A plot or incentive keeps them more entertained. Cops and robbers is a mainstay; half the crew has robbed a bank and the other half has to wrangle them and turn them into the authorities (that'd be you, sitting on the porch with your refreshing glass of iced tea). If you have some cool costumes lying around to help set the scene for the kiddos, that's even better. Inclusive games like this will entice the neighborhood kids to hop the fence and get involved -- even your eye-rolling 'tween will enjoy the thrill of this chase!
Outdoor bowling is an awesome option for kids ages four and up. I love an oversized outdoor toy, and this jumbo bowling set doesn't disappoint. Fun for the kids (and grownups, too!), store it indoors easily and then inflate the day of. You can apply standard bowling game rules but the kids will also have a blast making up their own unique ways to play and knock down these larger-than-life pins.
Make or purchase them and let the games begin! You can find great ones online (I'm particularly fond of anything with a rainbow theme, like this one, because they look so beautiful in the air). In addition to simply flying them, create a series of challenges to add intrigue to the game. Can they get their kites to "kiss" in the air without getting their strings tangled? Who can make a zig-zag pattern? How many paces do they need to take before the kite reaches a particular tree, and so on...
A girlfriend of mine and I recently watched in wonder after we'd dug out the already-opened plastic Easter eggs and took 10 minutes hiding them in her living room and kitchen. The kids were so pumped to have an activity to do that felt somewhat special and outside the norm, even without the promise of a prize inside. Whether it's leftover plastic eggs or just a bag of dollar-store figurines, dice, and marbles, a quick hiding session with a list of fun hints at finding them will be a blast for all.
Set up a backyard "yoga studio" with towels (if you don't have mini yoga mats). While running around the yard is fun, a focused exercise like yoga can reign everyone in and help calm them down after active play. Play soft music on your phone and, if you know any poses, demonstrate and lead like an instructor would. If not, you can use a book to guide you, or have the kids take turns in the instructor role making up their own.
It would be a total no-go inside, but kids can call up their inner Jackson Pollack outside without a huge mess for you to clean up afterward. Grab a roll or two of easel paper and nontoxic, washable paint. You can let them run completely wild or add some extra intrigue and a dash of order by setting up the paint in little dots ahead of time. Cover each dot with a cotton round and have them bang each one with a rubber mallet to discover what color paint is below as it splatters out.
Break out the buckets and sponges for some car washing. Whether it's their own bikes and miniature cars or your real one (with assistance), this will create a sudsy, giggly good time that benefits Mom and Dad in the long run. If you have older kids and can join them, you might even consider toting your supplies and offering car washes to the neighbors in exchange for a couple dollars to put toward ice cream afterward.
You can go all out by bringing the speakers outside, or turn on the beats right on your cell phone. We love using Pandora to find new songs in our favorite kid-friendly genres, because those typical kiddo mixes can get boring after a while. Try alternating between fast and slow songs so you can play around with different tempos and moves in your dancing. End on a soft note and send the kids home tired.
All you'll need are some old sheets or towels, some goodies from the recycle bin, and an imagination to get the games going. Drape the sheets strategically over low trees or off your fence, affixing with packing tape, string, or simply tying into a self-knot. If you have any blue towels or blankets to act as "water," you can lay them down between two opposing forts to create an ocean battleground. The kids on lookout can use paper towel tubes as telescopes, and their imaginations will do the rest.
The whole gang (and the parents, too!) will go crazy for a DIY outdoor, larger-than-life version of Yard Yahtzee. You can find the materials and instructions here, and get ready for tons of laughs all around. For older kids, go ahead and challenge them to the original rules of Yahtzee, in which the game consists of 13 rounds. Each player rolls to get the highest score from the five dice, in a different category per round. With younger kids, you can use the large dice for all sorts of different games, from basic counting to number matching and so on.
It's an oldie but a goody -- nothing says adventure like a tent like this one in the backyard. Even in the light of day, a good ghost story and classic campfire snacks (you can warm marshmallows over the stove and bring them outside to make s'mores) will do the trick. The idea here is to bring all the fun of a camping vacation to your outdoor play date, so be creative and focus on fun. Check out our ultimate guide to camping in your backyard for more ideas and must-haves.
Water is one of those things that never gets old, and every generation of kids loves running through the sprinkler. Advise the play date parents to drop them off with a bathing suit and a change of clothes, and send them all outside to go wild. Mom tip: moving the sprinkler around the lawn a few times during play time keeps it more interesting for them and waters your lawn evenly. Boom.
This is another freebie and it's fun even past the toddler years. Make it a competition with the bigger kids. Who can spot a house with (or without) shutters? How many squirrels do they see across the street? What is the most popular type of car, color house, and so on, down the block? Can they spot something exotic (like a bird you don't normally see) or something with spots? Especially with kiddos who love tablets and video games, you might be amazed to see how much fun they have simply scoping out the world around them when you prod a bit. This seems more like a outdoor playdate idea...
There are countless ways you can make a cheap set of ring toss rings fun . Always be careful if using them for actual ring toss on a sidewalk and supervise to ensure no one goes into the street after a ring. But you can also lay these out for a more inventive version of hopscotch, engage the kids in a wrist-twirling competition, and so on. $4.01 for the set, Amazon.
UNO is always a hit with the kids, and taking a classic indoor like this one outside is a fun change of pace on a gorgeous day. At under $10, this is a cheap way to beat boredom. Don't have an UNO deck? Kids love the challenge of learning new card games. "I Doubt It" (which you probably know more fondly as Bulls**t) is a great option. For little ones who aren't quite ready to grasp card games with rules, you can set up a simple game of memory by facing the cards down and having them pair hearts, kings, and so on by lifting up one at a time and replacing each until they have a match.