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30 Classic Backyard Games Due for a Comeback This Summer

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family playing in the backyard
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Game Out

With the coronavirus still cause for concern, families will be homebound a lot more this summer than in the past. But there is still plenty of fun to be had — including the old-fashioned kind we all remember growing up with, featuring plenty of sprinkler time and water balloon fights, popsicles and long aimless bike rides, and the best part: backyard games. For a quick refresh on the classics and how to play them, read on. (Keep in mind that there are many variations of these games, and each family may have their own rules, sometimes dating back generations.)

Related: 19 Fun Family Board Games to Keep You Entertained at Home

Father and son throwing baseball
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Pickle

Pickle is a fun way to practice some baseball skills. Set up two bases and assign two throwers, with other players taking turns running between the bases, trying to get onto them safely before they get tagged out by a thrower. Throwers must have the ball in their glove or hand to tag out a player. After three tags, a runner replaces the thrower who tagged them last.

Capture the flag
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Capture the Flag

Players divide into two teams and each is assigned a territory where they hide their flag. The goal of the game is for one team to capture the other team's flag and bring it back to their territory without being caught. If you catch a member of the opposite team in your territory, you may tag them and send them to your territory's jail, where their only way out is to be tagged by one of their daring team members. Teams must strategize how to best capture the other team's flag while still protecting their own.

kids with eyes closed
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Ghost in the Graveyard

Pick one player to be the "ghost," and designate a base. While the "ghost" hides, the other players cover their eyes and count to midnight, starting at one o'clock. Once at midnight they yell "Midnight, midnight, I hope I catch a ghost tonight!" and go searching. The seeker who finds the hiding player yells "Ghost in the graveyard!" and is considered safe as the other players run to get to the home base while the "ghost" tries to tag one. If a runner is tagged, they become the next ghost. If no player is tagged, the last player to home base becomes the ghost. (If the ghost tags a seeker before they can yell "ghost in the graveyard," that person becomes the next ghost.)

game of jacks
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Jacks

The game of Jacks goes back generations. It's also a very cheap game — a set of Jacks can be found easily for less than $10. It involves bouncing a red ball and using one hand to swoop up jacks scattered across the ground within one bounce of the ball. Typically, it goes in numerical order; bounce the ball and pick up "onesies," complete that and move on to "twosies," and so forth until the player misses and it's the next player's turn.

Related: 29 Retro Gifts That Kids Will Still Love Today

playing basketball
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Pig (or Horse)

This one is played with a basketball hoop. The first player tries to make a difficult shot. If the ball goes in the hoop, the next player after them must make the same shot. If they make it, the next player must try to make it as well, going through every player until someone misses. Each miss earns a letter spelling out whichever word game is being played. The game goes on until only one player is left without spelling out "pig" (or "horse") and wins the game. A missed shot means the next player can shoot from anywhere.

dodgeball
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Spud

One player is "it" and assigns everyone a number before throwing the ball high into the air — as everyone else runs away. The number the thrower calls out becomes the new "it," and they must catch the ball and yell "spud" to freeze all other players where they are. "It" has four steps (take them while calling out "S-P-U-D") to get as close to another player as possible and try to throw the ball and hit them. Players can try to dodge, but without moving their feet. If a player is hit, that earns an S, P, U, or D and makes that player the thrower. If they dodge, the same thrower remains and gets an S, P, U, or D. Play goes on until there is only one player left who has not spelled out the word. They are the winner.

Hopscotch
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Hopscotch

Use sidewalk chalk to make a hopscotch grid. Label the boxes in the grid one through 10. Grab a small rock and toss it into the first box. Hop over it and, alternating one or two feet, make your way down the board and back. In the second box, balance on one foot and pick up the rock, then hop over the first box to the start. Toss the rock into the second box now and start again. Continue like this until you miss the correct square with the rock; then it's the next person's turn.

Red Light, Green Light game
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Red Light, Green Light

One person takes the role of the traffic light, while other players line up about 20 feet away. When the "traffic light" turns away from the players, it's a green light and they must run as fast as they can. When the traffic light turns quickly around to face them, it's a red light and players must stop. Anyone who doesn't stop and freeze has to go back to the start line. The goal is to be the first to tag the traffic light and become the new traffic light.

Marbles
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Marbles

All you need for this simple game is a handful of small marbles (around 13) called mibs, and one larger marble for each player called a shooter. Draw a circle in the dirt or use sidewalk chalk. The first player uses the shooter to flick the scattered marbles out of the circle, keeping all body parts outside of it. Any knocked out are kept; play continues from where the shooter stops, until the player misses or the shooter lands outside the circle. Then it is the next player's turn. The next player may choose to flick mibs or an opponent's shooter out of the circle, which gives that player the disadvantage of shooting from farther away. If a player knocks your shooter out of the circle, they also win your accumulated mibs. Play continues until all marbles are knocked. The winner is the one with the most mibs.

Four Square
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Four Square

Use sidewalk chalk to draw four large, touching squares — forming one giant, divided square. The squares are numbered one to four (with one and four diagonal from each other). One ball is put into play, served by square one to square four. The ball can bounce only once in a square before it is hit into another one. If the ball goes out of bounds or bounces more than once, you are out, and players ranked below you move up to make room for a new player in square four. There are many variations; typically the player in square one gets to name the rules.

jump rope rhymes
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Jump Rope Rhymes

Rhyming while jumping rope is most fun with others. You need two turners, a jump rope, and of course at least one jumper. Songs that tell the jumper what moves to do are fun and usually challenging, requiring one or more jumpers to speed up or compete on how many jumps they can squeeze in. Kidactivities.net provides a list to choose from.

kids on bikes
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Traffic Cop

Though there are several variations, generally one person is the traffic cop while everyone else gets on something with wheels: bikes, scooters, wagons, and skateboards, for instance. The cop directs the "traffic" to make sure no one runs into each other. Another way to play is to have two cops: one directing traffic and one to pass out "tickets" to those not obeying. Tickets can be made from scrap paper, and when someone earns three, they are out.

kids playing in the backyard swimming pool
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Marco Polo

Players all hop in a pool. The player that is "it" closes their eyes while the other players spread out silently away from him. That seeker starts calling "Marco" with eyes shut while the other players answer "Polo." The goal: tagging one of the other players based on sound alone. That player then becomes the seeker and the game starts over.

Thinking about adding a pool to your backyard? Consider these highly-rated Above-Ground Swimming Pools.

Hide-And-Seek
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Hide and Seek

About as classic a childhood game as you can get, Hide and Seek has one player that is "it." That seeker covers their eyes and counts to 20. All other players run and hide. After counting, the seeker yells "Ready or not, here I come" and must find all the hiders. Usually, the person who gets found first becomes "it" in the next round of the game.

Kids hiding in a box outside
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Sardines

Think of Hide and Seek — but the opposite, because only one person hides in Sardines and the other players are charged with finding that person. When they do, they must hide alongside them. The last person to find the hiders loses.

Monkey in the Middle
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Monkey in the Middle

The ultimate game of keep away. One person is in the middle while the other two throw a ball back and forth and try to keep it from the middle person. If the person in the middle gets it, the person who threw it replaces them in the middle.

game of tag
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Tag

Perhaps the most classic childhood game: One person is "it" and runs around trying to tag another player. Once another player is tagged, they become "it," and so forth. One popular rule prevents tag-backs, in which the person tagged tags the person back immediately. There are many variations.

Freeze tag
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Freeze Tag

One of the many variations of Tag, in this game once you get tagged by "it" most stop where you are until another player tags you to unfreeze you.

Flashlight Tag
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Flashlight Tag

In this combo of Tag and Hide and Seek, you play at night. The seeker has a flashlight and must cover their eyes and count to 20. The other players run and hide. Once the seeker gets to 20, they start looking for the hiders using a flashlight. Once they find a hider, they must shine the flashlight on that person and yell their name. That person is then out until everyone is found. Once everyone is found, the game begins over again with a new "it."

TV Tag
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TV Tag

Played much like Freeze Tag, but in this game, someone who's been tagged must stop in place until another player unfreezes them by yelling out the name of a TV show. Here's the catch: You can't repeat show names during a round. So start thinking of TV show names now.

Double dutch
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Double Dutch

Double Dutch is a jump rope game that requires two turners, one jumper, and two jump ropes. Everyone needs to work together to get a rhythm going and enable the jumper to be successful. It takes practice, but eventually jumpers can get in and out easily to switch out with friends.

aluminum can on the ground
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Kick the Can

Another hybrid of Tag and Hide and Seek, in this game a can is placed in the play area and a holding area ("jail") is set apart within it. The person chosen to be "it" covers their eyes and counts to 20 while the other players run and hide. If a seeker finds a hider, they call out the hider's name and each races to see who can kick the can first. If the seeker kicks the can, the hider goes to jail; if the hider kicks the can, the seeker has to run and get the can and reset it while the hider runs off to hide again; and if an uncaptured player kicks the can, all players in jail are free to run and hide again. Play continues until everyone is caught and a new "it" is assigned — usually the first person caught.

sharks and minnows
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Shark and Minnows

In a large play area, there is one shark and everyone else is a minnow. The minnows try to run from one end of the playing field to the other without getting tagged by the shark. If they do get tagged, they become a shark and help try to tag the remaining minnows. The last minnow alive wins.

kids in circle
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Hot Potato

Players sit in a circle passing a ball around as if it were a hot potato until the music stops; the person left holding the ball is out. Play goes on until one player is left — the winner. A twist uses a water balloon as the hot potato, with players standing in a close circle passing it; each time the balloon makes it all the way around, the players take a step back. They will end up tossing the water balloon, which will eventually pop. Lay in a good supply of water balloons.

the floor is lava
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The Floor Is Lava

Pretend the ground is lava, so you can't step on it. This one can work just as well outside as inside, so long as you choose a play area with enough stones, sticks, logs, chairs, benches, and other objects to step on or hang off to not touch the hot, bubbling lava below.

line of kids hugging
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Mother May I

One person assumes the role of "mother" and stands facing away from the group. All other players stand on the same line next to each other, perhaps 10 to 20 feet away, and take turns requesting how many steps forward they may take: "Mother, may I take four steps?" The mother grants these requests or replaces them with their own until someone inevitably reaches her and wins the game, becoming the new mother. (Sometimes the game is called "Captain May I.")

Simon Says
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Simon Says

Similar to Mother May I, in Simon Says one player assumes the role of "Simon" while the other players spread out. Simon directs the other players to do things such as hop on one foot — but must say "Simon says." If Simon says, "Simon says hop on one foot," players would be correct to do it; if Simon says, "take four steps forward," and a player does so, that's a mistake, because Simon didn't say "Simon Says." That player would be out until all players but one are out, becoming the new Simon.

whispering
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Telephone

In this game sure to get a bunch of giggles, players sit in a circle. One person thinks up a sentence or phrase and whispers it to the next person. That person passes it to the person next to them, and so forth until it makes its way all the way around the circle. The last person says the sentence or phrase aloud, which usually causes a good laugh — with several people playing, the phrase or sentence inevitably gets mixed up, and errors compound until the original thought can be unrecognizable.

Red Rover
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Red Rover

Players divide into two teams. Each team holds hands and stands facing each other about 20 or fewer feet apart. The first team sings together "Red Rover, Red Rover, send [a player's name] on over." The player who's been named runs as fast as they can and tries to break through the other team's line. If they succeed and break through, they may choose a player to bring back to their team with them. If they don't succeed and don't break through, they must join the other team. Play continues until one team has no players left.

duck duck goose
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Duck, Duck, Goose

Perfect for the little ones or a large group, Duck, Duck, Goose involves everyone sitting in a big circle. One person is the tagger and goes around the circle touching everyone's head, saying either "duck" or "goose." If they say "duck," nothing happens; if they say "goose," that person must leap up and try to tag the tagger — who runs around the circle away from the goose and tries to sit down safely in the goose's spot before getting caught.