Take Us Back

7 Old-School Outdoor Games To Channel A '90s Summer

Go lo-fi for the win.

by Amber Guetebier
Kids play tag in the summer
Imgorthand/Getty Images

It's true that screens have a time and a place (we're looking at you, 6 a.m. Sunday), but remember when "screen time" just meant marathoning Saturday morning cartoons or MTV and then heading out into the neighborhood to see what your friends were doing? This summer, encourage your offspring to do some free-roaming themselves and round up the kids around the block to join in on these old-school outdoor games beloved by '90s kids and P.E. teachers alike — no equipment required.

1. Ghost in the Graveyard

The perfect game to play at twilight or just after dark, this game's objective is to get back to base before being tagged by the "ghost." Think of it as a hybrid between hide-and-seek and tag, with a nice spooky twist. You need at least three players but the more, the merrier.

To play, designate boundaries of the graveyard (playing field), a base, and one person to start out as "it" or the ghost. After round one, the ghost is the losing player from each round.

All players except the ghost stand at base and close their eyes while the ghost hides. As a group, count together out loud (with eyes closed) "1 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock…" up until 11 o'clock. Then chant, "Midnight, the time is right; all ghosts come out tonight!"

Players now go on a ghost hunt. The ghost, who is hidden, is also trying to sneak back to base without being caught.

As soon as someone spots the ghost, shout, "Ghost in the graveyard!" The player that first spots the ghost is automatically safe and cannot be "it" next round.

Now all the other players must get back to the base before the ghost tags them. The first person tagged becomes the ghost next round. If the ghost doesn't get anyone, that player has to be the ghost again.

2. Capture the Flag

Remember this simple but active and enjoyable game? The only equipment you need is a "flag" for each team which can easily be a t-shirt, scarf, bandana, or even a towel. The flags should be different colors so it's clear which flag belongs to which team.

The game requires two teams, but you can play it with as many as four. Each team should have at least two to three players because you need to patrol your zone while looking for the other teams' flags. The object is to capture an enemy's flag and bring it back into your own zone without being caught.

Choose teams, boundaries for play, and dividing lines to determine each team's zones. Choose a spot for "jail."

Each team hides a flag within its own territory. Be sneaky about it so other teams can't see where you're hiding it, but don't bury it or make it impossible to find.

Meet at a central location, then countdown from 3 to start the game. You're trying to capture the flag from another zone while also protecting your own flag. If you are tagged while in an enemy's zone, you are sent to jail, where you must stay until your own teammate tags you to set you free. You cannot be tagged in your own territory.

To win, bring the enemy's flag back into your territory without being tagged. You can up the stakes and require teams to capture all enemy flags if you want more of a challenge.

3. Kick the Can

Another variation on hide-and-seek, this is one the grandparents probably remember playing. The only equipment required is a "can" to kick, which can be a plastic water bottle, an aluminum can, a small ball, etc., but you want it to make a little noise when it's kicked (and also not go too far). The idea is that players hide but, once spotted, must kick the can to avoid being jailed. You'll want at least three players.

Determine the boundaries of play and where "jail" is, then place the can in a central, conspicuous location. Choose one player to be "it" or the seeker while the other players hide. The seeker should count to at least 50, then head out to find the hidden players.

When the seeker spots someone, they must call out that hidden player's name and hiding spot. If the seeker gets it wrong, the player does not have to come out of hiding. If they get it right, the hidden player must now race back to the can to try and kick it before the seeker tags them.

If you kick the can before being tagged, you're safe, and you can go out and hide again while the seeker returns the can to the original spot. If you're tagged, you go to jail. Kicking the can immediately frees all players from jail, who then have to quickly go and hide again.

Players do not have to stay in the same hiding spot. They can move around to try to get to the can while the seeker is out looking elsewhere, but they may risk being caught. The next round starts when one player is caught three times. That player then becomes the seeker.

4. Flashlight Tag

Another excellent summer twilight game, this is a fun variation on regular tag. Choose the boundaries for the field of play and a jail. One person counts while the others hide. Once the count is done, the seeker heads out to find the hiders. Instead of tagging them physically, the seeker must call out their name and shine the flashlight on them. The tagged player then gets sent to jail. The last one standing wins, and the first person tagged becomes it the next round.

5. Freeze Tag

Ideally, you have at least five players for this version of tag, as you need two players to be "it." Keep it short and sweet with a time limit of 3 to 5 minutes.

The two players who are "it" chase the other players around, trying to tag them. When they succeed, they shout, "Freeze!" and the tagged player must stay where they are.

The other players must try unfreezing their teammates by touching them without being frozen themselves. The game ends when either everyone but the two "it" players are frozen or if the time runs out and at least one person is not frozen.

6. Statues

Sometimes also called Museum, this is a little like a freeze tag. To play, gather together at least four players. This game can be played nearly anywhere, but the larger the playing field, the more challenging it can become. The idea is that one person is a museum curator, and the statues are sneaking around at night. The curator wants to catch them in the act, but the statues want to avoid getting caught.

Designate the curator and have them stand at one end of the playing field while the rest of the players stand at the other, standing still as statues. The curator turns their back to the statues and shouts, "Go!" The statues all break their pose and run toward the curator. But whenever the curator turns around, the statues must freeze in place. The curator can walk up to the statues and inspect them; they must not move. If they do, they get sent back to the starting line. The curator turns their back again while statues move, and so on. The first person to reach the curator and tag them wins.

7. Simon Says

A simple game that children of all ages can play together. If you've got one older player, let them start as "Simon."

Gather a group of kids together and designate one person to play Simon. Simon stands on one side of the play area while the other players face them. Give about 15 to 20 feet of distance to allow for movement.

Simon gives instructions, such as "Simon says do jumping jacks..." or "Simon says stand on one foot." However, they can also try to trick other players by saying instructions without the "Simon says" at the start. ("Spin around!" or "Dance like no one's watching.”) If players move when Simon doesn't say "Simon says," they are out. Last person standing becomes Simon in the next round.