Four laughing school-aged children run through the grass at a park.

15 fun old-fashioned activities for kids to play

From putting together mixed tapes, playing with silly string, sea monkeys, and slime, concocting creations in Easy-Bake ovens, dressing in neon or legwarmers, accessorizing with mood rings, to being totally groovy and bodacious, kids in prior generations played some awesome active games.

Whether they played in their backyards or school yards, or joined up anywhere in the neighbourhood until the street lights came on, kids played many games not played as much, if at all, by kids of the 2020s.

Let’s go back in time and bring back some games your kids will love! (No bouffants or mullets required to participate.)

1. Sardines  

Spice up your hide-and-seek games with this oldie (but goodie) version. Pick one player to be the “hider” and have the other kids close their eyes and count to an agreed upon number. The hider—wait for it—hides and after counting, the rest of the kids seek them out. 

When a seeker finds the hidden player, they join them in the hiding place. Keep playing until all the players have found the hidden player and are squished, like sardines, in the hiding spot.

2. Marbles

Marbles are a lot older than old-school. They’ve been discovered in Egyptian burial grounds and were played with in ancient Rome and Greece.

Make a circle on the ground outdoors using sidewalk chalk or by tracing a circle in sand or dirt or indoors with a rope. Pour all of the marbles into the circle and keep the biggest of the marbles for the players to use as “taws” or shooter marbles.

Kneel on the ground beside the circle and flick the taw from outside the circle into it. If the taw knocks any of the marbles out of the circle, those are yours to keep. Wherever your taw ends up, either inside or out of the circle, is where you’ll shoot from on your next turn.

When all the marbles have been shot out of the middle of the circle, the game is over and the person with the most marbles wins. Learn different ways to shoot a marble here: 

3. Mother May I?

Pick one child to be Mother and have them stand at the end of a large play area (could be a schoolyard, field or gym as examples). Mother stands with their back to the kids while they line up side by side at the opposite end. 

One at a time, each player asks, “Mother may I…” and makes a suggestion such as, “I take three giant steps,” “I take two steps,” or, “I take six baby steps?” Variations could also include requests such as, “May I take three bunny hops?” or “two somersaults?”

Mother then decides if the player can take those steps or what they would like the player to do. They could ask that instead of three giant steps, the player takes two bunny hops. The goal is to be the first child to reach Mother. Whoever reaches them first gets to be the Mother in the next round.

4. Elastics 

Elastics was all the rage in the ’60s and ’70s! The only items required to play the game are one long piece of elastic and at least three kids. (But if you only have one kid playing, the elastic can be tied to the legs of two sturdy chairs.)

Two players stand opposite each other with a length of elastic approximately three feet in length looped around their ankles. The other kids take turns jumping in and out. The elastic holders raise the elastics from ankles to knees to thighs to hips as kids master each jump. Kids can also chant rhymes while jumping. 

Watch these videos to see some fun ideas of jumping elastics:

5. Spud

Choose one player to be “It” (lead player) and line up the other kids. Give them each a number from one to however many kids are playing without letting the lead player hear.

Give the lead player a soft ball and have the other players stand close to them. The lead then throws the ball in the air while shouting out one of the numbers. 

The player who has been assigned that number runs to get the ball and yells “Spud!” as soon as they have it. The other players run away when their number is not called and must freeze immediately when “spud” is called. 

The player who has the ball then takes four steps towards any of the other players, spelling S, P, U, D with each step. They then roll or throw the ball towards that player keeping the ball below the waist. If the frozen player catches the ball or it doesn’t touch them, the thrower gets the letter S. If the player does get touched, they get the letter. 

The person who gets the letter becomes “It” and the game continues as before. When a player has received all four letters of spud, they’re out of the game. 

6. Ghosts in the Graveyard

Ghosts in the Graveyard is basically a creepy mix of hide-and-seek and tag. Well, it’s not actually creepy but the name gives it a bit of eeriness!

Choose a “home base” before the game begins. It can be a fence, a tree, or any other spot in the yard or field where the kids are playing. One player is chosen to be the ghost and while the other players count from one to ten, the ghost hides.

After counting, the players seek out the ghost. The first one to find them yells, “Ghost in the graveyard!” The ghost then emerges from their spot and chases the other players. If a player makes it to “home base” without being tagged, they are safe. Any player who’s tagged becomes the ghost for the next round.

7. Retro dance party 

Go back—way, way back—and discover some dances which had kids grooving.

Pick some dances and learn them with your child. There are many videos online to teach you the dances if you’ve forgotten them (or if you weren’t even alive when they were popular!)

Options could include: the Hustle, YMCA, moonwalking, the Mashed Potato, disco, the Macarena, the Locomotion, Funky Chicken, YMCA, the Swim, the Penguin, breakdancing, the Worm, the Cha Cha Slide, the Sprinkler, the MC Hammer dance, the Monster Mash, the Twist, the Lawnmower, or the all-time wedding favourite, the conga line.

8. Cops and Robbers

Set up your playing area in a yard or field. Place beanbags in piles in four or five places throughout the yard, mark off a safe area (the hideout) and a jail. Divide kids into two even teams of cops and robbers. The object of the game is for the cops to guard the loot (the beanbags) and the robbers to try to steal it.

Start with all of the robbers in the middle of the field and the cops scattered around the playing area. At the count of three, the robbers must run to try to steal the beanbags while the cops try to tag them. If a robber gets tagged by a cop, they must be taken by the cop to the jail where they wait until the end of the game. If a robber manages to get all of the beanbags to the hideout, they win. If you want to mix up the game, the robbers can be freed by another robber if they can tag them in the jail without getting caught.

9. Monkey in the Middle

A great game for kids of all ages, Monkey in the Middle is a classic game of throwing, catching, jumping and running.

The game can be played with multiple players but requires at least three. Line up three kids in a row. The one in the middle is the monkey. (if you have more than three kids, put one monkey in the middle while the other kids form a circle around them). The goal is for the monkey to intercept a ball which the other kids throw back and forth and for the throwers to keep it away from the monkey. 

If the monkey catches the ball, the person who threw it becomes the monkey. If the ball falls to the ground at any point, all players can run to pick it up. If the monkey gets it, they become a thrower and the last person to have thrown it becomes the monkey. Instead of a ball, players can throw items such as beanbags or stuffed animals.

10. Hacky Sack

While hacky sacks were first used in the 1930s, they were extremely popular in the 1980s. These little packs of fun are small round bags typically filled with beads, sand or seeds.

The basic game played with hacky sacks (also known as footbags) is keeping the sack up using any part of your body except for your arms and hands. You can use any part of your foot, your knees, your head, or your chest.

Work up to passing the ball to other players, tricks, and other hacky sack games after mastering keeping the ball up on your own. For more inspiration, here’s a fun printable with some hacky sack activity ideas!

11. Sevensies

Looking for a fun game when your child is looking to play by themselves? Am I aging myself by noting that I LOVED playing this game for hours? The game might take a while to learn but once your kid gets the sequence, they’ll love it too. 

The equipment is minimal and the aim is to do seven moves using a wall and a ball. Using a smooth surface will make the game a lot easier and less frustrating! Complete the first move seven times, the second six times, all the way down to one. The moves get progressively more challenging and more fun. 

  1. Throw the ball against the wall and catch it seven times. 
  1. Throw the ball against the wall, let it bounce once on the ground, then catch it. Do this six times. 
  1. Bounce the ball off the ground and catch it five times. 
  1. Bounce the ball off the ground on an angle so that it bounces off the wall and back to be caught. Do this four times. 
  1. Bounce the ball under your leg so that it hits the wall and then catch it. Do this three times. 
  1. Throw the ball at the wall and clap two times before catching it. Do this two times. 
  1. Throw the ball against the wall, twirl around and catch it. Do this once. 

The more your kid practices, the more fun they’ll have. 

12. London Bridge 

History lesson right off the bat: contrary to what this rhyme might have you think, London Bridge has never actually fallen down. We can neither confirm nor deny the story, though, of the plunge of Humpty Dumpty.

To play this classic game, choose two players to be the bridge. The players must stand across from each other and join hands above their shoulders to create an arch (the bridge).

The other players walk or skip under the bridge while singing the lyrics to the song. As the word “lady” at the end of each verse is sung, the arms of the arch lower and catch the child under the bridge. That child can either trade places with one of the players forming the bridge, be eliminated from the game or the game can simply continue.

You can use the first verse of the song or learn the additional ones

The lyrics are:

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down,

London Bridge is falling down, 

My fair lady. 

Watch kids playing the game here.

13. Donkey

Like Sevensies (see game 11), Donkey requires only a ball and a wall to be played. The first player stands at a line approximately 10 feet from the wall and throws the ball against it. When the ball bounces, the player must run and jump over it with their legs apart. 

If the ball touches the player, they get the letter “D.” Every subsequent time the player throws the ball and it touches them, they get the next letter in “donkey.” If they get to “Y,” they’re out.

If the first player has the ball touch them and they take a letter, their turn continues until they’re able to clear the ball. If it doesn’t touch them, the next player takes their turn. 

14. Tin-can stilts

Using two empty tin cans of the same height, ensure the top is the closed end and measure approximately ½ inch from the top on both sides of the can. Using a nail, hammer a hole in the sides and insert a piece of rope on each side for your kids to hold. Send them off then to march around like the circus clowns they dream of being! 

15. Statues

Your kids will love this silly and super fun game! One player is chosen to be the curator interested in selecting a new statue for their museum. The rest of the players choose what kind of statue they want to be. They could be statues of people, dinosaurs, or animals. The curator must turn their back and count to 20 while the statues get into their positions.

When the curator returns, they walk around the group of statues and inspect them. The goal of the statues is to stay completely still. If a statue moves, they’re out. If the statues are really good at staying frozen, the curator can ask questions or make comments to see if the statues will laugh. The curator continues to inspect all the statues until everyone is out. 

Check out these other old-fashioned games:

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