My first summer job as a teenager was working as a camp supervisor at a children’s camp. I quickly learned that keeping a bunch of kids engaged and out of trouble required quick thinking, creativity, and a big list of fun no-equipment outdoor games that I could set up at a moment’s notice.
Although my time as camp supervisor was long ago, having a list of easy-to-organize no-equipment outdoor games is very handy for play dates, birthday parties, family gatherings, and many other situations where you need to get kids moving and having fun at a moment’s notice.
Here are some of my favourite no-equipment outdoor games for kids. This list includes traditional games, fun variations on old-time favourites, and some new activities. Whether you’re looking for outdoor games for a big group or just a few, this list is a great go-to guide for fun active outdoor games that you can set up on the spur of the moment, no gear or equipment necessary!
Tag is a classic game that’s played by children all around the world. The gist of the game is that the “it” person runs after other players in an effort to touch or tag someone and make that person “it.” The basic game is loads of fun, but there are plenty of fun tag variations.
In this variation of tag, everyone is “it!” If a player tags another player, then that child lies on the ground. The child on the ground watched the player that tagged him and if that player gets tagged he’s back in the game. If two players tag each other at the same time, the tie is broken by playing Rock, Paper, Scissors. This game is nearly impossible to finish with a large group of kids, so it typically ends when there’s a certain number of kids still standing (around five kids).
For freeze tag, the “it” player tags other kids and freezes them into a “T” or “tree” position with their arms out to their sides. Other players can run under the arms of frozen players to “free” them. With a large group of kids it helps to have multiple “it” players. The game is over when the taggers have frozen all the kids.
Time for some potty humour! This funny variation of freeze tag has players turning into toilets. When players are tagged, they sit on the ground, legs criss-cross, with one arm up like a handle. Other players free tagged kids by sitting on them and flushing the toilet. Eww.
In this game of tag, the “it” players tag other kids by stepping on their shadows. This tag variation is best played on a sunny day when shadows are easy to spot.
Start by selecting one player to be the octopus. The rest of the players line up on one end of the play area and face the octopus. The octopus beckons the players to cross the sea by naming different things: “If you are wearing white socks, swim!” or “If you like chocolate chips, swim!” or “If you have the letter “a” in your name, swim!” Players try to run to the other side of the area without being tagged by the octopus. Players that get tagged become seaweed and can’t move; however, seaweed can tag players that pass by them. If the octopus calls out “Octopus!” all the players have to run to the other side of the area. The game is finished when only one player remains.
In this variation of tag there’s an “it” player along with two doctors. When players are tagged, they must cover the tagged spot with a “band-aid” (hand) and keep it there. If players are tagged a second time, they must cover that tagged spot with a second “band-aid” (the other hand). If players are tagged a third time, they become a patient and lay on the ground until the two doctors tag them at the same time to heal them. This tag variation can be pretty silly!
This game of tag is played at an outdoor playground. All the players start on the playset except for the “it” person. The “it” person can tag kids on the ground or jump up and tag players on the playset. However, if the “it” person goes onto the playset, he must close his eyes and navigate the playset with his eyes closed. If the “it” person calls out “Grounders!” while he’s on the playset and there’s a child on the ground, she becomes it. If multiple kids are on the ground, they play Rock Paper Scissors to pick the new “it” person. If the “it” person peeks while on the playset, players can call out “Broken vision!” or “Broken v!” and the “it” person has to go to the ground and count to 10 while the other players run wherever they want.
Cops and Robbers
To play this game, divide a group of kids into cops and robbers. Typically a group is divided in half, but this game works a bit better with more robbers and fewer cops. The purpose of the game is for the cops to catch the robbers and escort them to jail, a predetermined area the size of a hula hoop. Robbers can free other robbers from jail by tagging them. The game ends when all the robbers are in jail or the cops give up.
Red Light, Green Light
In this game, kids line up on an imaginary starting line at one end of an area. One player is designated as the “traffic cop” and stands at an imaginary finish line at the other end of the area. When the traffic cop yells “Green light!” the players run towards the finish line, but if the traffic cop yells “Red light!” all the players must freeze. Any player caught moving during a “red light” goes back to the starting line. It’s easy to add variety to this game by adding other colours: “orange light” for walking, “purple light” for skipping, “blue light” for walking backwards. The rainbow’s the limit!
More running games
If kids don’t want to play tag games, or one of the many variations of tag, but still want to run, here are some fun no-equipment running games that don’t involve tagging players.
The Captain is Coming
This game starts by designating one player as “the Captain.” This player is captain of the ship and will shout out commands that the other players must follow. The last player to do the command is eliminated from the game until only one player remains. Before starting the game, use real or imaginary markers to designate the different sides of the ship: front (bow), back (stern), left side (port) and right side (starboard). Make sure all the players know the names and directions of the sides of the ship, as well as what the other commands mean. It helps to do a couple practice runs. It’s also a good idea to start with a handful of commands and add more commands to increase the complexity of the game.
Bow: Run to the front of the ship
Stern: Run to the back of the ship
Port: Run to the left side of the ship
Starboard: Run to the right side of the ship
Captain’s coming: Run to the captain and salute.
Hit the deck: Lie on the ground.
Scrub the deck: Pretend to scrub the ground.
Climb the rigging: Pretend to climb a rope.
Dig for treasure: Pretend to dig.
Cannonballs: Crouch down and cover your ears.
Submarine: Lay on back and stick up one leg.
Three men in a lifeboat: Three players stand together and pretend to row a boat.
Let the kids behave like animals! Line kids up on one side of an area and have them race to a finish line using different animal movements: crawl like a crab, hop like a bunny, waddle like a duck, run like a gorilla, etc.
Hide and Seek is a classic game that can be played outdoors—no equipment needed. For outdoor Hide and Seek, it’s a good idea to have set boundaries and ground rules around safe hiding spots. For a classic game of Hide and Seek, the “it” person closes her eyes and counts to an agreed-upon number and then goes on a search to find all the hidden players. There are plenty of Hide-and-Seek variations but the three listed below are popular favourites.
This Hide-and-Seek variation is my kids’ favourite. To play Sardines, the “it” player hides while the rest close their eyes and count. The players spread out and look for the hidden person. If a player finds the “it” person they hide with him. This continues until all the players have found the “it” person and are hiding with him.
This game is a combination of Hide-and-Seek and tag. It starts in the same way as a classic game of Hide and Seek with an “it” person counting and the other players hiding. The difference is that when the “it” person finds a player the player tries to run away. If the player is tagged by the “it” person, she’s out, but it she gets away she can go and hide in a new spot.
Kick the Can
This outdoor game can be easily played without a can. Any substitute will do: a pine cone, a water bottle, or even a stick. Set up whatever object you have on hand close to the “it” person. The “it” person starts the game by counting while the other players hide. Once everyone has hidden, the “it” person seeks out the hidden players. If a hidden player is tagged by the “it” person, she goes to a designated jail spot. If one of the hidden players “kicks the can,” the jailed players are free and can hide again.
For toddlers and preschoolers, try some of these classic outdoor no-equipment games:
What Time is It, Mr. Fox?
Choose one player to play Mr. Fox and have the rest of the players line up on the other side of an area. With his back to the other players, Mr. Fox waits for the players to ask the question: “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” Mr. Fox replies with a time: “It’s three-o’clock!” The players then take three steps towards Mr. Fox. This banter goes on until Mr. Fox declares “It’s supper time!” and turns around and tries to tag a player. The tagged player becomes the new Mr. Fox.
Duck, Duck, Goose
This classic game works best with at least five players. Have all the kids sit on the ground in a circle except one “it” person. The “it” person walks around the outside of the circle tapping each player on the head while saying “duck.” If the “it” player taps a child on the head and says “goose,” the goose stands up and runs around the circle trying to tag the “it” person before the “it” person takes the goose’s spot. If the goose doesn’t tag the “it” player, he becomes the new “it” person.
Ring around the Rosie
For this sing-song game, children hold hands and walk in a circle while singing: “Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies, husha, husha, we all fall down!” At the last verse, children all fall on the ground together. While some people claim this song refers to the Great Plague, others argue that it doesn’t. I’ll leave it up to historians to figure it out.
London Bridge is Falling Down
For this nursery song game, two children face each other and make an arch by holding hands. The other children walk under the arch one at a time while making a circle. The children sing the nursery rhyme (see the lyrics below) and when the final line is sung—“my fair lady”—the arch falls down and traps the child walking underneath. The games continue until all the children have been captured.
“London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.”
Start by picking one child to be Simon and have the other children gather around. Simon gives commands to the other children by saying “Simon says…” and picking an action. For example, “Simon says hop up and down” or “Simon says clap your hands” or “Simon says quack like a duck.” If Simon gives a command without starting with “Simon says,” any player that does the action is out!
Follow the Leader
Choose one child to be the leader and have all the other children to line up behind the leader. The children have to copy the movements of the leader, and if they don’t do the movements correctly, they get eliminated. For younger children, start with an adult or older child as the leader and keep the actions simple.
More outdoor fun!
There are so many fun and classic outdoor games kids can play that require no equipment that this list could go on-and-on! If you have a favourite no-equipment outdoor game that isn’t in this list feel free to share it in the comment section below.