Kids today don’t get nearly enough time outdoors. Between overscheduled childhoods full of Suzuki violin lessons, student leadership clubs, soccer and piles of homework, kids barely have enough time to get in their average four hours of screen time a day.
Drive around a typical neighborhood and you’ll find empty swing sets, lonesome driveway basketball hoops and front yards unlittered with bikes. Where are the children? Indoors, firmly stationed in front of their gaming consoles. And yet research shows that kids desperately need time unscheduled outside play to nurture their imagination, to figure out problem solving skills and to prevent becoming a complete lard butt. And don’t expect schools to send kids outside to play. Rockwood elementary students get 20 minutes of recess, while kids at get a measly 15-minute break.
Patch is here to help with the following list of timeless fun activities that kids can do in their own backyard. You may have to show them how a few of these outdoor games work the first time, but that’s ok. Adults need to play, too.
Sidewalk Chalk: It’s not athletic, but sidewalk chalk is a good transitional activity for kids unaccustomed to outdoor play. All you need is chalk and nice flat stretch of concrete. Sidewalk chalk is keeping with the times—Crayola has 3D chalk, glow in the dark chalk and even sidewalk chalk “tattoos.” Find a box at , , or .
Paper Airplanes: Another easy one for older kids who think playing outside is boring. Challenge kids to built the perfect paper airplane, then have a contest to see who’s plane goes the farthest or can hit a target in the yard. Find directions on folding the perfect plane here, or just get a balsa plane from Michael’s for a buck or two.
Jump Rope: It’s good for your heart and your footwork—just ask Rocky. Pickup a proper jump rope at or , or just make do with a length of rope from Dad’s workshop. Maybe if you get good enough, you can join the Comet Skippers (video).
Jarts: The outlawed lawn game of Jarts is making a comeback, but without the deadly metal spikes. New Jarts are all plastic with a weighted (and blunt) tip that perfectly mimics old style Jarts. Enjoy these from Kmart.
Shadow Tag: one of the endless variants on the simple game of tag, this one requires a bright sunny day. The object is to step on your opponent’s shadow.
Nerf Gun Fight: Gather up the neighborhood kids and let them put their Call of Duty/Halo/Fallout moves to the reality test—with Nerf. Sure, you’ll be mowing up bits of orange foam for weeks, but it’s worth it to see the kids work up a sweat for once.
Bean Bag Toss: A.K.A. cornhole or corn toss, this simple game just takes bean bags and a target board. You can purchase a readymade set at Target or whip up a simple game using bean filled socks and piece of cardboard with a hole cut in it.
Obstacle Course: Create an obstacle course in the back yard and see who can get through it fastest. This game is just as fun to set up as to play. You can create obstacles with just about anything—patio chairs to run around, tunnels made of clotheslines strung between trees and a blanket on top, boxes to hop over. Have kids use their imagination, and a little common sense so no one gets hurt.
Scavenger Hunt: Make a list of things that the kids need to find and bring back, like a blade of grass, an acorn and a blue toy from the sandbox. You can add a high tech twist by letting the kids use a digital camera to take pictures of objects, which will let you widen the fields with objects like “things with four legs” or photos of street signs nearby.