Capture the Flag
To start, divvy up at least six kids into two teams, each with a nice-sized territory — use neighboring driveways and fences to mark borders. The mission: Protect a brightly colored “flag” (a bandana, say) in your territory while trying to nab the opposing team’s flag. You win when you steal your rivals’ flag and make it all the way back to your own turf without being caught (before they steal yours!). This game calls for savvy planning — especially since being captured means going to jail, where the only escape is being tagged by a teammate.
Pick one kid to be Bad Bunny and make the rest Easter eggs of different colors (let ’em choose unless they’re way too indecisive). Designate a tree or a fence on the opposite side of the yard to serve as the goal, then send Bad Bunny to stand on that side. When Bad Bunny shouts, “I want some eggs!” the eggs must reply, “What color?” The bunny names a shade, like green or purple, and any child who chose the hue has to dash toward the goal. If the bunny catches an Easter egg before she reaches the goal, the egg becomes the Bad Bunny — everyone picks new colors and the game starts again. (Don’t worry about the Easter theme; kids love this one year-round!)
This game with a weird name dates back to the 1900s, when New York City kids played it on the streets for hours. Divide kids into two teams and designate a base, like a front porch or a tree stump. One team hides while the other counts, then the search begins. The goal is to catch a kid from the opposing team; shout, “Chain, chain, double chain, no break away;” and then haul him back to base. If you can corral every rival player, your team wins, but if a kid can break away before you say the entire chant, he’s still in the game. Plus, a team member can free jailed players by running to base and hollering, “All in, all in, free all!”
Ghost in the Graveyard
Designed to be played at dusk, this spooky game requires a generous-sized backyard. One courageous kid is the ghost, who hides while the rest of the players stay in the safety zone (a porch or by a tree), slowly counting, “One o’clock, two o’clock . . .” and so on through 11 o’clock. Then they yell, “Midnight! I hope I don’t see a ghost tonight.” Afterward, the players spread through the yard, searching for the ghost. The first person to spot her yells, “Ghost in the graveyard!” — a signal for the ghost to tag as many players as she can before they can run back to safety. The kids who get nabbed by the ghoulish ghost hide with her for the next round. Kids keep playing until there’s one survivor left.
This playground classic can transition to the backyard. Pick one child to be the statue maker. The statue maker grabs another player by the hand, whirls them in a circle a few times, then lets go. However the kid lands, he has to freeze in position, like a sculpture. Once all the players have been turned into frozen figurines, the statue maker strolls through the museum, trying to see if he can make one of his creations giggle. (Funny noises work wonders.)
Manhunt offers a souped-up version of hide-and-seek, in which players run to hide while up to three “hunters” stay behind to count to 100. Once the game begins, the hunters try to find and tag hiders, who then become hunters themselves. The winner is the kid who outfoxes all the hunters.
Steal the Bacon
Line kids up into two teams on opposite sides of the backyard. Assign a number to every kid, making sure that two kids — one on each side — have the same number. Center a piece of “bacon” (any small object, like a stick or a ball) between the teams. When the referee calls out a number, the two kids with that number race to be the first one to grab the bacon. If a player can get the bacon and make it back to his team without being tagged by his opponent, he scores a point. Whichever side reaches 10 points first wins.
Kick the Can
This game has a serious history, but it’s easy to play: All you need is at least three kids and an empty soda can (or anything noisy, like a metal pail). Put the can in an open space, choose someone to be It, and send the other players to hide. When It’s done counting, she tries to find and tag the other players, sending them to a designated jail. If the kid who’s It wrangles all the players into jail, she wins. But anyone’s who’s still roaming free can release all the prisoners — and win the game — by kicking the can without getting tagged.