Classic Backyard Summer Games

classic outdoor backyard games

There is something magical about long summer days and evenings full of twilight and the potential for play. We’ve delved back into our childhoods for our favourite playground, camp, Girl Guide, and Scout games—the kind that need little to no equipment and produce maximum fun.

There’s nothing better than a no-frills, classic backyard game, so round up the kids and play until the streetlights come on!

classic outdoor backyard games - rock quest

Rock Quest

We developed this game one sunny cottage afternoon when the kids were hyper and us adults didn’t feel like leaving the dock. Get a kitchen scale and send the kids to find a rock that is exactly a certain weight (e.g. 1,200 grams). It’s harder than it sounds and the kids have a blast running around and finding rocks, while all the adults have to do is monitor the scale.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Fainting Goat Tag

Fainting Goat Tag

This game is hilarious. The person who is ‘It’ is the shepherd. The rest of the players can avoid being tagged by falling down like fainting goats if the shepherd is within 10 feet—but they can only stay down for 10 seconds.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Night Eyes

Night Eyes

This is a favourite at the cottage—note that it does need to be played in the dark.

Kids make animal ‘eyes’ out of foil pasted onto a card. The eyes will reflect the light from a flashlight. Write a letter on each card so that all the faces spell out a secret message, then head out during the day to hang the animal faces from trees and in bushes along a trail. Have the kids try to find the reflective eyes with their flashlights, gather the cards and unscramble the letters to solve the secret message.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Manhunt


There are more politically correct names for this game, but everyone still knows it as Manhunt. We play the gentle version that involves one person finding the other players who are hidden (think classic hide and seek) and then those that are found join in the hunt for the rest of the gang.

Best played with a bit of space and some areas that allow for concealment.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - PIG


You need a basketball hoop for this one. PIG is a fun game where the player who goes first demonstrates a type of shot (e.g., layup, free throw). Other players have to mimic the shot, and if they don’t make it, they get a letter in the word ‘PIG’. The last player to spell PIG wins and gets to start the next game.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - SPUD


We may just have spent the entire fourth grade playing this game—a cross between dodgeball and tag.

Assign each player a number, give one player the ball to start and have all the other players stand about in a bunch. The person with the ball throws it upwards and calls out a number, at which point the group runs around—except for the child assigned that number who must catch the ball. When the ball is caught, the catcher yells out ‘SPUD’ and all players freeze. The catcher then tries to hit one of the frozen players with the ball—they can dunk and bend and twist, but no moving their feet. If they’re hit, they gain a letter (S, then P, then U and then D) and become the new thrower. When a child accumulates SPUD, they’re out!

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Four Square

Four Square

This is a great game for the school playground or gym, or use sidewalk chalk to draw your own on the driveway. Each player stands in one of the four squares and, to start, the player in square four serves the ball by bouncing it in their square once and then hitting it towards one of the other squares.

The receiving player then hits the ball to any other player in one of the other squares—who has to hit the ball before it bounces twice. If they overshoot and send the ball outside the square, or fail to hit the ball when it comes into their square—they’re out and everyone reshuffles. The object of the game is to be the last player standing in square number four.

There are many rule variations and it’s fun for adults too.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Jumpsies


Remember looping elastic bands together to make a jumpsies rope? The jumper tries to jump over the jumpsies rope starting at ankle height and then progressing to knee, hip, waist, shoulder, ear, and then highsky! Whoever makes it over the highest level is the winner.

Check out this video for set-up and pattern variations.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - 500


Grab a football and some kids. The thrower calls out a point value before launching the ball some distance to the group. Whoever catches it gets the points. Dropped balls lead to losing that number of points, and the first to reach 500 wins.

This one is also great in the pool (our apologies to the man in the pool in Cuba who we accidentally hit in the head).

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Octopus


This is British Bulldog with a twist. Mark out the playing area and put two home ‘zones’ at each end (like end zones). One or two players (the bulldogs) stand at one end of the playing field and attempt to catch or tag the rest of the players as they run past. A player is safe if they make it across the line into home.

Those that are tagged have to freeze in place and can only use their outstretched arms like octopus tentacles to help catch other players in subsequent rounds.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Spies and Smugglers

Spies and Smugglers

Spies and Smugglers

This game takes a tiny bit of set-up time but is absolutely loads of fun, especially when played at dusk.

Each smuggler is given a small piece of paper inscribed with varying ‘goods’ and point values, and hides it somewhere in their outer layer of clothing. The smugglers devise a strategy, then try to make it to headquarters without being tagged by a spy. If stopped by a spy, the spy has one minute to find the goods. If they do, they get the point value. If they don’t, the smuggler is free to reach the trading post.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Mud Pies

Making Mud Pies

Seriously, when was the last time any of us actually gave ourselves over to the act of making mud pies? Break out the real measuring cups and spoons (there’s always extras, or the dishwasher) and get serious about creating fairy cakes and monster muffins.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Jumping Rope

Apples, Peaches, Pears and Plums

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Jumping Rope

This is a great group skipping game, and we’re sure that there are many more rhymes tucked in our memory banks. Teddy Bear? Had a Little Sports Car?

Grab a long rope and get skipping. Not ends! The rope turners begin by chanting: ‘Apples, peaches, pears and plums, tell me when your birthday comes, is it January, February…’. The skipper jumps in when they hear their birthday month. The rope turners and any onlookers immediately begin counting, and the skipper has to jump out when they hear their day of birth.

Classic Backyard Summer Games - Hug a Tree

Hug a Tree

We’ve seen this one pop up at team-building events as well—and we rocked it!

In pairs, one player leads another blindfolded player in a roundabout way (maybe hopping over or ducking under an imaginary obstacle or two) to a tree. The blindfolded player has to hug the tree and feel the bark and other features—so that they can find it later from the starting point without the blindfold! Obviously best played in a place with more than one tree.


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