10 Timeless Games to Celebrate Backyard Games Week

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The week before Memorial Day is Backyard Games Week, and there’s no time like the present to learn some tried-and-true games, some of which you or your parents may have played during childhood. So gather a few friends or simple supplies and go out and play!

(Got an idea for your own game? See the end of the post to learn about the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Contest.)

Marbles (Ringer)

They can be called Plainsees, Peewees, Bumblebees, Clouds, Swirlies, Cat’s Eyes, or Beach Balls. They can be made of glass, clay, agate, or steel. Marbles have been used for game play since ancient times in Pakistan, Egypt and Rome, and people of all ages play and compete today. The U.S. National Marbles Tournament has been held on the New Jersey shore since 1922. The British and World Marbles Championship, played annually on Good Friday, goes all the way back to 1588, when two young men duked it out with marbles to determine who would win the hand of a local milkmaiden. While there are many marbles games, Ringer is the classic.

You’ll need:

13 standard-sized marbles and one larger shooter marble for each player
A flat surface
Sidewalk chalk or string and tape

Draw a chalk circle at least 3 feet (and as large as 10 feet) in diameter on a sidewalk or driveway, or tape a string circle in place on a carpet. The larger the circle, the more challenging the game. Place the 13 smaller marbles in the center of the circle, in the shape of an X, or scatter them randomly. The first player sits just outside the circle and shoots his or her large marble (or shooter) into the circle, aiming at one or more smaller marbles, with the intent of knocking the smaller marbles outside of the circle, while leaving the shooter inside the circle. To shoot, place one or more knuckles on the ground and flick the shooter marble with a thumb. If one or more marbles are successfully knocked out of the circle, with the shooter left inside, the player collects the marbles he or she shot outside the circle and shoots again from the place where the shooter landed. If the shooter lands outside the circle as well, the next player is up. The second and subsequent players do the same. Shooter marbles stay where they landed during each round. Players can also choose to shoot the shooter marbles of others further away from the circle, so that that player will have a more challenging place to shoot from during the next round. Play continues until all the marbles have been knocked out of the circle. Players count their marbles to determine a winner.

Slow Tip: You can make your own marbles, the ancient way, using polymer clay. Roll solid or multi-colored pieces of clay into the shapes of marbles and bake according to package directions. Don’t forget to make a few larger shooter marbles.

Jacks

This classic game never goes out of style and, while it can be challenging at first, players do get better with practice. Sets of jacks can be found in many markets.

You’ll need:

10 metal jacks and a bouncy ball (usually sold in a set)
A hard level surface, like a patio or driveway

Scatter the jacks onto the hard surface. Throw the ball up (approximately 6 inches, though this will vary) near the jacks with your dominant hand. While the ball is in the air, scoop up one jack along with the ball, which has now bounced. Put the jack aside. Repeat, this time picking up two jacks. Keep increasing the amount of jacks you pick up. If the ball bounces more than once on that turn, the play moves to the next person. When there are no more jacks left on the playing surface, players count their jacks to determine a winner.

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Pick-Up Sticks

It’s called Spillikans in Canada, Plockepinn in Sweden, Mikado throughout Europe, and Kau Cim in China, where the sticks were used as a fortune-telling device. Canisters of pick-up sticks can usually be found in toy and variety stores – or make your own from twigs!

You’ll need:

A set of pick-up sticks, or approx. 41 sticks
A flat surface

Hold the pick-up sticks in a bundle, then release them so that they land in a pile. Players take turns trying to remove one stick at a time, without disturbing any other sticks. When a stick from the pile is disturbed, the next player takes a turn. Some players use a designated stick to remove other sticks. Commercial sets of sticks are often color-coded, so that some sticks have higher point values. When all the sticks have been removed from the pile, players total either their number of sticks or the values of the sticks based on their colors, according to package directions.

Red Rover

Because it’s a game of strength, Red Rover should be played with a few precautions, which are noted. One benefit of the sometime-controversial game, is that the game ends when everyone ends up on the same side, so there are no winners or losers.

Divide into two teams. Each team forms a line, approximately 30 feet from the other. Team members all hold hands.
The first team decides who they are going to call over. They then call out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, Let ___ come over.”

The person named breaks from his or her line and runs as fast as possible in between any two players on the opposing team, in an effort to break through those team members’ arms.

If the runner breaks through, causing those opposing players’ hands to drop, he or she chooses one person for the opposing team to join his team, and they both go back and join in that team’s line.

If the runner fails to break through, he or she joins the opposing team’s line.

Each team alternates calling people over until all the players end up on one side.

 Note: To prevent injury, players should join hands, and not arms, so that they can easily unlink, and keep their hands at waist level. Players should be roughly the same size.

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Duck Duck Goose

South Asians know it as Kho Kho, Ghanaians as Antoakyire. German children play a version called Plumpsack, which involves dropping a handkerchief at one player’s spot. Young children play this timeless game around the world.

Players sit in a circle, facing each other. Choose a player to be It. That person walks around the outside of the circle. As they walk around, they tap each person on the head and say, for the first few or many, “duck”, “duck”, “duck”. Finally, It taps a person on the head and says, “goose” and begins to run around the outside of the circle. The person who is tapped as a goose gets up and chases It around the circle. If the goose is able to tap It before he or she sits down in the goose’s spot, then It goes into the center of the circle. If the goose does not tag It, then the goose is the next It and the last It returns to the circle. Players can only come out of the middle once a new player gets tagged and goes in.

Red Light, Green Light

Another game played around the world, Red Light Green Light has many variations. In the Czech Republic, it’s called, “Cukr, káva, limonáda, čaj, rum, bum!” (“Sugar, coffee, lemonade, tea, rum, boom!”)

One player is chosen to be the Stoplight. That person turns their back to the group, which forms a line approx. 10-30 yards away (depending on ages of players.) The Stoplight calls out “Green Light” and the players advance toward it as quickly as they can. When he or she wishes, the Stoplight calls out “Red Light”, at the same time turning around to see the runners. The runners must stop immediately. Any player caught moving after a call of “Red Light” has to go back to the starting line. Green lights/red lights are repeated until the first player reaches and tags the Stoplight and is declared the winner. If all the players are out before they reach the Stoplight then the Stoplight wins that round. The winner becomes the new Stoplight.

Slow Snippet: Many cultures count 1-2-3 in their language and then shout a particular word instead of saying “Red Light”. In Mexico, it’s “calabaza” (pumpkin), Israel “herring”, Italy “estrella” (star), and France “soleil” (sun).

Mother/Father May I

This game has both random and whimsical aspects that speak to small children, in addition to requiring some creativity in thinking up and executing new steps.

One player is chosen to be the Mother. The other players form a line approx. 10-30 yards away (depending on ages of players.) The first player calls out, “Mother may I take _____ (number) _______ (type) of steps?” Mother answers either “Yes, you may” or “No, you may not,” and the player advances or stays where they are. (Some people play that Mother can offer an alternative number and type of step.) Players continue to inquire and take various steps. The first one to reach Mother wins and is the new Mother.

Steps can include:

  • Baby Steps – As small as possible
  • Newborn Baby Steps – Crawling
  • Giant Steps – As big as possible
  • Backward Steps – With back toward Mother
  • Bunny Steps – Hops on two feet
  • Scissor Steps – Feet cross or uncross on each step
  • Robot Steps – Stiff and robotic
  • Cinderella or Princess Steps – Ballet twirls
  • Umbrella Steps – starting by standing with legs apart and facing the side of the field instead of the front, each step begins with the back leg and makes a 180-degree arc so that the player moves forward and faces the opposite direction on each step

Capture the Flag

Another game from many of our childhoods, this one works in a backyard, field or neighborhood street.

You’ll need: 2 flags or bandannas. The games works best in an area with varied terrain, such as trees or other landforms.

Divide into two teams. Mark a line in the center of the play area. Each team’s territory, or base, is one either side of the line. Each team also picks a spot for its Jail, usually far from the flag. Determine a time period (5-10 minutes) during which each team hides its flag within its own territory, usually in the part farthest from the opponent. Once flags have been hidden, the teams meet in the middle. Each player tries to enter the other team’s territory and find its flag. In addition, the player has to bring the flag back into his or her own team’s area without getting tagged by an opponent. Tagged players go to Jail and sit out the game until tagged by a teammate, at which time they can rejoin the play by walking back into their own territory first. Players can only be tagged within the enemy’s base. If a player is tagged while transporting the flag, the flag is dropped at that spot. The game is won when an opposing flag is successfully captured and brought to the home base.

Kick the Can

My husband, Michael, has fond memories of epic Kick the Can games in his Pennsylvania neighborhood growing up. They’d continue for hours, as good games often do, with kids hiding behind trees in the conjoined backyards, strategizing and running, sometimes long after dark, on leisurely summer nights.

You’ll need:

A large can or bucket
Flashlight, optional

Place a can on the ground and designate an area near it as a jail. Choose an It, who counts to a high number (usually between 50 and 100) while the other players hide. When the number is reached, It moves away from the base and starts to look for the other players, who in turn are attempting to return to the can to kick it. If It sees player, It calls out that person’s name, (while shining a flashlight on them, if at night) and tries to kick the can first. If that happens, the player goes to jail. If the player reaches the can first and kicks it, then that player can hide again and any jailed players are freed. The game ends when everyone except It is in jail.

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Tag and its Variations

Based on the simple premise of chasing and catching, Tag is one of the most common and enjoyable games around the world. It’s great for giving players an opportunity to run around. There are tons of creative and cultural variations to Tag, which may be known as Tip, Tig, Dobby and Chasey. To play, simply choose an “It”, who counts to a set number before chasing others. When It tags a player, that person becomes the new It. Some play with a safe, tag-free Base.

Try these variations of Tag:

Freeze Tag

Once players are tagged by It, they are frozen and must stay perfectly still. They become unfrozen when another player runs up to them and tags them. If a frozen player moves before being unfrozen, and is seen and called by It, that player is out of the round.

Statue Tag

On offshoot of Freeze Tag – When tagged, players freeze in an especially dramatic pose, like a statue, and stay there until tagged again to be free.

Blob Tag

Once a player is tagged by It, the two join arms and become a blob, which chases players together to try to tag them. Other players who are tagged also join arms and become part of the blob. Some play that when the blob reaches four people, one splits off to become a new blob. The last person standing alone becomes the new It.

Octopus Tag

You’ll need: a soft ball or rolled-up pair of socks, optional, a playing area marked with two ends

Players all start at one end of the playing area. It, in the middle, calls, “Fishes, come swim in my ocean!” Players try to run toward the other side without being tagged or having a ball successfully thrown at them by It. Once tagged, players become tentacles, who stand in the spot where they are tagged, but stretch their arms in an effort to help tag others. Players who reach one side can be “safe” or can proceed back to the other side. The last person standing becomes the new It.

Slow Tip: Try Octopus Tag in a swimming pool.

Pizza Tag

Choose two players as It. The remaining players start at one end of the playing area and count off, in order, “Pepperoni”, “Mushrooms”, “Sausage”, “Olives” and “Cheese”. The two Its, or Pizza Makers, take turns calling a topping. Players who are that topping try to run past the pizza makers to the other side of the playing area, where they are safe. Once tagged, players sit or stand, and stretch their arms in an effort to help tag others. Players who reach one side can be “safe” or can proceed back to the other side. The last two people standing become the new pizza makers.

T.V. Tag

When players see It approaching, they must crouch down and say the name of a TV show to be safe. Show names can only be used once per round. If a player can’t think of a TV show in time, he or she is It. It must move once a player crouches down. You can also play with Girls’ names, Fruits, Animals, any category you’d like.

Everybody’s It

Everybody is It, meaning anyone can chase and tag anyone else. If a player is tagged, he or she “freezes” by bending over forward. Players can un-freeze the frozen by running through the hoops they make with their bodies. This game usually ends when everyone is tired.

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Looking for other fun backyard games and ideas? Check out the Backyard Games Series. I’m proud to be a participant with the following bloggers:

- See more at: http://www.pisforpreschooler.com/home/backyard-games-week-series#sthash.uwU1xYv2.dpuf

- See more at: http://www.pisforpreschooler.com/home/backyard-games-week-series#sthash.uwU1xYv2.dpuf

- See more at: http://www.pisforpreschooler.com/home/backyard-games-week-series#sthash.uwU1xYv2.dpuf

These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Got your own fun and original idea for a backyard game? Enter the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Contest by July 3, for a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship or other prizes.

Backyard Games Week logo: Philanthropy in Motion

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, http://www.healthpostt.com/, wikimedia commons Rademenes777

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

It’s Time for Summer Backyard Family Fun
12 Fun Family Activities for Screen-Free Week
8 Fun Things to do While it’s Still Summer
Recess: Playground and Jump Rope Games
Slow Nature: Have a Cloud Race

 

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