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6 outdoor games perfect for your backyard

Is that your problem? Or perhaps your child wants to go to the neighborhood playground or park, but when you suggest the backyard, he complains, “There’s nothing to do in the yard!”

If I’ve just described your family, cheer up—I’ve got some simple solutions.

Leaf Bingo

Prep: With a pen, divide a piece of cardboard into squares so it looks like a Bingo card. For younger kids or backyards with less greenery, divide it three squares across by three down, instead of five. With glue such as Elmer’s, paste a different leaf from your backyard into each square. Use fallen leaves from trees, leaves from accessible bushes, shrubs, and plants…even leaves from weeds, if you want.

Give your child the Bingo card, and promise him a treat if he fills the card by bringing back a matching leaf for each leaf on the card. (The treat can be a cookie, an apple, or a story.)

New-Style Jump-Rope

Materials needed: Long jump-rope or length of clothesline


One or more kids can play this new version of jump-rope, in which the rope never moves; it stays on the ground. You need a long rope (or clothesline), like you’d use for a three-person game, not the short rope your child would use to jump by herself. (Don’t try to use string instead; your child needs to know if she’s goofed and stepped on the rope, and with string she won’t feel it.)

Stretch the rope out straight, but don’t anchor the ends. If your child misses and kicks the rope, you don’t want it to trip her.   The object is for her to jump (on two feet) from one side of the rope to the other while she’s moving forward from one end to the other.  Each jump should propel her forward while she’s jumping from one side to the other each time. If she steps on, trips over, or otherwise touches the rope, she’s out.

This Wet Piggie

Lay your baby on his back on the grass, with no shirt on. Have a soaked-wet sponge nearby. Squeezing a drop or two of water on Baby’s big toe, say, “This wet piggie went to market.” Then drip a drop or two of water on the next toe and say, “This wet piggie stayed home.” Continue through the familiar rhyme, substituting “wet” for “little.”

When you get to the last toe, drip the water as you say, “And this wet piggie,” immediately moving the sponge up to just above Baby’s waist and squeezing out a drop of water there. Continue squeezing a light trail of water drops up to Baby’s shoulder, as you say, “Wee-wee-wee all the way home,” then quickly blow a breeze of breath up the trail of water from baby’s waist to shoulder.

Walnut Toss, Marble Roll

Materials needed: Walnut or several washers held together with a tightly tied string; three lengths of string approximately 10″, 25″, and 30″, and another short piece of string; marbles


Form three concentric circles on the ground with the lengths of string. That is, form a “bull’s-eye” target with them. Scoring into the center circle is worth ten points, scoring into the circle around that is worth five points, and the outer circle is worth one point. Lay the short piece of string down at whatever distance from the target it’s appropriate for your child to stand, given his age and ability. He’s now set up to play two different games!

In Walnut Toss, he throws a walnut (or a bunch of washers held tightly together with a string) at the target; in Marble Roll he rolls a marble across the ground. If his projectile straddles a line, he’s entitled to take the score of the higher of the two circles it’s landed in.

For solo play, he throws or rolls five times, adds his score up from the five throws or rolls, then plays another game, seeing if he can get a better score this time. For competitive play, the winner is the player who scores the highest in five throws or rolls.

If you have two kids playing against each other who are of very different ages, you can give the younger one a handicap by letting him throw or roll from a line nearer the target than where his brother will stand.


Mini-Golf Games

There are various mini-golf games your child can play in the backyard. As with real golf, he can play solo, trying to do his best and improve his score from his last game, or against a sibling or friend, trying for the lower score.

Equipment: For the golf club, either a yardstick or a rolled-up newspaper that’s taped shut. For the ball, a rubber ball, a ball from a game of jacks,  or a “sock ball”—two or four socks rolled up into a ball. For the golf course, an assortment of large empty cans (which you’ve first checked to be sure there are no sharp edges), or various pairs of blocks that your child will try to drive the ball between.

You don’t need to set up nine or 18 holes; the size of your golf course will depend on the size of your backyard and the number of cans or blocks you have on hand. Using the “club,” your child drives the ball into each can or between each pair of blocks, tallying up his score for each hole and totaling his score for the entire course. No membership fee, no greens fee, no tipping the caddy!


Water Balloon Bowling

Your child can have fun with water balloons…and she needn’t aim them at you, her brother, or her friends. How about a line of toys or similar targets?

Prep: Line up a row of small, lightweight, waterproof toys, empty toilet paper tubes, or anything else suitable. Fill an assortment of balloons with water. You may want to dress your child in her bathing suit.

The object is to knock over the toys, tp cardboard, or other targets, not with the balloons themselves but with the water that gushes from them. Your child stands a few feet away from the targets and throws each balloon at the ground in front of the targets. Object: To burst each balloon, creating a gush of water, which in turn will bowl over the targets. (If the child herself gets wet in the process, that’s just that much more fun.)

Reminder: Be a good citizen of the planet and remove the burst balloons afterward, so no pet, bird,  or other animal swallows them and chokes.

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