Get the whole family outside and burn some energy with these old-school outdoor games!
- Sack Race
Kids and grown-ups used to use large, burlap potato sacks. Those aren’t as easily obtainable anymore, but you can purchase good quality burlap bags from coffee roasting companies or buy themed potato sacks from online party supply places like OrientalTrading.com. To play, have each child step into his or her bag, pulling the top edges up around the waist. They must race to the finish line by holding the sack up and jumping inside of the bag.
Fun Fact: First Lady Michelle Obama beat late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon in a sack race inside the White House on Feb. 8, 2012. She was promoting her “Let’s Move” program for children.
- Three-Legged Race
This race is more about cooperation than speed. Divide party guests into pairs and have them stand side by side. Then tie their inside legs together with a bandana and have them race on three legs. Have two adults stretch a length of crepe paper across the finish line, and let the winning team break through the paper.
Fun Fact: Alistair and Nick Benbow of the U.K. ran the fastest three-legged half-marathon. The team finished in 1 hour, 37 minutes, and 53 seconds.
This game requires flexibility! Line the kids up in a single file. Two adults stand on either side of the limbo pole or stick and hold it up horizontally in front of the line. If you don’t have a pole, use a pool noodle or broom. Start the music—any music with a strong beat will do. The object of the game is to pass under the stick by bending backward, without touching the stick or falling. Two adults start with the stick held high enough for the kids to walk underneath and then lower the stick a bit each time the first person in line comes around again. Keep going until the stick is too low for anyone to pass underneath without touching it. “Limbo Rock” is a great song for this game, from the album Party Songs for Kids.
Fun Fact: The Limbo originated in Trinidad as a ritual performed at wakes in the 1800s. It became popular in the U.S. in the 1950s.
- Catch the Tail on the Dragon
Arrange kids in a single file line and have each hold onto the waist of the person in front of him. Tuck a bandana into the pocket of the last child in the line. The “head of the dragon” (head of the line) leads the line in chasing the “tail” (the last in line) as they try to grab the bandanna without anyone letting go of the person in front of them. The middle of the line attempts to keep the head from catching the tail. Once someone captures the bandana from the tail, the tail becomes the head, and everyone plays again.
Fun Fact: This fun game originated in China and is often played during Chinese New Year celebrations.
- Egg-and-Spoon Races
Draw funny faces on hard-boiled eggs with a Sharpie. Party guests can then race while balancing their eggs on large spoons. It’s harder than it sounds! (Egg tossing is another classic older kids can try if any whole eggs survive the races.)
Fun Fact: Egg-and-spoon races were part of the festivities during Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
- Balloon Stomp
Use string to tie a balloon to one ankle of each child. Then tell the kids to run around trying to “stomp” or break everyone else’s balloon while keeping their own from getting popped. The last person with a full balloon wins!
Fun Fact: In ancient times, people made balloons from animal bladders.
- Chariot Race
For this game, you’ll need two old blankets or tarps. Divide kids into teams of at least three. One sits on the blanket while two teammates grab the front corners of it and run, dragging the “chariot” in a race against the other team. Play this game in three rounds, so that each team member gets a chance to ride the chariot.
Fun Fact: Chariot races were a popular event in the ancient Olympics. The chariots were small, two-wheeled carts pulled by teams of horses. Riding these carts was way more dangerous than riding a blanket!
- Obstacle Course
Create your own obstacle course, tailored to the age and abilities of the group. Make this a fun game to wrap up the festivities by combining some of the previous games with a few new ones thrown in. For example, participants could ride a bike or trike around cones, hop a hopscotch course, jump a short distance in a potato sack, carry an egg on a spoon, and then walk a balance beam made of a 6-foot-long two-by-four laid flat on the ground.
Fun Fact: Obstacle courses are a mainstay of military training.
Tiffany Doerr Guerzon is a freelance writer and the mother of three children. She loves a good three-legged race.
Illustrations by Fritz Robenalt.