Here are the classic children’s games that we have all played for generations. They are good, clean fun, keep the kids active, and can be done very cheaply.
Egg & Spoon Race
- start line
- finish line (close for toddlers, as far away as possible for older children & adults)
- one spoon per person
- one plastic egg or 2 real eggs per person
Best played outdoors – unless you have a surface that makes it easy to clean broken eggs. (Or purchase an egg and spoon race kit* that uses plastic eggs.)
Any age group can play this game, even adults. Yes, eggs and competitive people make for hilarity.
Give each participant a spoon. You can give them a tablespoon to keep it easy, or a teaspoon to make it more difficult. There are even oversized spoons* specifically for this game.
Next, ask each participant to choose an egg from the carton. (For the very young, it is best to use plastic eggs* because they get upset when the egg breaks. Or, hardboil all the eggs.) Plan on 2 real eggs per person + a few more. Want to make it more fun? Hard boil one egg and randomly place it in the carton. Tell everyone that they may have an edge if they choose the right egg. It’s so funny to watch them try and figure out which one is hard boiled!
The goal of the game is to carry the egg on the spoon across a span to a finish line. Contestants should have their non-spoon hand behind their back. If the egg falls they need to run back to the starting line and begin again. If the egg breaks, they need to get a new egg which is kind of a time penalty. First person across the finish line with their egg on their spoon is the winner.
If children are playing, you may want to make a “no touching” rule so there’s no cheating and no tears. With adults, they like to try and make each other trip or drop the egg – its part of the strategy! The longer the span of the race, the more mayhem.
Want more? To make it more difficult, there’s the Ostrich Egg and Spoon Race kit* with huge eggs and wee little spoons – this is fun for an adult party, especially if the guys get the hard-to-carry eggs and gals get regular-sized eggs. For toddlers there is the Melissa and Doug Turtle Egg Race*. Another idea for children is to use fillable plastic eggs* and put a prize inside that matches your party theme – everyone wins.
Musical Chairs or Statues
- something that plays music but is easy to stop playing quickly, cellphone will do
- chairs for musical chairs game
The goal of Musical Chairs is to keep playing until there is only one chair left, and the first person to sit in the last chair wins.
Put chairs in a circle for the very young or one long line, with one less chair than the number of contestants. Play music while participants march around the chairs. Randomly stop the music. When the music stops, participants must sit in a chair as quickly as they can. The person who isn’t seated is eliminated and claps along with the music, encouraging the person in charge of the music to stop it from playing. Remove a chair from the lineup and ask contestants to march again. Repeat until there are two marchers and only one chair.
Children love the alternative game, Statues. No chairs required. Participants stand arms length away from each other and dance (crazily) to the music. When the music stops randomly, they must “freeze” in whatever position they are in. If the person who stops the music sees them move – not freezing fast enough or falling over – they are eliminated until there is only one person left, the winner.
Pass the Parcel & Hot Potato
- small-sized prize tightly wrapped in many layers of wrapping paper, tissue paper, bubble wrap, newspaper, cellophane, plastic wrap, etc. for Pass the Parcel, or a large uncooked potato for Hot Potato game
- something that plays music but is easy to stop playing quickly, cellphone will do
- optionally: mittens or oven mitts for each participant
For Pass the Parcel game, have participants sit in a circle. While the music is playing, the parcel is passed around from person to person. When the music randomly stops, the person holding the parcel tries to unwrap one layer from the parcel before music starts. When music begins again, parcel is passed around the room. This continues until the prize is completely unwrapped.
The person in charge of stopping and starting music should have their back to the group so they feel assured that there is no preference in who gets to unwrap the parcel. Conversely, if you have a young group you may want to watch and make sure everyone gets a turn to unwrap a layer.
Prize can be a something that the last person unwrapping the gift wins. Or – you can put one small, thin, gift in each layer so the person who unwraps the layer gets a prize. This means some people can get more than one gift and some get nothing. If you want everyone to walk away with a gift, make the prize in the center a clue to the location of a prize for everyone.
Of course, there are prepared parcels you can purchase:
For Hot Potato, the goal is the opposite: you don’t want to be the one holding the item when the music stops. That person is eliminated from the circle. Music plays again and when it stops another participant is eliminated. This continues until there is only one person left not holding the potato, who is the winner.
You can rename this game to Hot whatever-matches-your-party-theme. For a cowboy party you can pass around a plastic horseshoe or cowboy hat. For a princess party, a tiara. For a dinosaur party, a Hot T-Rex toy.
There is an electronic Hot Potato that plays the music/stops the music for you. It includes “potato chips” that participants collect – 3 and you’re out.
There’s an electronic Shocktato that – you guessed it – shocks you if you’re holding it when the music stops. There’s also an “extreme” choice where music doesn’t play. For adults and teens, not children.
There is a Pool Hot Potato that splashes when you catch it.
Blind Man’s Bluff
One child is blindfolded with the goal of touching/tagging another child. Remaining participants try to stay out of reach. This game needs several adults to supervise.
When the blindfolded person “captures” someone, they try to identify that person. Set the rules about how they can touch by age group. (Usually their giggling is enough to identify who they are!)
If they are correctly identified, they become blindfolded. (Or, you can just make sure everyone has a turn.) Continue playing for a set time period or until everyone has been blindfolded.
Capture the Flag
You need a large number of people – 10 minimum, two teams of 5. Give them arm bands, head bands, bandanas or something that matches your party theme to wear to distinguish members of each team. For instance, zombies versus humans.
You need a huge playing area, outdoors is best. The best playing area will have different types of terrain with open space for sprinting, hiding areas like bushes, small buildings, ditches, fences, etc. (There’s an inflatable Battle Zone and Bunker.)
Divide the playing area into 3 sections: 2 equal-sized areas at each end, one for each team, and a center “neutral zone”.
In each team’s section there is a “jail” area where captured members of the opposing team are kept and somewhere to hide the flag.
Use a flag that matches the theme of your party, or use a themed item instead of a flag. For instance, you can use 2 cowboy boots for a cowboy party, a stuffed Stegosaurus & Velociraptor for a dinosaur party, etc.
The goal is to scout out, then steal, the opposing teams flag and take it back to your own territory before being tagged.
If a participant is tagged while in the opposing team’s territory, they get put in jail. A team member can tag them to free them from jail but if they risk being tagged by the opposing team and being put in jail as well.
The team who finds and successfully steals their opposing team’s flag wins. You can set a time limit or play until there’s a winner.
- play at night – give participants glow in the dark gear and/or flashlights
- paintball – for teens and adults
- water pistols to “tag”
- tennis ball in a sock to “tag”
- 4 teams
- laser tag
- Glow in the dark Ninja weapons
- Wizards versus Werewolves
- tag at night by shining beam of flashlight or laser pointer on person
A treasure hunt can have the participants following their own clues to their own prize at the end of the clue trail. Make clues in a different color for each person – with all their clues in that color – so everyone knows which clues are their own and which to leave uncovered if found.
Or you can use it as a team building effort, having the group work together to solve clues, relying on different people’s strengths & skills along the way.
(For Christmas on year, we gave our teens all gift cards for movie theatre, restaurants, online places they visit, etc. Since they are difficult to wrap, I came up with the idea to make a treasure hunt where they found a different gift card at each. The clues were based on memories of their life such as the time you . . . and they had to go where the event happened to find the clue. They still say it was one of their favorite Christmas gifts because they loved the treasure hunt!)
A treasure hunt can be created around your party theme. A pirate party looks for buried treasure with a map. A detective theme finds clues to objects that solve a mystery and can use invisible ink*, etc. Clues usually lead to another clue and take hunters to an end point. There can be small themed prizes with each clue, one big themed prize at the end, a themed goodie bag of items, or a craft for them to complete.
Types of clues:
- a map to follow
- a string/yarn to follow that crisscrosses rooms, closets, goes over and under furniture, through blanket tunnels, etc.
- picture clues for very young children
- photos of the prize in a place in your home or venue
- mathematical equations
Plan where you want to hide each clue and then write the clues to link one to the next.
Explain the rules to the hunters
- let them know what areas are off limits or have no clues
- if everyone is looking for their own personal clues tell them not to uncover ones that are not their color
- tell them who they can ask for help solving clues
- let them know the time limit if there is one
- searching for clues doesn’t mean bulldozing through everything – solve the clue!
I bought the Klutz Treasure Hunt Book when my kids were little and we used it a million times. It has all different types of treasure hunts for different age groups. It has cards that you can punch out and use at anytime with the clue on one side and the place to hide it on the other. We used them for parties, rainy days, oh-so-bored days. Fast & so easy to use.
Follow the Leader
This is a great game for a birthday party – the birthday boy or girl is the leader and as children arrive for the party they fall in and play. It can end at any time.
Everyone follows the leader’s movements, doing what they do, going where they go. This is more fun if there is an obstacle course or outdoors.
If they can’t complete the movement they:
- are eliminated
- have a time penalty
- no penalty at all, just keep playing
What Time is it Mr Wolf?
One participant is designated the wolf – usually the fastest runner. The other participants come as close as they dare and ask, “What time is it Mr Wolf?” The wolf responds, “two o’clock”, “time for bed” or whatever they think of until they deem one of the participants close enough for them to tag. They then say, “Time for dinner!” and everyone tries to outrun Mr Wolf. If someone is tagged, they become the next wolf. If no one is tagged, Mr Wolf stands still with their arms crossed and the other participants start asking them questions again.
- starting line
- finish line
- sack for each participant
You can ask a local farmer or feed mill for used burlap bags (which we have done before, and they were wonderful about it) or buy online. You may want to use woven plastic bags which aren’t as itchy or smelly.
It’s as easy as it sounds. Everyone jumps in a sack and lines up at the starting line. At ‘go’, they hop in their bags, getting up again (with help for the very young) when they fall. The first to cross the finish line wins.
One person is designated as “Simon” who leads participants through a series of physical feats that can be completed which standing in one spot.
- touch your nose
- wiggle your ear
- wink your eye
- hop 3 times on one foot
- reach as high as you can with your right arm
- jump up and down
Before they give an instruction, the leader says, “Simon says . . .” and performs the feat themselves. If they give an instruction without first saying “Simon says”, the followers should NOT do it.
The goal of game is for Simon to trick one or more of the participants into doing the wrong feat – such as jumping on their right leg rather than the left leg – or doing a feat when they didn’t begin with “Simon says”.
When there is someone who doesn’t complete a feat, doesn’t do it as instructed or does it when the leader doesn’t say “Simon says”, that person becomes the new leader or Simon.