Why Playing Outside with Your Kids Is a Good Idea
Summer’s days are now numbered, and fall is finally on the way. Either way, it doesn’t have to be warm outside for you to be able to enjoy some outdoor play time with your children. By dressing properly, you can really take your kids outside in any season.
Why is playing outside important? Can’t you just play with your kids indoors, too? Of course, you can still find things to do with the kids indoors. But there are some specific health benefits associated with getting outdoors. For starters, both you and your children will get the chance to breathe in some fresh air. Spending time outside in the sun means your skin can turn UV-B radiation into needed vitamin D for healthy bones, too. Sunlight exposure has been shown to improve mood and help relieve depression and anxiety, too.
Let’s face it – your children are probably already getting plenty of screen time as it is. Chances are good that you are, too! Carving out some time and space to play with your children outside is really a win-win for them, for you, and for all of you together.
Creative Ways to Bring the Playground to Your Own Backyard
Here are a few playground games which aren’t hard to translate to your own backyard or driveway. Each of these games is fairly simple to set up; in fact, a few of these don’t even require any type of physical setup whatsoever! You probably played most or all of these as a child yourself. And if your child doesn’t know some of these games yet, it’s high time you introduced them!
Ø Hide & Seek
No prep required, and this is a game you can literally play for hours, as long as there are plenty of places to hide in your designated space. Just count to 10 (or 20, or whatever), and let whoever’s “it” go and hide. But speaking of designated space, it’s VERY important that you establish clear boundaries for your game (for example, you can’t hide anywhere past the mailbox). Otherwise, someone could choose to hide in an out-of-bounds location, where they might literally NEVER be found. Only two are required to play, but the game gets a lot more fun and moves a lot faster whenever you’ve got several people looking for whoever’s hiding.
Ø Freeze Tag
There are lots of variations on this playground classic (like Mannequin Tag, Band-Aid Tag, etc.), but the basic premise is still the same. One person is “it,” and everyone else runs to keep away from “it.” But if you get tagged, then you have to freeze in place until another runner comes along to tag you, thus freeing you to run again. Kids and teenagers both tend to love this game, and it’s a great way to burn off lots of steam.
Ø Follow the Leader
This is a fun one for younger children, and requires no prior planning or supplies. Essentially, you just start walking around the property, and instruct the children following you to copy your every move. That’s really all there is to it, but the more creative you become, the more fun it is for your followers. Try running, hopping, skipping, or spinning in circles – the children will try and copy whatever you do, and sometimes the results are quite hilarious. If you find something interesting to look at, stop to observe – everyone else will do it, too. Just make sure that each and every person gets their own chance to be the leader in this fun game; kids really get excited about coming up with their own creative movements which everyone else must try and copy.
Ø Red Light, Green Light
This game is also called Traffic Lights, but no matter what you call it, it’s a lot of fun for young children. The designated leader stands on one end of the field and calls out Green Light whenever people can move, and then Red Light whenever they have to stop. However, anyone caught moving during a Red Light must go back to the beginning! The first person to touch the leader is the winner, and then they get to be the leader for the next round of the game.
And if you’re looking for other ideas of games where one person is the designated leader and others have to follow suit, Simon Says is another perennial favorite!
All you need is a paved surface and some chalk, and you’re ready to set up a game of Hopscotch. Draw a simple grid of squares numbered 1 through 9. To start the game, toss a small marker — like a rock, beanbag, small toy, or whatever you have on hand — into square 1 and hop over it, continuing to hop on the rest of the numbers. Turn around and hop back towards the start, picking up your marker on your way back. Hand the marker off to the next player, and on your next turn, throw the marker to the next number.
If a player throws the marker to the wrong number, or loses their balance and falls, they are out of the round. The goal is to complete the whole course with the marker on each number. This is a great game to play with kids of all ages. It’s a good idea to keep the game simple for younger kids, and then be ready to adjust the challenges appropriately for older kids.
Ø Four Square
This is another game that’s perfect for hard surfaces, and all that’s required is some chalk and a bouncing ball. Start by drawing a large square, then divide it into four equally-sized smaller squares numbered 1 through 4. 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 myself, we had many variations we might employ – the person in Square 1 gets to choose the rules. Anyone who violates the rules will have to move down in the ranking, or is eventually eliminated with another player rotating in to Square 4. Works well with a minimum number of four players, unless you devise a way to take turns.
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As long as you’ve got a basketball and a hoop, there are lots of games you can play with your kids besides just regulation basketball. For smaller groups and younger kids, try a game of H-O-R-S-E. This is a versatile and fun version of basketball that can be adapted to practically any age and ability level. Players take turns trying to get a basket from five different locations near the hoop, or with five different creative shots. If someone makes the shot, and the rest of the players miss, each of the other players get a letter toward the word HORSE. Spell the whole word, and you’re out of the game. You can also play the game with shorter words like PIG or DOG. Alternatively, you can choose to spell out one of your children’s names for fun.
Badminton kits are inexpensive to purchase and set up, yet they provide for lots of backyard fun for children and families. Each player has a racquet that they use to hit the badminton shuttle (more affectionately known as the birdie) across the net to the other players. If the shuttle hits the ground on the other side, the opposing team gets a point. The first team to get to 21 points wins.
You can play badminton as singles, doubles or teams, and you can also adjust the rules to account for different age groups and abilities. It’s best to play the game on a calm day though, as wind can carry the lightweight birdies and thus make the game more difficult to play.
Ø Outdoor Bowling
There are many outdoor bowling sets you can purchase, or you can also create your own set from items you have on hand. Use tall cans or 2-liter bottles, and put some sand or water in them to give each a bit of weight. You can even get more creative with it and let the kids help you to create the bowling “pins” as a craft project, if you like. For example, you can use colored water inside the bottles, or paint and decorate each individual “pin” however you like.
Set up your bowling pins on the driveway or in the backyard, and take turns rolling a ball to try and knock the pins down with a ball. You can use a tennis ball, small basketball, or any other type of ball you may have handy. Take turns keeping score, and also take turns helping to set up the pins after each round. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins!
Ø Scavenger Hunt
This game does take a little planning ahead of time, but it doesn’t necessarily require any particular props or supplies. Start by taking an inventory of things which are easily accessible in your backyard – pine cones, rocks, twigs, flowers, leaves, feathers, etc. Create a list of things that each player must find inside the designated place, and then you’re ready to play. You can go with a measured time format, where the person who finds the most items within the allotted time wins. Alternatively, you can go with an untimed format where the person who is the first to find every item on the list wins. Either way, this is a fun activity for any number of children. You can even take turns allowing each child to come up with their own list, and then serving as the leader/director of the game for others.
There are plenty of other Playground Equipment and games you can choose to engage and incorporate in your own backyard – you certainly aren’t limited to the items on this list! In any case, we hope that you’ll find this list to be helpful as you plan your own backyard play experiences for your children, friends, and neighbors.
At some point though, your children might get tired of playing in the backyard. That’s OK, there are other ways to take advantage of some great outdoor play opportunities – just take your kids to a local playground! But what if there isn’t a good playground in your immediate area? In that case, encourage your local park, school, faith center, or HOA group to reach out to the pros at Carolina Recreation & Design about installing the right commercial playground games! Carolina Recreation & Design can install whatever custom playground solution your local organization may be looking for, plus they can take care of any needed site planning, preparation, and needed amenity details, too.