No more duck, duck, goose for this crowd. School-age kids are more sophisticated than preschoolers when it comes to games. They can play more complex games, juggle multiple roles, and enjoy the challenge of figuring out strategies.
Some kids will take as much active play as they can get, while others enjoy less. Whether it's a birthday party or a summer picnic, games are a great way to involve all kids in being active. Grade school is a time of building identity and self-esteem, so encourage every kid in your group to enjoy the game and find ways to make sure that everyone is able to participate.
The following games are great for any outdoor event, and we've included some rainy-day games too.
Number of kids: 6 or more.
How the game is played: Depending on the number of kids, make at least three kids the snakes. Have the snakes form the gutter by standing in a line with wide spaces between them, facing the rest of the kids, who should be at a distance. The adult in charge (or a child) yells, "Snake in the gutter!" The children attempt to run through the gutter without being tagged by a snake. Those who get tagged are now snakes and stay in the gutter. Those who make it through can make another run through the gutter. But anyone who was tagged must join the snakes. Continue the game until everyone has been caught.
Tips for adults: If a child is fearful of making a run through the gutter, help him or her brainstorm a way to get through (or partner two kids up to make a plan).
What the game teaches: Agility, problem-solving.
Number of kids: at least 4, but best for larger groups.
How the game is played: This is a whole-body game based on Rock, Paper, Scissors. Before you begin, explain these rules to the players:
Divide the kids into two teams with a space of about 4 feet between them. Direct each team to retreat a few feet for a huddle to decide which they will be: giants, wizards, or elves.
In their huddles, each team decides what they will be, plus a backup choice. Then they come back to their 4-feet-apart stance. On a count of three, each team yells what they are. If one team yells "Elves!" and the other yells "Wizards!," the wizard team will chase the elves to their safe zone (you can mark these with cones or use a tree or other found object). Anyone who is tagged becomes part of the opposing team. If both teams yell the same creature, they do it over using their backup choice.
Tips for adults: A simper version of this game, called Crows and Cranes, works well for younger children. In this variation, the adult designates one team as Crows and the other as Cranes. The teams line up in the same fashion as above. The adult chooses the chaser team by yelling either "Crows!" or "Cranes!" The identical sounds at the beginning of the words add to the suspense as the teams wait to find out who will chase and who will flee.
What the game teaches: Agility, listening skills, teamwork.
Number of kids: at least 4.
How the game is played: You'll need several blindfolds and a few soft balls (foam balls are good choices). The children partner up, and one kid in each pair is blindfolded. The partner who can see leads the blindfolded partner by the arm.
The object of the game is to get the blindfolded partner to throw the ball at another blindfolded player, then to get the second blindfolded partner to pick it up and throw it at another blindfolded player. If a player is hit twice, the pair is out and heads to the sidelines to watch the game. Kids can help their blindfolded partners defend by telling them when to duck or move in a particular direction.
Tips for adults: Before playing, remind kids that safety is important. Have the blindfolded kids walk with hands up in front of them for "bumpers" to avoid collisions. Demonstrate how to lead a partner by the arm and direct him or her to the ball: "Go forward three steps. Now squat down and reach out with your left hand."
Remind the kids to tune in to their partner's voice. Also, be sure that kids aren't throwing the balls at very close range. For a fun variation, have kids lead partners without touching, only with the voice. When you've played once, switch the blindfold to the other player. This game can also be played by a group of adults!
What this game teaches: Teamwork, listening, motor skills.
Most of us probably remember playing tag as kids, chasing everyone amid shouts of "Tag, you're it!" Tag is a great outdoor game, providing kids with great exercise and lots of excitement. You can use these variations for anywhere from four kids to larger groups.
How the game is played: When the tagger tags someone, they join hands to form a tagging pair. They now chase while holding hands, moving as a "blob." When they tag someone else, that person joins hands and becomes part of the tagging blob. The members of the tagging blob have to work together to keep moving in the same direction to achieve their goal.
Tips for adults: Break up groups of four into two-person blobs to minimize confusion and stepped-on toes.
Tunnel tag is a variation on freeze tag. In freeze tag, kids "freeze" in the position they're in when tagged. In tunnel tag, someone has to crawl through a child's feet to "unfreeze" him or her so they can rejoin the game.
How the game is played: When a tagger approaches a child in this game, he or she must squat down and say the name of a vegetable or fruit for protection. If the tagger gets you first, you also become "it."
How the game is played: In this variation, when a child is tagged, he or she places a hand on the spot that was tagged. The child must keep a hand on that spot for the rest of the game. If the child gets tagged a second time, a hand must be placed on the second spot. Now the child has used up all the band-aids. If tagged a third time, the child must go to the "hospital" (the sidelines) and do five jumping jacks to "get well" and rejoin the game.
What the game teaches: Motor skill, agility, and teamwork.
Number of kids: 2, 4, or 6.
How the game is played: For this game, you'll need several empty two-liter soda bottles and a few balls (smaller ones like tennis balls are best). Line the bottles up in a row. Divide the group of kids in half, one group standing on either side of the bottles at a distance. Each team gets a chance to try and knock down the bottles as quickly as they can. The adult times the kids and names the winner.
Tips for adults: Another version of this game uses clear bottles and green bottles. The team on one side tries to knock down clear bottles, and the other team knocks down the green ones. Kids may add their own rules to this game, such as a penalty for knocking down the wrong color. Go with the flow, making sure everyone understands any additional rules that pop up.
What the game teaches: Motor skills, teamwork.
Number of kids: 1 to 4 (more if you are playing outside).
How the game is played: Gather some easily recognizable objects and hide them around a couple rooms of the house. Give each child a list of items to look for and clues to help them find the objects.
Tips for adults: You can pair kids up or assign teams to play. This game also works well outdoors provided you set some boundaries (the edges of the yard, certain spots in the park) for the kids to work inside.
What the game teaches: Problem-solving, teamwork.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2014
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