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Old-School Outside Games

Old-School Outside Games
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Back in elementary school, we played outside with the other kids in our neighborhood – until the street lights came on, or one of the neighborhood parents shooed us home.  In addition, many of us went to after-school recreation programs at public parks, as well as made the most of recess at school. We kept ourselves quite occupied without any of today’s modern technologies. These activities were a big part of what make our childhood awesome!

Listed below are some no-tech games that you may have enjoyed as a kid. I know, I sure did. Some can be done indoors. Some can be done by yourself or with just one friend. But most of them are best when done outside with a group of people. Additionally, most of these games can be changed or improved by making up your own rules. Use your imagination!

  1. Hide and Seek: Everyone has played this one. Most parents have played with their kids, since hiding and finding is a common interest of small children. I’ve heard of all kinds of variations on this game. Sometimes you count to twenty, sometimes ten, sometimes one hundred. Sometimes there is a home base that you can run to and tag, becoming “safe,” sometimes you just wait to be found. The general idea is that one person is “it,” that person closes his or her eyes and counts to a certain number without looking and then he or she tries to find the others.  
    Number of Players: Ideally at least three.
    Equipment: None.
  2. Sardines:  Sardines is an active game that is played like hide and go seek — only in reverse! One-person hides as the rest of the group counts to twenty, fifty or even one hundred.  Then the rest of the group begins searching (independently) for the hidden person. Whenever a person finds the hidden person, they quietly join them in their hiding spot. Soon, the hidden group starts to look like a bunch of sardines!  The first one to find the player will be the hider next round.  The last one to join the group loses.
    Number of Players: Ideally at least five; however, the more the better.
    Equipment: None.
  3. Capture the Flag: This game is most fun when played with a large group. Split the group into two teams, each team having a flag or other marker at the team’s base. The object of the game is to run into the other team’s territory, capture their flag and make it safely back to your own territory. You can tag “enemy” players in your territory, sending them to your jail. They can be sprung from jail by a member of their own team running into your territory, tagging them and running back, with one freed person allowed per jail break. It is sometimes played that all the people in jail could hold hands and make a chain back toward their own territory, making it easier for members of their team to tag them. We also played a similar game called Steal the Sticks. It had almost the same rules, but several sticks were used instead of one flag.
    Number of Players:  At least ten but the more the merrier!
    Equipment: Two flags or other markers.
  4. Four Square: This ball game is played on a square court further divided into four smaller squares, numbered one through four. One player stands in each of the squares, with the highest ranked player in number one, lowest in number four. You bounce the ball among the players, bouncing once in the other person’s square before that person catches it. When I played this as a kid, we had countless additional rules to choose from. The person in square one got to choose the rules. Anyone who violates the rules will have to move down in the ranking or be eliminated with another player rotating in to square four.
    Number of Players: Four, unless you take turns.
    Equipment: A four square court or sidewalk chalk, a playground ball.
  5. Hopscotch: Use some sidewalk chalk and make a hopscotch grid. Number the squares from one to nine. Pick a rock that is good for tossing. Small ones can bounce too much, and larger ones are hard to throw. Start by tossing the rock onto Square 1. Hop over the rock and hop with a single foot or both feet (to follow the hopscotch pattern) all the way to the end. Turn around and come back, stopping on Square 2. Balancing on one foot, pick up the rock in Square 1 and hop over Square 1 to the start. Continue this pattern with Square 2. And so on. If you toss your rock and miss the correct square, your turn is over. This game can be played with any number of people, but only one person can go at a time. If it’s raining or dark or too cold, you can get indoor hopscotch mats or foam pieces, or just find a pattern on the floor to follow, perhaps using a beanbag instead of a rock.
    Number of Players: One at a time.
    Equipment: Hopscotch grid, rock or beanbag.
  6. Jump-Rope and Double Dutch: One of the biggest ways I spent my recess time as a young girl was jumping rope. I got quite good at it for my age, both in speed and in skill. It was fun to jump by myself, but it was even more fun to have a long rope and jump with a couple of friends. That’s where jump-rope rhymes come in. They turn a simple exercise into a fun game, to compete against yourself and others. Then there’s double dutch. I was always in awe of the older girls who could do double dutch. The first time I tried it, I got tripped up almost immediately. However, once you understand how to do it, it isn’t as hard as it looks.
    Number of Players: One for single jumping, three with a longer rope or for double dutch.
    Equipment: One or two jump-ropes.
  7. Chinese Jump-Rope: This game requires three people, or just one or two people with really good chairs. It is easily done inside, assuming a sturdy floor. This game resembles regular jump rope in that you jump. A lot. But you jump in a pattern. Two people (or chairs) put their feet inside the rope and stretch them out, standing far enough apart for the third person to jump between them. The third person, or jumper, faces one of the people holding the rope and jumps in a pattern of left, right, inside, outside and on the ropes. What pattern you use is up to you, but all the players should use the same one. The game is started with the rope around the ankles. Once the jumper does the jump correctly, the rope is moved up to the calves. Then to the knees, then the thighs. Usually it doesn’t get any farther than that. Once you miss, it is someone else’s turn.
    Number of Players: Preferably three, but it can be done with one or two.
    Equipment:  A stretchy-type rope or 5 to 6 meters of rubber bands tied together in a circle.
  8. Marbles: The general rules specify that you draw a circle in the sand or on the sidewalk, and then take turns trying to knock each other’s marbles out of the circle with your one large marble. As with the other games, there are countless variations. I haven’t played this game at length, though, because I always seem to hurt myself flicking the large marble into the ring! You can also use a marble mat which contains different point zones.
    Number of Players: At least two.
    Equipment: Chalk, large and small marbles.
  9. Blind Man’s Bluff: A favorite game in Tudor and Victorian England, this game is yet another variation on tag. The person who is “it” wears a blindfold and tries to tag the other players. Be sure to play this in an area safe from obstructions and other hazards.
    Number of Players: A small group.
    Equipment: A blindfold.
  10. Heads Up, Seven Up: Dating back to at least the 1950s, this game is one we played in elementary school. In my experience, it was usually done in the classroom with everyone at their desk. To start the game, seven players go to the front and the teacher says, “Heads down, thumbs up!” Everyone still at their desk puts their head down, extends an arm and stucks their thumb up. The seven kids that were at the front go around and each press one person’s thumb down. Then they all go back to the front of the room and the teacher says, “Heads up, seven up!” The players at the desks raise their heads and the seven whose thumbs were pressed down stand up. Each in turn names the person they think pressed down their thumb. If they are correct, they change places with the presser. Then the game can start again.
    Number of Players: Minimum of 14.
    Equipment: Desks or tables at which to sit.
  11. Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?: Played inside or outside, the group sits or stands in a circle and holds their hands together in front of them. One person takes the button and goes around the circle, pretending to put the button in someone else’s hands. They actually deposit the button in one person’s hands, but then continue the rest of the way around the circle, pretending to put it in everyone else’s hands. Then going around the circle, each player tries to guess who has the button now. Before each person’s guess, the group asks together, “Button, button, who’s got the button?” Then the player can state their guess. Once the player with the button is finally guessed, that person distributes the button during the next round. Because a button is used in this game, be sure that all the kids playing are old enough so as to not choke on the button. In another version of this game (and the one that I am more familiar with), one child stands in the middle of the circle, and the button gets passed around the backs of the rest of the group. Those without the button pretend to pass it. When the passing stops, the player in the middle has to guess as to who actually has the button.
    Number of Players: Any size group.
    Equipment: A button.
  12. Telephone: This game is one in which most people end up laughing quite a bit, so if you’re in the mood for silliness, give it a go. Players sit in a circle. One person thinks up a sentence or phrase and whispers it to the next person. That person repeats it to the person on their other side. This continues around the circle. When it finally reaches the last person, that person says the sentence out loud. Hilarity ensues. The ending sentence is usually quite changed from the beginning sentence, since errors tend to compound as they go around the circle.
    Number of Players: A small group.
    Equipment: None.
  13. Spud: This outdoor game is a lot of fun. Every player gets a number and crowds around the person who is “it” for that round. “It” then tosses the ball straight up and the other players run away. As the ball reaches the top of its toss, “it” calls out the number of one of the other players and then runs away also. The player whose number was called must run back and catch the ball (or chase after it if it is bouncing around). Once that person has the ball, they yell, “Spud!” Then everyone else must freeze. The person with the ball must try to hit one of the players with the ball. If they do, that new person gets a letter (first S, then P, then U, then D) and is now “it.” If they miss, the person who threw the ball is “it” for the next round.
    Number of Players: A small group.
    Equipment: Playground ball.
  14. Jacks: This game can be played on any flat surface, indoors or out. The player scatters the jacks on the playing surface, often by just tossing them out of one hand, as if rolling dice. The ball is then tossed up, is allowed to bounce once, and is caught before the second bounce. The player tries to scoop up jacks and catch the ball with one hand before the ball’s second bounce. The number of jacks to be picked up goes in order. First you pick up one (“onesies”), then two (“twosies”), then three and so on. There are many variations to the rules of this game including things like “pigs in the pen” and “double bounces.” Jacks is one game I wish I had played as a girl, but it was much more common when my mom was a child.
    Number of Players: Any, taking turns.
    Equipment: A set of jacks and a small rubber ball.

What are you some of your favorite childhood backyard, outdoor games? Share them with us!


Eva Goldstein-MeolaEva Goldstein-Meola, is not only co-founder of Open Tent Academy, but an instructor as well as a former homeschooling mother. She has lived in New Jersey, Florida, Western Massachusetts, Northern Virginia and now resides just outside of Jerusalem. Eva holds a Master’s Degree as a Consulting Teacher of Reading and Writing, IEW certification and a Bachelor’s Degree as an Elementary Teacher. She has also been involved in education since 1986 as a Private Tutor, Teacher, Reading Specialist, Homeschooling Mother, Homeschooling Teacher and Business Owner of an Online Education Consortium. In addition to teaching, Eva enjoys cooking, baking, playing Settlers of Catan, traveling with her husband Jonathan, Broadway Musicals and reading. Eva teaches a variety of literature and IEW writing courses for Open Tent Academy.

Some other articles by Eva:

OTA – Helping You Homeschool Better

No… I Don’t Get It All Done

A Novel Idea – Teaching With Literature

The Best Time of the Year

Please… Treat Us Like Family

Top Reasons to LOVE Online Learning

Top Ten Reasons for Learning a Foreign Language

You Know, the “S” Word…

For the Love of Literature

Morning Routines: A Necessary Evil

It’s Never Too Early To Think About Summer Programs

Ten Ways To Improve Your Child’s Reading Skills