15 outdoor games for young kids

Full easy-to-follow instructions on how to play classic old-style games for children to play together

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Traditional outdoor games

1 Hitchy Dobber
Two children face each other and hop around on one foot. The children can bump gently but not push each other. The last one standing is the winner.

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2 Crab race
Children form the shape of a crab by lying on their back and pushing themselves up on their hands and feet. They then have a race.

3 Port/Starboard
Players pretend they’re on a pirate ship. One child is Captain and shouts out instructions: “Port” (run to left); “Starboard” (run to right); “Stern” (run to front); “Bow” (run to back); “Climb the rigging” (pretend to climb up ladders); “Scrub the decks” (on knees pretend to scrub ground); “Captain’s coming” (stand and salute); “Man the lifeboats” (grab a partner and row a boat); “Mermaid ahead” (lie down on side brushing hair and singing); “Shark attack” (everyone huddles together); “Walk the plank” (walk in straight line with eyes closed).

4 Mother May I
One child is Mother. The others stand in a line a short distance away from Mother, who gives instructions to each child in turn, telling them how to walk towards her, such as “Take two baby steps, two giant steps and one bunny hop.” The child must ask, “Mother May I?” before moving and then take the exact steps in the right order. If the child forgets to ask Mother or takes the wrong steps they return to the beginning. The first child to reach Mother becomes the new Mother.

5 Chinese Boxing
Two children face each other with both arms held out. The first child holds the other’s left wrist with their right hand. The second child then does the same. The aim is for each child to tap the top of the other’s head with their left hand, without the other child doing it first.

Classic ball games

6 Goalies
Form a circle with one child in the middle who is the ball thrower. This child then throws at anyone in any order. Whoever drops the ball has to sit down and the last one standing is the winner.

7 Up And Down
Stand in a circle and pass the ball around. If a child drops the ball, they have to go down on one knee. If they catch it on the next go, they can stand up again. But if they drop it again, they have to go down on two knees, then one elbow, two elbows, one chin and finally out. The player has to throw and catch the ball in their new position.

8 Head Or Catch
Form a circle with a ball thrower in the middle. Children have to do the opposite of what the thrower asks them. So if the thrower says “Catch”, the child has to head the ball back to the thrower. If the thrower says “Head”, the child has to catch the ball and throw it back.

9 Bucket Ball
Get two buckets or bowls and put them at either end of a ‘pitch’ area. Divide the group into two teams and play a simple game of basketball, letting the children throw and bounce the ball between and into the buckets.

10 Shooting Gallery
Set up an array of plastic tea set pieces, play food or soft toys on a low wall or bench. Children then throw a soft ball to see how many items they can knock off.

Games for 5 or more children

11 Crusts or crumbs
One child is the caller, the rest divide into two groups – one called crusts, the other called crumbs. The two teams stand facing each other a few metres apart, but first they choose a base behind each group (say a tree or a jumper on the ground). The caller calls out either “Crusts” or “Crumbs”. Whichever team is called has to chase the other back to their base. If a child is caught they have to join the other side. The caller can have lots of fun by saying the first “Crrrr” very slowly so neither team knows who’s going to be called.

12 Jailbreak
Choose an area, such as a tree or a post, to be the jail. Two or three players are the jailers and start counting to 20 with eyes closed, while the others hide. The jailers then have to find and catch the other children. When a child is caught they go to jail. If a child manages to touch the jail without being caught by one of the jailers, they cause a ‘jailbreak’ and everyone is free. The jailers then have to get everyone back in jail.

13 Snake’s Tail
Form a line, with each player holding the child in front around their waist. The player at the front of the snake (the head) then tries to catch the person at the end (the tail). Players take turns in being the head and tail.

14 Link Tag
One player is the tagger and has to chase the others. When a child is caught, they hold hands with the tagger and start chasing again. When they have a chain of four taggers, they split into two chains of two.

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15 Cat and Mouse
You need at least 8 children for this. Six children hold hands in a circle. One player ‘the mouse’ remains inside the circle and another player ‘the cat’ remains outside. The mouse can move in and out of the circle but can not remain inside for more than a few seconds. The cat can’t enter the circle and chase the mouse to catch or tag her. The players in the circle help the mouse by lifting their arms up for her to enter and then blocking the way for the cat. Once caught, the mouse becomes the cat and a new mouse is chosen from the circle.

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