Outdoor Games for Backyard Fun
Lure everyone off their devices with these fun-for-all activities
by Jessica Press and Ashley Primis, AARP, May 22, 2020
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En español | While the traditional markings of summer — camp, the community pool, festivals and fairs — look different this year, there is still plenty of outdoor amusement to be had.
Ratchet up the generational competition and soak up the sun with these family-friendly games and activities that will make any backyard a lot more fun … in minutes.
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Cornhole (and golf cornhole!)
This backyard game has become ubiquitous for good reason: It's uncomplicated, loads of fun and great for a group. It's played by tossing beanbags into — or as close as possible to — holes in an elevated platform. “The game is very easy to learn, and it offers the opportunity for people of a very, very wide range of ages to play,” says Trent Henkaline, president of the American Cornhole Association, the governing body that codified the rules for backyard play. Looking to mix it up a bit? Try one-off versions, like mini golf cornhole, where you sink a putt to win. From $29.
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Not unlike cornhole, this game consists of two stations where teams toss objects to accrue points. The differences? These stations look like mini ladders and the objects being thrown are bolas — short ropes with golf balls on the end. Because of the weighted ends, the bolas wrap around the rungs of the ladder; each rung has a different point value. “It's one of our favorite outdoor games,” says Dean Smith, co-owner of jaZams toy store in Princeton, New Jersey. “People of all ages love it, and even toddlers can play.” This family version collapses for easy transport. From $59.
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Ninja obstacle course
Kids all over the country are obsessed with the TV show American Ninja Warrior and the Junior version, where children are the competitors. And you can turn most backyards into a mini training center thanks to the many obstacle-course kits on the market. Top-line versions include a slackline where you can hang ziplines, hooks, knots and ropes for kids to swing, climb and hang from. No trees? Some kits that include floor games (mini hurdles, agility rings, potato sacks) will still keep the competition going. From $59.
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While the exact origins of this game are unknown, Italians are credited with making it popular. Traditionally, bocce — a team game in which you roll larger balls to try to get closer to a small white ball — is played in a gravel pit, but it's equally challenging on sand or grass. Consider adding a unique twist by purchasing a light-up set, so the family can hang out after the sun goes down. From $39.
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"Badminton has always been popular,” says Smith, of jaZams toy store. “But this year it's really popular. It's an easy game that takes just a few minutes to get enough skill to make it entertaining.” The game, which involves launching a shuttlecock over a net with racquets, even became an Olympic sport in 1992. From $38.50.
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This popular beach game involves bouncing a ball off of a low-slung circular net that's reminiscent of a mini trampoline. It soared to popularity after debuting on the TV show Shark Tank and works for all ages. A competitive Spikeball league in Fort Collins, Colorado, has at least 100 players, and several are over age 55. “Sure, the 20-year-olds dive around all the time, but there are many families of multiple generations that have fun with it in their backyard,” says Skyler Boles, Spikeball's senior community development and education specialist. “There are simple, easy rule modifications to make it even more accessible to any age group.” From $59.
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Think of this Swedish lawn game (pronounced “koob") as a mash-up of ring toss, bowling and chess — with teams. The overall premise is that players toss large wooden dowels and try to topple their opponents’ “knights.” Once they've done that, they can go after the king. It gained popularity in the Midwest and continues to grow: In 2017, 455 players participated in the National Kubb Championship in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. From $49.99.
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Elevate the average frisbee toss with this clever take: Teammates stand at opposite cans and score points by deflecting their partner's frisbee throw into the can. If you've got someone with an ace arm, they should aim for the front slot; that's called an “instant win!” From $39.99.
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Your backyard may not be Augusta National, but it can likely stand in for the Putt-Putt place down the road. These clever kits come with holes, flags and all the obstacles — windmills, twirls, ramps — that make mini golf so challenging. (Some sets are glow-in-the-dark for nighttime or basement rainy-day play.) Bonus: The DIY nature of the kits means building the holes is as entertaining as playing them. From $119.