Rest, relax and have some good old-fashioned family fun with games and activities you'll love
Illustration by Laura Cornell
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Remember when summer meant lazy days without structure or end, where neighborhood kids gathered for a rousing game of backyard tag, dodge ball or ringalevio, and nighttime meant catching fireflies in a Mason jar? The simple pleasures of running barefoot back and forth under a cheap, oscillating sprinkler could last for hours — until Mom called you in for dinner or the Good Humor truck beckoned with its telltale jingle.
This summer, put the playdates on hold, pull the plug on the Wii and send your kids outside to use their bodies and imaginations in exuberant play. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a roster of fun retro games and activities that, while simple, have stood the test of time. It’s playtime!
Backyard and Neighborhood Games
These are age-old games — no batteries, equipment or assembly required. All that is needed are a handful of kids, a few great hiding spots (like behind bushes, trees or rocks) and a selection of firm ground rules, such as “No going near the street” and “Stay within the confines of the backyard.”
1. Riotous Relay Races
Try incorporating some of these fun relay races into your repertoire to keep the kids (and adults) amused:
• 1 bucket of water per team
• 1 large sponge per team
• 1 empty one-gallon plastic milk jug per team
Divide players into two or more teams. Set the buckets of water on one side of the course, with the sponges in the bucket. Place the milk jugs at the opposite end of the race course. The object of the game is to be the first team to fill the milk jug with water. The first player of each team soaks the sponge with water, runs to the milk jug, squeezes the water into it then runs back to pass the sponge to the next player. This continues until the first jug is full. To make the game more challenging, try using plastic turkey basters or water guns instead of sponges.
Tip: Squirt a few drops of food coloring into the jug to make the water level more visible to the players.
2. Old-Fashioned Sack Race
Grab a few old pillowcases and pack them in your bag the next time you’re headed to the park or beach for an old-fashioned sack race.
Here’s how it works: Step into the sack with both feet. Pull the sack taut and hold the edges with two hands. Practice hopping until you get the hang of it. Mark the start and finish lines, line up players at the starting line, blow the whistle and go!
For more difficulty, add a few obstacles or cones to the course to hop around. Or give your kids a sack and a sprinkler and let them cavort in the water without racing.
3. Three-Legged Race
This race is a good activity for a family picnic or outing with friends; it is best played on lush grass or soft sand, as falling is part of the fun.
You’ll need a few old rags or stockings cut into wide, three-foot strips. Pair partners by height, if possible. Tie one person’s left leg to the other player’s right. Practice walking together until you get a rhythm going, and then try hopping or running in synch. Mark the start and finish lines and you’re off!
4. Wheelbarrow Race
Pair up with a partner. One person puts his hands on the ground while the other holds the front partner’s hind feet and steers the duo to the finish line. The first team to cross the line is the winner.
The game of tag is as simple as it gets: Chase and be chased. First, players decide who is going to be “It.”
Most kids are familiar with the traditional tag where the person who is “It” must tag another player. To up the ante, why not try a variation, such as Freeze Tag? In this version, the player who is tagged must freeze on the spot. So, if a player is tagged midway up a tree or with his hands waving in midair, he must freeze in that pose. He can be freed (or unfrozen) only when another player touches, or tags, him — or, in a more difficult version, only after the other player crawls between his legs. The game ends when every player is frozen in place. The last person frozen will be “It” for the next game.
Young kids enjoy Circle Tag, in which players form a circle, standing about five feet from the player on either side. The “leader” stands outside the circle and when he says “Go!” all the children run in a circle to the right, trying to pass the player in front of him. When a player catches up with the one in front of him, that player is out. The leader may call “reverse.” Then, players have to turn around quickly and run the other way. The last player left in the circle wins.
Splash Tag puts a refreshing spin on things and is best played on a hot summer day. You’ll need one large, oversized sponge and a bucket of water — and don’t forget the swimsuits. In this version, “It” tries to tag a running player with a wet sponge. Once
tagged, that person becomes the new “It.” There’s no denying who’s been tagged … the water dribbling down the tagged player’s back is a dead giveaway.