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14 Old School Backyard Games That Stand the Test of Time

backyard games backyard games

Summer is my favorite season. Sure, it gets crazy hot, and trying to slather sunscreen on my writhing children or unstick my thighs from my lawn chair are their own forms of hell, but there are some pretty great perks to being able to be outside all the time. Of course, I’m talking about backyard games — and our family’s favorites are the old school, classic grab-your-friends-and-fam-and-get-competitive ones.

When I was growing up, every kid in the neighborhood would gravitate to my backyard, where there were trees to climb and wooden swords, and a garage full of all kinds of things from jump ropes and roller skates to tarps that we’d use for soapy DIY slip and slides. And now that I’m a mother of three wild kids, my fond memories of warm afternoons getting into fun trouble with my friends are exactly what I want my own kids to experience.

These games are a reminder that simple and un-fangled is sometimes just perfect. Here’s a roundup of awesome, old school backyard games the whole family will love.


Cornhole

Cornhole has re-emerged as a national pastime over the last few years, for good reason. For kids, it’s super straightforward and fun. For adults it’s addictive and a perfect game for the crazy- competitive among us. (Why is handling bean bags so satisfying, anyway?) If you want a regulation cornhole set — wooden, customized paint jobs, even crazy lights — then be prepared to drop some dough. But for the standard, check out this collapsible set that does the trick just fine — and even comes with its own carrying case. Corn purse?


Badminton

old school backyard games
Did you know that badminton was a game from India called poona? A British officer learned it and brought it back to England to his fancy summer retreat in Badminton, and now we have badminton the game. If your kids are fans of this classic tennis-like game, then check out this cute, affordable set.


Croquet

I can’t think of croquet without thinking about Alice in Wonderland. The hilarious way that she used a flamingo to play still makes me giggle. Grab yourself a croquet set, have a ball knocking pretty, colored balls around, and feel fancy with this lovely set that’s as pretty as they come.


Potato Sack Races

Got a group of rowdy kids who need to burn off a lot of energy so you don’t lose your ever-loving mind? The classic potato sack race is your friend. It is exactly what it sounds like: a line of kids wearing potato sacks who have to hop across a yard and back. The first one who returns to the start wins. It could not be simpler or more ridiculously joy-inducing.


Frisbee

Frisbee is one of those timeless games that just feel like summer. When I was a kid, I would toss a frisbee to my dog for hours, and it was absolute bliss. These days, I love this set of ring-like active flyers that my kids try to use not only with each other but to toss at tree branches or sticks they poke in the ground. They make up all kinds of imaginative games with these things.


Horseshoes

I still remember my grandfather tossing those clunky metal horseshoes at a stick in the ground that seemed a mile away. When it was my turn, he would stand right behind me and coach me on how to aim and how to be patient while I learned the slow but addictively fun game. Turns out you can create a pretty simple horseshoe set up in your own backyard for under $40.


Bocce Ball

Bocce ball, also known as Italian lawn bowling, might sound weird since the game doesn’t exactly scream high energy, especially for kids who need to move around a lot, but hear me out; this is a fun game for all ages (kids often get weirdly into the measuring aspect) and once you get your whole family playing, it can quickly become a tradition. This kid-friendly set can be used on all kinds of surfaces including sand.


Kan Jam

OK, so technically KanJam isn’t “old school,” it’s a newer invention, but I say it counts as for this list because it combines two classic yard games: frisbee and ring toss. It is also hugely popular, and for a good reason — it’s stupidly fun to play! You basically toss a disc at the can, and if it goes in the can through a slot, you get the point. My kids are weirdly skilled at this game and they get immense pleasure out of beating their dad and me at every match.


Giant Connect Four

Can I be honest? I kind of want to have a date with my husband and play this game — without the kids. Giant Connect Four is like a child’s dream come true because it blends the classic kids’ board game with a level of oversize silly that is definitely perfect for a day of strategy and fun.


Hopscotch

Hopscotch is a classic kids game that gives littles the chance to get their wiggles out. All you need is a piece of chalk and some asphalt, but for those who don’t have a paved sidewalk or driveway to work with, we love this fun ring set that gives kids the chance to set it up on the grass or wherever there’s space.


Four Square

How many of your friendships were born from playing Four Square as a kid? This ultra rush of adrenaline game that takes place in the space of four simple squares will have your kids laughing and jumping around for hours. Check out this set of court lines that lets you play anywhere from grass to asphalt to even beach sand.


Double Dutch

I can still remember all the words to “Miss Mary Mack” and the sweet, thwacking sound of the Double Dutch ropes hitting the playground pavement. Ah, memories. If you want to bring back those jump rope games in style, check out these, which even have the plastic beads to make those beautiful thwacking sounds.


Hide and Seek (and its many variants)

My kids love Hide and Seek and will play it all the live-long day. When they get bored, one of their favorite things to do is hide an object and then spend the afternoon making the other siblings search for it. The most creative object they ever hid was a popsicle on a 90-degree day to add an element of urgency to the game. The winner got to eat the (no longer) frozen treat. The beauty of this game is that you can play it inside on those days when you can’t get outside. Flashlight tag, or Spotlight, is a great one for those warm summer evenings. Players are caught by a flashlight beam after which they must go to “jail” until released by another player’s tag.


Lifesize Jenga       

The only thing better than Jenga is MORE JENGA. This lifesize set is a knockoff brand (Jenga does make one that’s quite $$), but this high quality set with carrying case does the trick. Who knows why but there’s something really fun about gathering around a teetering tower for this high stakes challenge. Somehow Jenga always brings people closer together — and big-Jenga does so… big time.

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Sarah Cottrell is a Maine-based freelance journalist and lifestyle writer. Her work has been featured on VICE Tonic, New York Magazine, Washington Post, and has been included in seven anthologies including the New York Times bestselling series, I Still Just Want to Pee Alone. sarahcottrellfreelance.com.