Backyard Fun for the Summer!

Looking for ways to keep your kids occupied this summer? How about some "old fashioned" fun?

By Jestine Mayes, publisher Macaroni Kid Johnstown - Laurel Highlands - Altoona April 28, 2022

Every summer parents dread the countdown to the "I'm bored!" melody that our children sing daily. Looking back at the summers when I was younger, I decided that I want to plan ahead and have some things on hand to have some fun with the kids that doesn't include screen time and that will also allow them to play on their own when they decide they want some time away from each other. I've gathered up a few of our favorites growing up and I hope that your kids will find the fun in them as well!

Sack Races

Who doesn't love a good sack race? All you need are some pillow cases or canvas sacks to get the fun going! You can team up for a relay or everyone for themselves to the finish line!


This game can be played so many ways and can help hours pass by if you like. Draw the board with chalk on a sidewalk or if you're playing in grass, you can use spray paint to keep the board for days instead of having to replace every day. Live by or frequent a playground that doesn't have a board? Get permission from your city/town to have a Hopscotch board painted on the pavement! Raining outside? Use toy rings or tape to mark out the spaces and play inside! Number the spaces from one to nine, then pick a rock or other item as your "marker." Toss your marker onto the first space. Jump over that space, and land in each of the following spots. Turn around at the end and return, picking up your marker and jumping over the space again. Continue with space 2, space 3, and so on!

Hula Hoops

Years ago there were only one kind of hula hoops. Now there are weighted ones to help with weight loss, light up ones to  make the nights more fun and for the professionals there are even ones that you can light up with fire! For our little ones we'll just stick with the good old regular hoops though! Put on a hooping contest to see who can go the longest!

Musical Chairs

Back in the day, it just wasn't a birthday if you didn't play musical chairs! All you need for this fun game is a few chairs (one shy of the number of players) and a source of music! Use your iPad, phone or radio to play the music as everyone circles around the chairs. When the music stops everyone scrambles for a seat! The player left standing, or sitting on a lap, is out! Remove one chair and keep going until there is only one player left!


This might not be much of a game, but it sure does take the imagination! I remember playing house with all the neighborhood kids every summer until my grandmother decided I was "too old" to be playing house. My friend Brian and I were often keeping an eye on all the younger kids in the neighborhood, not because we were asked to, but because that's what we did back then, we looked out for each other. Our "house" would be the loft of the swing set, the clearing under the trees or anywhere else that had enough room. We'd swing the younger ones on our legs "banana split" style and have them laughing for hours. There were always baby dolls for the younger "mamas" and we'd take turns "making" lunch or "fixing" boo-boos.

Hide & Seek

Always a classic and always fun! See what secret hiding spots you can come up with in your yard, at the park, or even in your living room on a rainy day! Have some older kids? Hand them a bunch of mini flashlights when the sun starts going down to start a night-time game! 

Red Light, Green Light

With one person as the "stop light" and the rest as the players, race to the finish line by following the commands of red light, yellow light green light! Racers run when they hear "green light" and walk when "yellow light" is called! Watch out for the "red light" as you have to stop and stand still! Make the game even more challenging by requiring anyone that moves during red light to have to start at the beginning!

Mother May I

Similar to Red Light, Green Light, this game has one person as "mother" and the rest of the players as "children." Each player takes a turn asking "Mother, may I take….." with Mother either granting their wish with a "Yes, you may," or denying their request with a "No, you may not." When we played this game some of our requests included baby steps, leaps, hops, etc. Your request can be anything that comes to mind! Be the first to reach the finish line and you win! Put a spin on the game by having Mother face away from the participants so that they don't know who is asking or when someone gets close enough to tag the leader, they fall back in the game to a predetermined spot.

Jump Rope

Whether jumping rope by yourself, jumping double-dutch or jumping Chinese jump rope, this sport takes a lot of energy, endurance and good knees! Jump by yourself or with friends! Add in some jump rope rhymes and songs and you can find yourself jumping for hours! Get good enough at jumping and you could even participate in roping competitions that are held all over the world, with jump rope groups found in many larger cities. 

Red Rover

Best played with your neighborhood friends or your rowdy bunch of cousins, this game pairs everyone into two equal teams. Each team has a captain who, when it's their turn, decides who they want on their team. The team joins hands and sings "Red Rover, Red Rover, send So-So right over." The requested person runs over to the team, trying to break through their hands. If they get through, they go back to their team, but if they can't get through they join the team that requested them. Each team takes turns requesting and capturing players until there is one team with only one person, or the street lights come one and everyone has to go home! Whichever comes first! 

Tag/Freeze Tag

This game can go forever, or until everyone is bored again! Everyone runs around trying not to be tagged by the person who is chosen as "IT." When someone is tagged, they either become the new "IT" or in Freeze Tag they must stand as still as ice. They only way they can become unfrozen is if another player tags you free! Once everyone is frozen, the person who is "IT" is the winner!

Heads Up Seven Up

I remember playing this in school on rainy days! You need at least 14 players to play this game, but it can be adapted for playing outside at picnic tables, making it fun for reunions or birthday parties! To start, the teacher randomly chooses seven kids to start the game. Our teacher always had our names on paper and in a bin to choose from, as we routinely played this on rainy days. The teacher shouts "Heads down, Thumbs up!" Everyone else sits in their seat with their heads down, eyes closed, arms extended on their desk and their thumb sticking up. The seven at the front go around and each chooses one thumb and presses it down. When all seven are back up front, Teacher shouts "Heads up, Seven up!" to which those whose thumbs were pressed, stands up and everyone else can raise their heads back up. The players then take turns trying to guess who pushed their thumb down. If they guess right, they take that person's spot at the front. If they guess wrong, they sit back down for another round.  

Cat's Cradle

Usually played by little girls when I was younger, this game can be played alone or with a friend, by wrapping a string around your hands and making shapes based on how you grab certain places in the string and where you open your hands. You can make your own string with some yarn, a shoelace, or any other long enough item. There are books and videos showing how to start wrapping your string and how to make different string shapes such as the beginning "cat's cradle," the "witch's broom," "Jacob's ladder," and more!


This is a good one to show kids how stories change not only each time they're told but also by each person that retells a story. Everyone sits in a circle and one person whispers a sentence into their neighbors ear. That person then whispers it into the next persons ear, and so on, until they reach the last person. The last person says the sentence out loud, usually to lots of giggles from the group. The ending sentence is usually very different from the original and results in lots of laughs. Now start the process over with someone else!

Jestine Mayes is the publisher of Macaroni KID Johnstown - Laurel Highlands - Altoona, PA.