. An easy variation for a slightly older group of youngsters is that each person who gets tagged has to forfeit their collected tails to whoever tags them.
  • The Sizzler: Everyone lies down on his or her back to start, except for the chef. The kids lying on the ground have to sizzle as if they were hot dogs on a grill. When the chef says flip, the hot dogs have to roll over as fast as they can. The last person to flip is out! This is a great time-filler, as you control how long the game takes.

Winding Down the Day

  • Nature Walk: It’s summer, and kids love being outside! Take them on a walk near ponds, fields, or neighborhoods where cars are rare and there’s lots to look at. Stop to feel a fuzzy plant, look at a turtle as it dives in the water, or to count the dandelions next to the sidewalk. They’ll be amazed at whatever you point out. And you might see some new things that they notice.
  • Silent Ball: A favorite game in my classroom that works just as well outside. Grab a somewhat soft ball (volleyball, kickball, rubber ball), and have everyone spread out. Someone starts by tossing the ball to another player. If the person catches it, they continue the game by throwing it to someone else. If the person drops it, they’re out. If the person can’t reach it, the thrower is out. If someone laughs or talks, they’re out. (I have the players who get out just sit where they’re standing so they don’t start talking to one another). When there are only two people left, I have them face each other and stand on one leg. They should be at least 10 feet apart to increase the challenge. Then, they throw the ball to one another, trying to throw the other player off balance. Whoever loses balance, makes noise, or drops the ball first is out!
  • Four Corners: Use different color cones or Hula-Hoops to make the four corners of a square. One person sits in the middle (preferably blindfolded), and the rest tiptoe quietly to one of the corners. When the person in the middle counts to 30, he or she names a corner they believe to have people in it. If they shout purple, for example, all of the players who are standing in the purple corner are out!

What other outdoor games can you recommend? Help the Lesson Planet community by commenting below with some of your favorites! Have a safe, fun-filled summer.