Hit the dirt

What it is: A night game, one you play outside when it’s dark in a big park and you have lots of energy to use up. For big groups.

Best for: A big group of at least 10 players.

What you need: Somewhere to play. A big park is perfect. You want somewhere fairly open, but you’ll also need landmarks (like trees or something). And the more people you have to play, the better.

How to play: First, set up your playing area. Choose an area of the park to be the home base (this can just be a spot of ground, or a tree or something). Then you’ll need to choose several landmarks around home base, maybe about three to seven, depending on the size of your playing area and desired difficulty of your game. These can be trees, playground equipment, etc. They should all be visible from the home base area, which should be in the middle of the play area.

Then choose someone to be It (say it’s Johnny). Johnny stands on home base and everyone else scatters and hides around home base, but not too far; you can set up boundaries for the game at the beginning. Players really shouldn’t need to stray beyond any of the landmarks. And they should also stay close enough to hear Johnny shout.

The point of the game (for everyone but Johnny) is to make it to each of the landmarks and finally to home base without being spotted by Johnny. The point of the game for Johnny is to spot everyone else.

Here’s how it works: Once everyone is situated and hiding around the playing area, Johnny shouts out a number, any number, like “Fifteen!” Johnny should be sure to shout loud enough so everyone can hear him. Then Johnny starts counting out loud up to that number, also loud enough for people to hear. And while Johnny counts, he closes his eyes.

When Johnny closes his eyes, that’s everyone’s chance to move. All the players get up from their hiding spots and book it to their next destination (maybe the closest landmark, or maybe another hiding point somewhere along the way, if the next landmark is far).

When Johnny reaches the number he said he would count to, he immediately opens his eyes, so that’s everyone else’s cue to hide lickety split. (If you’re close to a hiding spot, reach it; if you’re not, hit the dirt and freeze and hope Johnny doesn’t spot you.)

When Johnny opens his eyes, he can look all around the playing area, trying to spot players. If he does see someone, he shouts out to them (he doesn’t have to identify them by name) and they’re out of the game. For example, he might say, “I see someone hiding behind the tall pine tree!” The person behind the tall pine tree (you know who you are) would be eliminated.

(For those of you who don’t like games where players are eliminated, you could modify the rule to say that any player spotted has to go back to home base and start their quest to touch each landmark over, but can remain in the game. This will make it impossible for Johnny to “win,” though.)

Once Johnny is done spotting, he shouts another number and counts again. Johnny will want to choose a good mix and balance of high and low numbers to call out. If he picks a number too low, like three, maybe none of the players will be daring enough to move at all. That won’t do Johnny any good. But if he throws out a bigger number, like thirty, the players might get really daring and aim for something far – giving Johnny the advantage if the players miscalculate the distance to their next hiding spot. It might take some tries to figure out the ideal range of numbers for your playing area.

The whole time, Johnny never leaves the home base. All the other players try to strategically and sneakily make their way to each landmark and finally to home base. They have to touch each landmark on the way, and make it all the way to home base (basically right next to Johnny) before he sees them. The first person to successfully accomplish this wins. Then the winner gets to be it (or maybe choose someone else to be it, if that’s more of a reward for you and your friends).

If Johnny happens to eliminate all players before anyone can touch home base, he wins.

Variations: I’ve also heard this same game called “commando.” And I guess it’s kind of a (more intense) variation of hide and seek.


What it is: An outdoor group game, not terribly active, but it does involve kicking/catching/pegging (traditionally with a hacky sack).

Best for: Group of about 6 to 8.

What you need: A ball to play with, usually a hacky sack. You could also try with a bigger ball, like a soccer ball. Or for a really easy game with smaller kids, use one of those kickball-sized lightweight rubber balls filled with air, like the ones you see at Walmart in those big nets, you know?

How to play: First everyone stands in a circle. One player, like Cole, starts by holding the hacky sack and then volleys it to another player, like Sarah. Then Sarah passes it to someone else in the circle, using her feet, knees, or head, but no hands. (Or, go ahead and allow hands if you want. No one’s going to stop you.) As Sarah passes the hacky, everyone counts “one” out loud. Then as the hacky is passed again, everyone counts “two” out loud. After the hacky is passed a third time and everyone counts “three” out loud, anyone is allowed to catch the hacky with their hands. Say Cole happened to catch it again.

Now Cole gets a chance to try to peg another player and eliminate them. He can’t move his feet at all, but everyone else is allowed to take exactly five steps away from him. After they do, he looks around and carefully chooses someone to peg, like Sarah. If he’s successful in pegging her (from the neck down), Sarah is out. If Sarah catches the hackey in her hands, Cole is out. If Cole misses, nothing happens. Then start the three volleys again. Continue playing until one player remains, the winner.

Variations: I think this game is also called wacky sack (haha). And you could easily adapt or modify the rules for the size of the group or the skill of your players. You could have more than three volleys, for example, before someone is allowed to catch the hacky. You could have players take three steps away from the pegger instead of five. You could make a rule that if someone tries to peg someone but misses entirely, they’re eliminated. Or if a player is pegged, instead of being eliminated right away, you could give them a letter and then once a predetermined word is spelled, like spaz, for example, they’d be out of the game. Anyway, just experiment with the rules if you want to and find something that works for you.

Also, the game spud is a little similar and a little more active (and, personally, I think that one’s a little more fun).

Line tag

What it is: A simple variation of regular tag.

Best for: A big group of 10 or more players.

What you need: A basketball court, or preferably one of those combined basketball-and-volleyball-courts-in-one. (There are more lines drawn on the ground that way, and lines are the point of this game.)

Not the most accurate picture ever, but you get the idea.

How to play: Just like in regular tag, choose someone to be It. And just like in regular tag, It runs around and tries to tag the other players, making them It instead. But unlike regular tag, all players (including It) can only run on the lines of the court. So no touching the ground unless you’re on a line. (But it is way cool when you can jump from one line to another, haha!)

It’s a fun game because you kind of have to think ahead, or else you can easily get cornered by It and tagged. The game also requires more finesse and balance than regular tag. Oh yeah, finesse and balance, that’s so totally my kind of game…well, not really. But still, I have fun.

And that’s the game! Once It tags someone, that person becomes the new It and runs around trying to tag someone else. Depending on how many people you’re playing with, you might want to have more than one person as It. Also, when I played, I seem to remember a rule that you couldn’t run, only walk. But I think that was mostly because my sisters, friends, and I played at our church building. Well, just on week nights while we waited for our moms to finish chatting after their activity…except for maybe those few times on Sunday while we waited for our moms to finish chatting after church. And that’s when we defintiely tried to walk and be quiet, because if we got caught, we’d have to stop. 😉

Variations: You could play with the variation that once someone is tagged (or is caught stepping off of a line), they have to sit down in place, thus blocking other players from passing them on the line. The player who is It can pass the blocks, but not anyone else, making it a little more challenging for everyone (and making it possible for It to trap people and win more easily). If you play like this, you could make a rule that the last person (besides It) who is standing wins the round.

This is also one of those super easy adaptable games that you could easily make your own rules to. Like, if you’re tagged you actually have to run backwards or something. Anyone have any good rules or ideas to share?


What it is: I know there are a lot of games called chicken, but this one is the one we always played in the pool growing up. It’s a fun and rough (and therefore slightly dangerous) pool game.

Best for: 4 to about 8 players.

What you need: Just a pool and some people to play. It’s best if you have people of varying sizes/ages.

How to play: The game is played in the shallow end of the pool with at least four players (but up to, oh, like eight or ten, if you wanted). Players form pairs and try to eliminate the other pairs from the game.

In this game, let’s say there are four players: Jim and his younger sister Susie and their cousins Leo and Travis. Jim and Susie are one pair. To get ready to play, one of them (probably Susie, assuming she’s smaller) will sit on the other’s shoulders. Jim would stay standing in the shallow end. Leo (say he’s smaller) would also get on Travis’s shoulders, like this:

Then someone yells “go!” and the game begins. The point is for each pair to knock the top player off of the other pair. This is done primarily by Susie and Leo grabbing, pushing, shoving, and pulling each other (but no hitting, kicking, or biting). Travis and Jim also play strategic roles in maneuvering around each other and could even try to trip each other if they were really aggressive.

As you can imagine, it’s a pretty rough game. (We played with my cousins a lot, and I don’t think our parents ever liked it, but we played anyway.) It’s kind of one of those anything-goes games. And I guess not much of a game for strategy…the biggest or toughest players usually win. But it’s fun because different combinations of pairs can lead to different outcomes (for example, say Travis is really strong, but Leo’s kind of a wuss, or the other way around.)

The game is over when one of the top players falls off their partner’s shoulders and into the water. (It’s debatable whether a team getting dunked, even if the top player stays on top of the bottom player’s shoulders, counts as losing or not.) We also had some pretty fun ongoing games with lots of pairs (where anyone could attack anyone else), and then if you fell down you got right back up again and jumped back into the fray.

Disclaimer: Though I’ve never personally known anyone to become injured in a game of chicken, please be careful when you play. Letting especially big or aggressive kids play with smaller kids might be dangerous…so make sure everyone is safe, aware, and kind.


What it is: Basically the same game as watermelon, just with different equipment. A rough-and-tumble, physically active game played in the pool with big groups. Best for teens and older.

Best for: About 10 players to however many you can comfortably fit in a pool.

What you need: First, a swimming pool. Second, a clear plastic 2-liter soda bottle. Finally, at least, oh, I’d say ten people to play.

How to play: First, get your equipment ready. Make sure your 2-liter soda bottle is actually clear (not tinted green) and empty. It’s also best if it has a white cap. Rinse out the bottle and remove the label as completely as you can. Finally, fill it to the top with clear water.

Optional: Find two pool floaties (the small, simple ring kinds).

There, now you’ve got your equipment. Out by the pool when you’re ready to play, divide your players into two even teams and your pool into two equal sides. Each team gets a side. If you have pool floaties, put them right outside the pool at each team’s end. (The floaties will make the goals.) All of the players get into the pool and hold onto the edge of their side of the pool, with their backs facing the middle.

Then someone who’s not playing (or one player who volunteers to sit out at first in order to start the game) stands outside the pool and tosses the 2-liter bottle into the middle of the pool. As soon as everyone hears it splash, the game begins.

The object of the game for each team is to get the bottle into the opposing team’s goal (which is the floaty, if you’re using floaties, or just the outside edge of the pool, if you’re not). To do this, players simply find, grab, and swim with the bottle. Which isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, because for the defense, almost anything goes—
except no biting, kicking, scratching, drowning, otherwise hurting, or getting out of the pool. Other than those things, players are pretty much free to do what they can to score, or to keep the other team from scoring.

The twist in this game is that a clear 2-liter soda bottle filled with water is halfway buoyant and very hard to see under water, so finding it becomes as much of a challenge as maneuvering it. Multiple times within a game, the bottle might become lost, and everyone will focus on finding the bottle. (When you do find it at that point, try to refrain from shouting “I found it!,” which will only get you tackled, and instead see if you can quietly sneak it into the other team’s goal to score.) Teams are free to set up their own strategies as they see fit, if they want a strategy at all. You might pick at least one designated goalie. (But the goalies can’t park it too close to the goal and refuse to move all game long.)

Once a team scores, switch sides and start again. Play for a designated amount of time or to a certain score. Caution, though: this game can get exhausting, especially if you’re a go-getter about it.

Variations: Of course, watermelon is a fun, somewhat sillier variation. But I have great memories of playing bottle with my hardcore friends in high school in my family’s pool during summer nights. Ah, memories.