6 outdoor games from our childhoods that are still fun… and free! [+GIVEAWAY]

Hate reading meaningful musings about kids these days? Scroll to the bottom for the giveaway.

When I was a kid, we did not have the Internet. I think it may have existed, but was not yet overcharging families nationwide for 10 mbps. Back then, living on a cul-de-sac (we called it "the circle"), our house was the place to be. The neighborhood kids rode their bikes with their sibling or friend standing on the pegs up the street to our house, where the front lawn was littered with bikes (the universal symbol for "you guys! we're at the Kmetzes' "). Then they proceeded straight to the pantry to grab a pack of gushers, and ran outside to join us. Then we played [insert awesome game here] until the sun went down and my mom took three Bobolis out of the oven and we all burned the top of our mouths on hot pepperoni. Ah, those were the days.

Can we please all just commit to each other right now that we will turn off our routers, change the wifi password, disengage the 4G LTE force field, shove our kids out the door, and tell them not to come back until it's dark? When they get all "But... But... excuses!" just give them some ideas from this post.

I'm so excited to reminisce about childhood games that I think I may throw a block party just to live vicariously through the kids in my neighborhood.


1. Capture the Flag

Probably the most recognizable on this list, capture the flag has at one time split most American 1/4 acre plots down the middle, separating good from evil directly along the line of the chimney to the edge of the driveway. No, actually the chimney to the basketball hoop. Or the basketball hoop to the front steps. Just don't crush mom's lilies, they are finally doing their thing.

How to play: Split into two teams and agree upon the size of your playing field. Get permission from neighbors if you plan to run a muck all over the darn neighborhood. Then discuss the line that splits the fields in half. Choose a side. Pick your flags. Teams go to their respective sides, and begin! When players are caught on the opposite side, they may be tagged and placed in "jail". Your teammates can tag you out of jail and you may continue playing. The object of the game is to steal the other team's flag and get it back into your home zone safely. More details here.

2. Sardines

This game is the most embarrassing for the loser. And there is always one distinct loser. He discovers all of his friends and siblings, gathered in the bushes, pointing and laughing at how obvious it should have been that Johnny was behind the rhododendrons the whole time. It's the perfect game for future contestants of Survivor - build an alliance, exclude that one weird kid from down the street, find the hider, then wait and whisper about he totally can't find you guys. But seriously though, no meanies allowed.

How to play: This is basically reverse hide-and-seek. Draw straws to see who will be the first hider. The hider can choose to hide outside or inside. When players find the hider, they must ask, "Are you the sardine?" If the hider says yes, then you must hide with them. The last person to find the sardines becomes the next hider. More details here.

3. Kick the can

Kick the can is by far my favorite of the lot. The feeling that you get when your team successfully distracts the entire other team, and you hide in the bushes for a half hour, risking everything from poison ivy to bug bites, and then finally, there's been enough silence to be safe and you burst out of the bushes and sprint to the middle of the street, wind your leg up like popeye and totally NAIL that thing. It incorporates all the best elements of achieving pure satisfaction: delay of gratification, spy and ninja skills, build up, and dramatic execution.

How to play: Draw straws to see who will be "it" first. That person will go looking for the rest of the players, who are hiding. Once the "it" person finds a hider, they call out their name. As soon as the hider's name is called, they race back to the can which is in the middle of the playing area. If the it person gets there first, the hider must go to jail. If the hider gets there first, they kick the can (HARD) and everyone in jail gets set free. The last hider to be found is the winner. More details here.

4. Pickle

I played pickle exclusively at Hood's Pond, a spring fed tiny lake/large pond in Topsfield, Massachusetts where I grew up. My parents were dedicated board members for many years, spreading sand on the beach, removing seaweed from the swimming area, putting the docks in during spring and taking them out at the end of summer. Running back and forth in the warm sand, pickle is the perfect  game to play in between swimming and visiting the ice cream truck.

How to play: Pick two bases and two people to be at the "ends". We always picked the cement wall of bathroom building, and a big tree on the edge of the beach. The two ends guard the bases. As long as everyone is touching the base, they are safe. The ends throw a tennis ball back and forth and the players run from one base to the next. If one of the ends hits or tags another player with the ball while they are off base, that person becomes an end. More details here.

5. Four square

Meh. Definitely not the coolest game of the lot, though the "cherry bomb" does make things interesting.

How to play:  Use chalk to draw a block or grid of four squares, each 5 feet by 5 feet. The 4th block is the highest spot. Kids make a line outside of the #1 spot. The ball gets served by the 4th spot player to the 1st spot player. From there, the ball gets hit back and forth into the other squares until someone steps out of their square, misses the ball, or hits the ball outside of another square. Whoever that person is gets knocked out and sent to the back of the line, sending someone new in at spot #1. The object of the game is to make it up to spot #4 and stay there as long as possible. More details here.

6. Marco polo

Marco polo is the only game here that requires water. The perfect excuse to go over to your friends house with a pool. Though, there's always that kid that abuses the "fish out of water" rule.

How to play: Draw straws to see who is Marco first. that person must close their eyes. He can periodically yell "Marco" and the other people in the pool must respond with "Polo". Marco chases the other players based on the sound of their voice. When Marco tags someone, they become the new Marco. More details here.

And the winner of our $50 giveaway is.... THOMAS M! Thanks Thomas!

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AdrienneThis post was written by Activity Adrienne.  She's responsible for Thrively's activity content and our social media channels.  At one point in her life she really did want to be the next Picabo Street.  And the next Martina Hingis. And the next Kerri Strug. And the next Brandi Chastain. And the next... Ok, you get it.

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