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20 of the Best Backyard Games for Kids and How to Play Them

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Read Time: 14 minutes

Once upon a time, backyard games for kids were everywhere. Kids roamed their neighborhoods throughout the day and joined up to play all sorts of games, with parents just requesting they “be home by dark.” These days, kids seem to spend more time inside on their own, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Introduce your kids to the backyard games you, and even maybe even their grandparents, used to play. Soon enough, you’ll hear them beg, “Can we please go play outside?”

We’ve rounded up our favorite backyard games for kids to try, along with instructions on how to play and some helpful videos. You can also get a set of FREE printable cards for these backyard games for kids right here. Just print them out and keep them handy for the next time kids say, “We’re bored! What should we do?”

1. Freeze Tag

The goal: Avoid being tagged and “frozen” in place.
Number of players: 3+
How to play:

  1. Choose a player to be It. All other players begin to run around, avoiding It.
  2. It chases other players and tries tagging them.
  3. When a player is tagged, they must freeze in place.
  4. Any player can be “unfrozen” by being tapped by another free player.
  5. The round ends when the person who is It manages to tag and freeze all the players. Add this to your list of backyard games for kids to try.

2. Duck, Duck, Goose

The goal: Race to the empty spot in the circle or become the next goose!
Number of players: 5+
How to play:

  1. All players sit in a circle, except for one who is It.
  2. It begins to walk slowly around the outside of the circle. They gently tap each player on the head, saying “duck” each time.
  3. When they’re ready, It taps one player and shouts “goose!” It runs around the circle, while the tapped player (the goose) gets up and chases them.
  4. If It can make it around the circle and sit down in the goose’s old place, the goose becomes It, and play continues. If the goose manages to tag It, they return to the circle, and It must try again.

3. Red Rover

The goal: Break through the line formed by the other team and gather up all the players.
Number of players: 10+
How you play:

  1. Divide into two equal teams.
  2. Each team forms a line by holding hands. The two lines face each other, standing about 20 feet apart.
  3. The first team decides together who they will “call over” first from the other team. Then, standing with hands firmly clasped, the whole team shouts, “Red rover, red rover, let [name of chosen player from other team] come over!”
  4. The chosen player runs hard at the other line, choosing two players to try to break through between. Those two players do their best to keep their hands clasped and hold the line.
  5. If the player breaks through, they grab one player from the other team and bring them back to their own team. If they cannot break through, they become part of the opposing team.
  6. Play switches to the other team, and the game continues until all but one player have been absorbed into one team.

4. What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?

The goal: Catch Mr. Fox before Mr. Fox catches you!
Number of players: 3+
How to play:

  1. One player, Mr. Fox, stands at one end of a large empty space. All other players stand at the other end behind a line or marker. Mr. Fox’s back faces the other players.
  2. The other players call out together, “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” Mr. Fox responds with a random time, e.g. “It’s four o’clock!” The players take that number of steps (four, in this case) toward Mr. Fox.
  3. At any time, Mr. Fox can call out “midnight!”(or “lunchtime” or “dinnertime”) and turn around to chase the other players back to the starting line. Any players Mr. Fox manages to tag become foxes, too, and join him at the far end.
  4. Play resumes with all untagged players at the starting line again. Now when Mr. Fox shouts “midnight!” all the foxes try to catch the other players.
  5. The round ends when all but one player have been turned into foxes. That player becomes the new Mr. Fox.

5. Red Light, Green Light

The goal: Make your way to the stoplight without getting caught.
Number of players: 3+
How to play:

  1. One player, the Stoplight, stands at one end of a large empty space. All other players stand at the other end behind a line or marker.
  2. The Stoplight turns their back to the other players and shouts “green light!” The other players begin to make their way down the field toward the Stoplight.
  3. At any time, the Stoplight can spin around and call “red light!” All players must freeze in place. If the Stoplight sees any player moving, they are issued a “ticket” and must return to the starting line.
  4. The Stoplight shouts “green light!” and turns around again. Play continues until one player reaches and tags the Stoplight without getting caught moving. That player becomes the Stoplight, and play starts over.
  5. Variation: Some versions of the game add in a yellow light. Before the Stoplight calls “red light,” they call “yellow light” to give players some warning. This is especially good with very young players.

6. Simon Says

The goal: Listen closely and follow directions to avoid being eliminated.
Number of players: 3+
How to play:

  1. One player is Simon and stands facing the rest of the group. The group should be spaced out, with plenty of room to move around.
  2. Simon begins to call out directions, starting each with “Simon says … .” For instance, they might say, “Simon says do three jumping jacks,” or “Simon says touch your nose.” The other players complete the action as quickly as they can.
  3. Simon gives directions faster and faster and suddenly gives one without starting it with “Simon says … .” The other players should freeze and NOT follow the direction. Any player who does is told “I didn’t say Simon says!” and is then out of the game.
  4. Simon continues until only one player remains. That player then becomes Simon for the next round.

7. Sardines

The goal: Squeeze into a hiding spot together in this fun twist on hide-and-seek.
Number of players: 3+
How to play:

  1. Choose one player to be the first Hider. The rest of the group closes their eyes and counts to 100 together while the Hider finds a good spot. (Remember to choose a spot that others can fit into.)
  2. When the time is up, the Seekers begin to look for the Hider. When a player finds the Hider, they quietly join them in the spot. As more and more players find the Hider, they squeeze in and join the fun!
  3. The round ends when the last Seeker finds the Hiders. The first Seeker to have found the original Hider in the round becomes the first Hider for the next round.

8. Mother, May I?

The goal: Reach the goal line by getting permission from Mother to move forward.
Number of players: 3+
How to play:

  1. One player, Mother, stands at one end of a large empty space. All other players stand at the other end behind a line or marker.
  2. One player calls out a request starting with “Mother, may I … .” Some examples:
    – take five giant steps forward?
    – jump forward three times?
    – hop forward on one foot for three seconds?
    – take 10 tiny steps forward?
  3. If Mother replies, “Yes, you may,” the player does the requested action, and the next player takes a turn.
  4. However, Mother may choose to deny permission and issue another order instead. They can reduce the original request or even send the player backward. For instance:
    – “No, but you may take 2 giant steps forward.”
    – “No, but you may move backward 4 tiny steps.”
  5. The round ends when one player finally reaches the goal and becomes the new Mother for the next round.

9. Blind Man’s Bluff

The goal: Catch another player while blindfolded to win!
Number of players: 4+
How to play:

  1. Choose one player to be It and blindfold them, using a bandanna or scarf.
  2. Other players gather around the player who is It, calling out and then moving away. It attempts to find and tag someone.
  3. The tagged person becomes It, and play continues.

10. Leapfrog

The goal: Jump over other players’ backs to reach the finish line!
Number of players: 2+
How to play:

  1. One player kneels down on the ground with their head tucked down.
  2. A second player takes a short running start, places their hands on the first player’s back, and jumps over like a frog, legs straddled.
  3. When the second player lands, they crouch down. The next player jumps over each of the first two, and so on.
  4. This game can be played endlessly just for fun, or turn it into a competition by racing in teams toward a finish line.

11. Follow the Leader

The goal: Do what the leader does, or you’re out of the game!
Number of players: 3+
How to play:

  1. Choose a player to be the first Leader. The others line up behind them.
  2. The Leader begins to lead the other players around, completing actions along the way that the Followers must also do.
  3. For instance, if the Leader does a cartwheel, all the other players must also do a cartwheel. Any player who can’t complete the action is out of the game.
  4. Play continues until only one Follower is left. They then become the new Leader for the next round.

12. London Bridge

The goal: Avoid being caught by the falling bridge!
Number of players: 6+
How to play:

  1. Two players form the bridge by standing facing each other, holding hands high up to make an arch.
  2. Other players begin to duck under the arch, one after the other, as all sing:
    London bridge is falling down,
    Falling down, falling down,
    London bridge is falling down,
    My fair lady!
  3. As they sing the word “lady,” the two players forming the bridge bring their arms down, capturing one of the players. That player is then out of the game.
  4. Play continues, using the same verse or additional verses (found here) until all players have been caught.

13. Kickball

The goal: Think baseball, but with kicking instead of batting.
Number of players: 10+
What you need: Large rubber ball, markers for bases
How to play:

  1. Establish a playing field, like the one used in baseball, with a home plate, first base, second base, and third base. The pitcher stands in the middle.
  2. Divide into two equal teams. Team A takes the field, choosing a pitcher, a catcher, and fielders for the bases. Team B is the first up to kick.
  3. One player from Team B stands at home plate. The pitcher from Team A rolls the ball toward home plate. Team B’s player tries to kick the ball and run to first base, or a farther if they can.
  4. Fielders on Team A attempt to get the runner out by catching the kicked ball on the fly. A fielder can also grab the ball and tag the runner before they reach base. If they succeed, the player is out and leaves the field. Otherwise, the player remains at base while the next player takes their turn.
  5. Play continues with another kicker from Team B. When they kick the ball and run toward first, the player(s) already on base must advance but can also be tagged out while they run. Any player that crosses home plate safely earns a point for their team.
  6. Three outs ends the “at bat,” and the teams change sides. When both teams have had a turn at kicking, this is called an “inning.” The game continues for the specified number of innings (five is common). Highest score wins.

14. Four Square

The goal: Eliminate other players and advance until you reach square one.
Number of players: 4+
What you need: Sidewalk chalk, large rubber ball
How to play:

  1. Use the sidewalk chalk to mark a large square (about 10 feet by 10 feet) divided into four equal parts. Number each square one through four. (Some versions use square one as the highest square, while others use square four. Other versions use letters instead. See more here.)
  2. Four players each take one square for their own. Other players line up near the court.
  3. Square one serves first, bouncing the ball once in their own square then hitting it to bounce into another square. The player in that square must let the ball bounce once, then hit the ball into another square. Play continues until a player misses or the ball goes out of bounds.
  4. A ball that hits an outside line is still considered in play. A ball that hits an inside line (between two squares) is considered out of bounds.
  5. Players may only hit the ball with their hands. They may not catch it, kick it, or touch it with any other part of their body.
  6. When a player misses or sends the ball out of bounds, they’re out. All players below them move up one square, and a player from the sideline joins the game. If there are only four players, the player who misses goes to square four and the others move up.

15. Spud

The goal: Catch, throw, or avoid the ball so you don’t wind up the SPUD!
Number of players: 5+
What you need: Large rubber or foam ball
How to play:

  1. Each player is assigned a number.
  2. One player stands in the middle of the group and tosses the ball high in the air. They call out a random number as they throw.
  3. All players run away from the center, except for the person whose number is called. That player catches the ball as fast as they can, yelling “SPUD!” when they have it.
  4. All players must freeze in place when the catcher calls “SPUD!” (including the catcher).
  5. Now the catcher chooses another player and tries to throw or roll the ball at them. First, they may take four giant steps in any direction, spelling out spud as they go.
  6. The player may try to dodge the ball, but cannot move their feet. If they’re hit by the ball, they take a letter. If the catcher misses, they get a letter instead. Once a player receives all four letters, they’re out of the game.
  7. Play continues with the catcher throwing the ball in the air and calling a number for the next round.


The goal: Shoot baskets and match other players shot for shot.
Number of players: 2+
What you need: Basketball and hoop
How to play:

  1. The first player shoots a basket from anywhere on the court. If they miss, play passes to the next player.
  2. When a player makes a basket, the other players must then try to replicate the shot from the same spot. Any player who misses receives a letter in the word “horse.” A player who gets all five letters is out of the game.
  3. Players may add extra conditions to their shot: “I’m shooting with my eyes closed,” or “I’m shooting backward.” Other players must mimic those conditions to get credit for the shot.

17. Pickle in the Middle

The goal: Grab the ball and get out of the middle!
Number of players: 3+
What you need: Large rubber or foam ball
How to play:

  1. Two or more players stand a distance apart. One player (the Pickle) stands in the middle.
  2. The outside players begin to throw the ball back and forth, over the head of the middle player.
  3. The middle player attempts to catch or divert the ball from the outside players. When they’re successful, they become one of the throwers, and the person whose throw was intercepted becomes the Pickle.

18. Kick the Can

The goal: Be the first to kick the can or risk landing in “jail”!
Number of players: 5+
What you need: An empty can or bucket
How to play:

  1. Place the can in the middle of the playing area (home base), and choose a player to be It. Designate a “jail” area nearby, large enough to hold all the players.
  2. To begin, the player who is It kicks the can, brings it back, and counts to 100 while the other players run and hide.
  3. When time is up, It begins to look for the players. When they spot one, they must call out the player’s name and hiding place. (They do not need to be close to or touching the player.) That player then tries to race It to be the first to kick the can.
  4. If It kicks the can first, the player is sent to “jail,” and play continues once the can is reset.
  5. If the other player kicks the can first, they run to find a new hiding spot while It retrieves the can and brings it back to home base. Additionally, any players currently in “jail” are free to find new hiding spots as well.
  6. Players can also try to free those in “jail” at any time by sneaking up and kicking the can while It is busy seeking. However, if It notices and manages to kick the can first, the other player is sent to “jail” too.
  7. The round ends when the last player is sent to “jail” by It.

19. Pitching Pennies

The goal: Make sure your penny is the closest to the wall.
Number of players: 2+
What you need: A wall, at least one coin per player
How to play:

  1. Find a wall with some space around it and draw a line (real or imaginary) about six feet away from it.
  2. Each player takes a penny and stands behind the line.
  3. One at a time, each player throws their penny, trying to get it as close to the wall as possible. (Some versions of the game require the penny to hit the wall first and then bounce back to be counted.) You must throw the penny; you cannot roll or slide it.
  4. The winner of each round traditionally wins all the pennies thrown, but you can also simply gather them up and play again.

20. Jacks

The goal: Bounce a ball and scoop up the right number of jacks.
Number of players: 1+
What you need: Small rubber ball, 10 jacks or small pebbles
How to play:

  1. Gather the jacks or small pebbles in one hand and drop or toss them onto a flat surface, letting them fall where they may.
  2. Start with onesies. Toss the ball in the air. Scoop up one jack and then catch the ball after it bounces once. Continue, scooping up one jack at a time, until you’ve picked up all the jacks. Your turn ends if you miss the ball or a jack, drop one of the jacks you’ve already picked up, or touch a jack other than the one you’re aiming for.
  3. Move on to twosies. Toss the ball and scoop up two jacks at a time, catching the ball after a single bounce. The game continues with threesies, foursies, and so on, up to ten. If no one can get to tensies, the winner is the person who can scoop up the most jacks.

Need more ideas on how to fight boredom? Get the free printable “I’m Bored” Kit to keep kids busy in a hundred different ways!

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