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Playground Games for Kids!

Many of us have cherished memories of recess; we busted free from those stuffy classrooms and unleashed all of our pent-up energy. Playing children are smiling children, exploring the world with imaginations soaring. The rewards of play are endless, especially when partners or groups enjoy it together. For children, it encourages cooperation, problem-solving, healthy communication and focus. Creativity runs wild as they discover and connect with each other and their environments. This article will suggest classic, beloved games as well as some unique approaches to play.

Capture the Flag

Capture the Flag is a tried-and-true playground favorite for both children and adults. The Boy Scouts are especially fond of this fun, energetic pastime. It requires teamwork, strategy, and lots of hearty running. The nature of the game makes it adaptable to many environments, although a wide open space with obstacles and hiding places would be ideal. Aim for at least ten players, as they will be separated into two teams. There are two teams; each has a domain they can move freely within split by a territory marker such as a rope, streamers, or cones. The teams assemble at the center and are each given a flag. If flags are not readily available, any light object will do: rubber chickens, Frisbees, and stuffed animals are sure to tease out some smiles. Once the judge(s) call the game, the teams have five minutes to hide the flag in their territory. The goal of the game is to seize the opposite team's flag and deliver it back across the territory line without being touched by an "enemy" while in their zone. If caught, the flag is returned to its original location and the player must enter the opponent's jail, which is generally halfway between their flag and the boundary line. The jail can be a tree or a circled off area; there is no limit to captives and they must be touching the jail at all times. A team member may release a prisoner, one at a time, by touching them. The joy of this game is that it will always offer unique challenges and keep everyone active!

Treasure Hunt

A treasure hunt sparks excitement and urges children to embrace their inner detective. There are no real rules to a treasure hunt, so feel free to dream up any assortment of treasures and challenges that cater to the age and interests of the children. A playground is an ideal landscape for a treasure hunt, since it provides many nooks in which to hide objects, and urges children to interact with obstacles. A list of clues might jog their curious, connection-building minds, but it also may be beneficial to let them freely roam in search of treasures. Another idea is to try to hide puzzle pieces (make sure to count them first), and once they are all found, have the children build the puzzle together.

Jump Rope

Jumping rope is an old, cherished game that has earned its place on playgrounds everywhere. It is a vigorous, alert activity that sharpens hand-eye coordination and timing. Many creative variations have sprouted: criss-cross, double Dutch, double under and leg over to name a few. Rhymes can be added to the mix, fostering a love for music and enhancing multi-tasking talents. Jump ropers can make progress together, enjoying the achievement of mastering a new technique. There are many group games that jump roping can provide. A line of players can try to simultaneously jump over the rope, encouraging open communication and teamwork. This line can grow with each successful jump, creating more of a challenge and spreading the merriment. Jump rope relays are a rush of competitive fun. A player from each team runs while jump roping to a set point and back, passing the rope to the next teammate and repeating until the first team to finish wins.


There are many unique, fast-paced variations of tag. Blob tag is a great ice-breaker that encourages teamwork; it starts with one "it" player, but as they tag others, they link hands and form a growing "amoeba." Both ends of the blob can tag runners, bringing them into the fold. The last free runner wins. Zombie tag is perfect for children who love to express themselves. The "it" player pretends to be a zombie, complete with groaning and shuffling around. Those they tag also become zombies. The last "human" player wins. There are countless ways to play tag, so it is the perfect combination of experimentation and physical activity.

Hula Hoop Relay

This game is another inventive ice-breaker that boosts brainpower. An unlimited number of children can play this game, although larger groups will require more patience. Children form a circle facing each other, holding hands. Two hula hoops are placed at opposite points of the circle, linked hands passing through them. The goal is to "wiggle" the hula hoops towards each other until they meet without breaking the link; this is achieved by passing it over heads, under legs and across arms. For more of a challenge, try blindfolding or forbidding dialogue. No matter what, this activity is sure to provoke laughter and fire up ingenuity.

Playground Musical Chairs

Just like indoor musical chairs, but in the great outdoors. Designate as many pieces of playground equipment, rocks, trees, or objects with markers as there are participants. There must be a DJ that controls the music. A portable stereo is perfect for this activity; while the music is on, children enjoy the playground actively, bouncing between "chairs." When the music stops, the players must reach a safe haven before the DJ catches them. If a player is caught, they must sit out until the next game begins or also partake in tagging when the music stops. This is a zippy game that always keeps players on their toes.

Red Light/Green Light with Music

This game has similar stop-and-go action to music like Musical Chairs, except players have to freeze in place while enjoying the playground when the music stops. Music is optional, as this can also be done with vocal commands. Depending on the size of the playground, several "police" will be necessary to catch any movement sans music or after "red light" is announced. If a participant is caught, they will also become police, making it more challenging for remaining players to get away with the slightest budge. Kudos to the daring kid who braves the monkey bars with the threat of a red light looming!

Hot Lava

This game embraces the power of imagination by reinventing the playground into an adventurous landscape. By declaring that the ground is lava and cannot be touched, children must find ways to navigate through the playground. A starting and end point are designated. This will encourage them to approach the playground equipment in new ways; the monkey bars become a heroic risk and the slide now represents slippery danger. They will have to share ideas and build a plan to ensure no one gets left behind. Tools such as mats can be given to be strategically placed. Of course, it is vital to always have adult supervision.

Catch the Dragon's Tail

The vibrant global culture of today should be a constant learning experience for children. By introducing them to games from around the world, such as Catch the Dragon's Tail from China, it shows them that the spirit of play is universal. Catch the Dragon's Tail involves a long line of children clasping each other's shoulders from behind. The very first person is the dragon's head and the very last is the tail. The object of the game is for the dragon's head to tag the tail. It sounds easy, but there are two fun caveats; the line must stay connected while the "body" of the dragon (everyone but the head and tail) is struggling to keep them apart. It is a fun and entertaining game that accommodates many children.

Giant Marbles

A life-size take on the classic Marbles, this game requires a large variety of playground balls: soccer, volley, beach, sponge and whiffle balls all work great. A greater assortment means more curiosity: texture, weight, and size are all factors to explore. Form a circle with rope or chalk big enough to house all of the balls comfortably spread out. Players stand ten feet from the circle, taking turns to roll a heavy ball (such as a basketball) into the circle. The player claims any balls that are knocked out of the circle. To win, a player must have the most claims once the circle is

Fun Outdoor Games to Play with Children

Gross and Fine Motor Activities for Early Childhood

Games for the Playground, Home, School and Gymnasium (PDF)

Turn Off Your Computer and Play!

Capture the Flag

Guide to Capture the Flag

Make Your Own Treasure Hunt!

Jump Rope for Kids

Jump Rope for Heart Event Ideas (PDF)

Healthy Hopping

Tag Games

Chasing Games

Hula Hoop Challenge

Statue and Other Games from Around the World

Catch the Dragon's Tail

Find more about the author: Kim Hart