VirginiaLynne is a mother of five. She writes about parenting, crafts, and games for children, family fun, and Christian ministry ideas.
How Do You Choose the Right Outdoor Game?
How can you be sure that the games you choose will really be fun outdoor party games with your group? Great outdoor games share a few characteristics. They:
- Are simple to explain.
- Resemble familiar games.
- Can be adapted to any party theme.
- Let everyone play most of the time.
- Are fast to play.
- Aren't just for good athletes.
The games listed below are all ones that fit the above characteristics. You can use these, or you can test any other games you find or make up to see if they fit the above characteristics. If they do, you are on your way to a successful outdoor party!
This Article Includes:
1. Quick and easy games that don't require a lot of equipment.
2. Games that work for different ages.
3. Ideas on how to choose games for your group.
4. Directions for more than 25 great time-tested games.
5. Tips for how to make games fit your party theme.
Old-fashioned relay races always make a great party game and don't require much preparation or equipment. They make a good starter game because latecomers can always join in. Better yet, everyone knows how relays work, so once you have the groups organized, all you have to do is give a simple demonstration of what to do on each relay and then do "Ready, set, go!"
- Players: 6 or more. Most relays work best when the teams are at least 3 and no more than 10, so no one has to wait too long for a turn. Even teams are best, but if you can't divide your group into even numbers, then have someone go twice for the smaller group.
- Ages: 5 and up.
- Equipment: Varies with the type of race but these basic supplies will help you do lots of different relays: spoons; round objects the size of a fist (balls, eggs, potatoes, party themed object); bandannas or strips of fabric, baseball bat (or stick), stuffed animals or plastic toys (party themed), balloons, hula hoops.
- Playing Space: a flat area that has room for a player to stand in a line and run to a marker.
- Party Theme: Call the relays after your party theme and use party themed objects for relays.
How to Run Relay Games
- Each team stands in a line facing the same direction. Target to run toward can be a line to cross.
- At the signal, "Ready, Set, Go!" the first person does the relay then comes back to the line to hand the object to the next person in line (or touch them if there is no object). The first player then goes to the end of the line and sits down to show they are done.
- All players do the relay. When the last player sits down the team cheers to show they are done.
- The first team to have all their players finish and the whole team sitting down wins.
- Be creative with the relays and even make them up as you go along.
- If a relay is popular, do it again, or try a variation.
- If your group gets tired of relays that have people going one at a time, switch over to doing races (see below).
Ruckus Flag Tag
Easy and always a hit, Ruckus Flag Tag is a tag game that uses cloth flags that kids pull to get each other out. This game was so popular at my daughter's last birthday party that we didn't get to play any of the other games I'd planned.
The best part of this game is that even if you are out, you can still play because you sit on the ground in the playing area and can grab at the flags of people still in the game. Another great part of Ruckus is that you can have as many players as you want and you can also play this game indoors if you have a gym or big room.
- Players: 8 to 50. For bigger groups you might want to divide into teams with different colored flags.
- Ages: 5 and up can play this game. Ruckus is great for older teens and even college age too.
- Equipment: flags for players (bandannas work well, or use strips of cloth about 18 inches long).
- Playing Space: grassy area or other running space with lots of room to run. If there aren't natural borders, use strips of cloth, rocks or sticks to show boundaries of playing field. This game can also be played indoors in a gym or large room.
- Party Theme: use flags the color of the party, and name the game something that has to do with your party theme, like 4th of July Ruckus, Pirates Ruckus, Battle of the Knights (for a princess or medieval party), or Cats and Dogs Ruckus (for a puppy party).
How to Play Ruckus Flag Tag
- Every player puts a flag on. Have them tuck the end of the flag in a pocket or waistband of pants. Flags should be at sides or back, not in front. At least 10 inches of the flag should be showing. Use rubber bands to tie up shirts if they are too long, or tuck them into pants.
- Run around and try to pull the flags of other players. You can't guard your flags with your hands and you must stay within the boundaries of the game field. The adult in charge can call you out if you violate those two rules.
- When your flag is pulled you are out and must sit down. While sitting down, you can still pull flags from players still in the game.
- The last person with a flag wins.
- You can make the end of the game go faster if you move the boundary lines closer together so the playing field is smaller.
- With a big group, you might want to play in teams with different colored flags to mark which team you are on.
How to Play Capture the Flag
In a Scavenger Hunt, players look around for things on a list, or for a category of items. Scavenger Hunts are easy to do and adaptable to the place you are in as well as the age of the group. Better yet, you can often have different have several ages work together on a scavenger game. Here are some of my favorite Scavenger Hunt ideas:
Scavenger Hunt With List
With this game, you prepare a list of things for each person or team to find. You can do this hunt in a backyard, a park, a neighborhood, or around town (using cars with an adult leader for each team). Your team can either actually collect the items or take pictures of themselves with the things they need to find (using a digital camera or phone). Scavenger Hunts can be simple or complicated depending on the age group. You can come up with your own Scavenger Hunt list, use the Scavenger Hunt game, or try making your hunt using the Scavenger Hunt List website.
Bigger and Better Hunt
This is one of my favorite games of all time because it makes for a lot of fun and crazy memories. Divide players in teams of 3-7 with a teenager or an adult to go with them. Give each group a paper clip, a time limit (usually 30 minutes to an hour), and a section of your neighborhood to use for the game. Their object? To go door to door asking if they can trade what they have (starting with the paper clip) for something "Bigger or Better."
When everyone gets back, they get to tell the stories of their trades as well as argue for why they should get the prize for the best trade. The best part of this game is hearing the stories of the hunt and seeing what people actually give away. On our last hunt, we had one team come back with a working T.V, and another with a train set made to go under a Christmas tree. However, the winner was the team that came back with a 2-foot high working Robot! Everyone feels like a winner, but for fun, you can also award prizes for the "Biggest," the "Best" and "the Most Unusual" object.
Nature Scavenger Hunt
This game is great for a park party. Give everyone a small sack and a certain amount of time to find nature objects like leaves, flowers, seeds, rocks and twigs. Another way to do a Nature Hunt with little kids is to use Duct Tape turned sticky side out around each child's wrist for them to stick things onto. Kids love to share what they've found when they get back. You can also use the things they find for art projects, like crayon rubbings, or just gluing their items to paper to take home.
Everyone loves a treasure hunt and we include one in just about every party we hold. We include some kind of hunt in almost every party we do at our house because everyone loves the chance to hunt.
Classic Egg Hunt Revised
Even 2 and 3-year-olds know how to hunt for Easter Eggs, so use that fact to make an easy and fun party game for the younger set (older ones love it too!). Cut out (or buy) paper shapes that follow your party theme (bones for a dog party, fish for mermaid or pirate party, stars for a princess party etc.). Tape a piece of wrapped candy to the back of the paper and hide like you would Easter Eggs. You can also hide toys like Legos, or toy soldiers, or even just hide wrapped candies. This game is always a hit!
Treasure Hunts for the Party Favors are a great way to end a party. Ahead of time make paper clues and hide them around the outside (and/or inside) of your party area. The clues should lead the party-goers in order from place to place until they reach the final hiding spot. For non-readers, you can draw pictures. For young readers, just the name of the place to do. For older kids, make the clue something they need to think about. You can use color clues, shapes, or even poems or rebus rhymes. We've used the Treasure Hunt book for many years to make this easier.
Sand or Water Treasure Hunt
In this hunt, you hide plastic toys in a sandbox or small wading pool (or larger pool for an older kid's pool party). The kids dig through the sand or water in order to find the prize. You can have kids go one at a time, or if there is a large area or not many kids, they can do it all at once. We usually make sure everyone can find at least 2-3 prizes. A variation on this is a "Money Hunt" when you hide real or plastic coins that the kids can collect.
10 Great Race Ideas
- Run Up and Back: Carry theme toy (or ball) up to line and back. Pass off to next person.
- Run Up and Do Task: Run up to line and then do something like: do five jumping jacks, throw theme toy in a bucket, throw theme toy through a hoop, put head on baseball bat and turn around 5 times, do a somersault, hop through a hopscotch, hula hoop 5 times, sing happy birthday to birthday child (or another song fitting the party theme), turn around 6 times etc. Then run back and tag next child.
- Silly Races: Instead of running, have the players: run backwards, hop, jump on two feet, skip, slide sideways, do big walking steps, do baby steps (toe to heel), or do the silly walking. For older players, you can even invent complicated combinations like hop 2 times, then jump three times, then do 5 baby steps. To make it easier, you can have the players do the silly race up and then run back.
- Spoon Races: Have players hold something on a spoon as the go up and back. This can be a theme toy, a water balloon, a potato, an egg, a ball or anything which fits in a spoon.
- Head Topper Races: Have players hold something on top of their heads as they race. This can be a theme toy, a stuffed animal, a bean bag, or some other object.
- Ball Run and Throw Races: Run with any sort of ball up and back, then pass off to the next player by having to throw the ball a few feet (further for older players). Next player has to catch the ball or the first player has to run get the ball and try again.
- Obstacle Course Races: Set up a series of easy tasks for the runners like jumping through a hula hoop, doing a somersault, doing 5 jumping jacks, walking on a board, putting a ball in a bucket and then going back doing the same tasks in reverse.
- Water Races: Using water balloons, cups, or sponges, you can do lots of fun races in warm weather. Have a bucket of water for each team and have them use sponges or cups of water to go fill up a smaller bucket at the goal. Or have them run up with a water balloon and either hit a target or have to sit on it until it pops. Do an over and under race with a sponge. Have one person sit with a cup on their head at the goal line and the rest of the team runs up with the soaked sponge and tries to fill up the cup by squeezing the sponge into the cup (and onto their team mate's head!).
- Over and Under--Lines spread out a bit. First person hands theme toy (or ball) over their head to the next player, second player hands the theme toy under their legs to the next player. Over and Under pattern continues until toy reaches the end of the line. The last player runs with the toy to the front of the line and the team goes Over and Under again. The team is done when everyone has had a turn to be the first to pass the toy.
- Dress-up Relay: Collect clothes and accessories that go with your party theme and are big enough to fit over the player's own clothes. For example, for a luau party, you could use lei, sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt, flip flops and hula skirt. For a princess party, you could use a princess dress, high heels, a princess hat, and gloves. You will need a set of similar clothes for each team. Set the clothes at the end of your playing field in a pile. At "go" the first player on each team rushes down and puts on all the clothes and then runs back to their team. They take off the clothes and the second player puts them on, runs to the end of the playing field and takes them off. They run back and tag the third player. The game finishes when all the players have put on the clothes.
There are lots of other tag game variations. Here are a few we like:
- Freeze Tag: One person is "IT" and runs around tagging other players. When a player is tagged they must "freeze" in position. The last player who is not frozen is "IT" next. Alternative: players can crawl through the legs of other players to unfreeze them.
- Caterpillar Tag: One person is "IT." The first person to be tagged grabs hold of "IT" by the waist. Both players move together to tag others. Each new person tagged is added to the "Caterpillar." Last person left is the next person who is "IT."
- Blob Tag: Do the same as Caterpillar tag except people join hands and can reach out to tag people from both ends of the group. Once four people are caught, they split into two "blobs" of two each and continue to catch other players. The last person to be caught wins and gets to start the next game.
- Rock, Paper, Scissors Tag: Divide into two teams. Each team gets together and decides whether they will be "Rock" (hand in fist), "Paper" (hand flat), or Scissors " (index and middle finger snipping). Teams face each other on the field, and on the signal "GO!" they make their motion. Depending on the result (Rock chases Scissors, Scissors chases paper, Paper chases Rock), one team chases the other back to their side of the playing field, trying to tag people before they get past their team line. Anyone who is tagged joins that team. The last player left is the winner! You can alter the name of the game and the objects to fit your theme.
- Steal the ______. Put something in the blank which matches your party theme, like a hat, a toy or a stuffed animal. Divide into two teams and the teams line up facing each other with some distance in between them. Number the players on each team (if uneven then have one player have 2 numbers). Place the object in the middle between the two teams. Call out a number and the 2 people with that number race to grab the object and run back to their place before the other person can tag them. Teams get points for either getting the object back to their line or tagging. Team with the most points wins.
- Balloon Tag: You need a balloon with a string about 2-3 feet long for each person (have a few extras for accidents). If you want to play in teams, then have a different color for each team. Tie the string around one ankle of each player with the balloon out free. At the signal "GO!" the players try to pop the other players balloons while protecting their own. No using arms or hands, just feet. The last person with a ballon that is intact wins. This game leads to lots of laughing and rivalry and is a great game for family groups to play at a reunion.
- More Tag Game Ideas: For more Tag game ideas see Mr Gym's Tag Games, a website for physical education teachers. Mr. Gym gives clear instructions and explanations of how tag games help keep kids fit. I especially like the Capture the Flag Tag instructions.
Using a circle area or a divided rectangle, Dodge Ball is easy to play and keeps everyone active.
- Players: best if there are 8 or more.
- Ages: 5 and up.
- Equipment: one or more soft balls or another soft object like a sponge.
- Playing Space: Large circle or a rectangle with a line to divide into two sections. Can be played on a basketball court or large room with nothing which can be hurt by the ball.
- Party Theme: call it by the party theme name or call the team's theme names.
Circle Court Dodge Ball
- Divide into two teams (teams should be about equal but one person difference won't really matter).
- Set Up: In circle court, one team is inside and the other outside the circle. Use one or more balls or other objects.
- Game Play: In circle game the outside group throws at the inside group. If inside player is hit, they go to outside circle and play on that team. If an inside player catches the ball, then the outside player joins the inner circle team.
- Winning: The last player on the inside is the winner.
- More Play: Switch inside and outside teams
Rectangle Court Dodge Ball
- Set Up: In the rectangle court, one team is on each side. Use one or more balls or other objects. Place the balls on the dividing line between the two teams.
- Game Play: The teams line up on their back line. At "GO" they race to get the ball and throw. Anyone who is hit below the waist is out. Anyone who catches a ball before it hits the ground gets the thrower out. First team to get everyone out wins.
- Alternative play: people that get "out" are allowed to go behind opposing team's line (behind that team) and catch any balls that get past the team. They can then throw and try to get someone out. If they do, they get to go back in the game and the person they hit is out.
- Wall Ball: Play this game inside and allow the balls to be played bouncing off the walls--the best game ever!
Obstacle Courses can be a great party theme. Adding one or more to your party is a great way to add some fun. Many times, kids at our parties want to do the obstacle courses over and over again just for fun.
- Players: 3 or more.
- Ages: 4 on up.
- Equipment: anything you can find in your yard or house that can be walked on, jumped over, crawled under, stacked, bounced, or ridden.
- Playing Space: yard or park of any size.
- Party Theme: include some party theme objects in the obstacle course or have each player hold a theme object as they go through the course.
How to Set Up the Course
1. Set up 5-10 tasks for people to do. Ideas of tasks are:
- Walk along a board.
- Jump rope.
- Crawl under something.
- Crawl through something.
- Turn around.
- Ride a bike, skateboard or scooter over a certain path (maybe in figure eight or weaving around objects.
- Use a swing set or slide.
- Go around objects or an area.
- Use different sorts of steps for a certain section, like baby steps, skipping, or jumping.
- Throw something into a basket (like a ball or party theme toy).
- Hula hoop, or jump through hula hoops.
- Tie a knot.
- Put on a party theme hat or theme shoes.
2. Winner: Use a stopwatch to see how long it takes each person to finish the course. Fastest time wins. Or set up two identical courses and run like a relay race.
3. Alternatives: Have a course that people go through in pairs, or have people go through the course forwards and backwards. Let the winner make up the next obstacle course
Backyard Wipeout Course
Party Games Poll
Kay Reds on April 02, 2019:
Great games, I had only used printfreethings free games but you provided so many new ones that look fun! Thanks
Hayley Daw on August 26, 2014:
Scavenger hunts are always so much fun! I used to love to do them when I was little! You get to thinking and play at the same time!
Elyse Ericson from NC on January 31, 2014:
These are all great ideas! :) I have always enjoyed most of these games when I was younger. Thanks for the great hub!
Janis from California on December 16, 2013:
Great ideas. I particularly like the bigger and better game. It sounds so fun.
Amanda from Michigan, United States on January 19, 2013:
What a useful hub! I'm sure once the weather gets warmer here I'll make use of these suggestions for my little sister and her friends.
Dennis Ebris from Florida on January 19, 2013:
Wow, I've never actually heard of altering the game in such a way. Now my mind is racing with all of the choices! LOL! Thanks, have an awesome remainder to your weekend!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on January 19, 2013:
Thanks everyone! I sure had fun writing this one. It is actually my longest hub because I kept on thinking of more games to add. Debris--you are right! How could I forget Duck, Duck, Goose! It is so easy to turn that game into anything relating to a party too, from Princess, Princess, Frog! to Lego, Lego, Brick!
Dennis Ebris from Florida on January 19, 2013:
What an excellent hub you have here! Great work. My wife and I have a baby on the way, so while it will be a while before we can use these ideas, I appreciate the time you've put into this.
One thing that I notice is missing though: Duck, Duck, Goose! I was a mean goose for sure!
Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on January 19, 2013:
Very interesting hub, packed with great and fun ways to keep a child's party going. Nicely done!
Voted up and useful, and congrats on the HOTD award.
Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on January 19, 2013:
Congrats on receiving HOTD award! This is a very creative Hub. It makes me wish I was a kid again, because some of those games bring back fond memories.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on January 19, 2013:
Congrats on HOTD. Having a vareity of games and the right games for the age groups involved makes the party 'work.' Thanks for sharing these ideas
Sending Angels to you :) ps
RTalloni on January 19, 2013:
Congrats on your Hub of the Day for this hub packed full of fun stuff games. No one could get bored with this list!
peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 31, 2012:
i love the treasure hunt and tag games when i was young. Now my kids love them too. You have even mentioned some games that i haven't tried. Thanks for the useful hub