13 Dirty & Dangerous Outdoor Games Every Wisconsin Parent Needs to Teach their Kids

outdoor games for kids

Do you remember what it was like growing up in Wisconsin when you were a kid?

Your childhood was probably filled with sandbox creations and snow forts. You most likely tore through the neighborhood on your bike and had sword fights with sticks.

So what’s wrong with kids these days? With their video gaming and their smartyphones and all those app thingies. Why don’t they get outside and play instead of insta-chatting on their text machines?

Well, I’m here to tell you – it’s our fault as parents and grandparents. We’re the ones raising them, and all too often, we’re the ones holding them back.

But it’s not too late to turn things around. Let’s get dirty and dangerous.


Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with technology. Kids today have a lot of amazing opportunities most of us did not. And it’s true – they’re living in a different world.

While I’m not very concerned about the future of children in America, I do worry that some kids are missing out on what childhood is all about.

the sandlotThe other day my 3 and 5 year-old sons were watching the movie The Sandlota timeless kids-playing-baseball film that was one of my favorites as a kid. I love that they love it too.

During the movie, my 5 year-old, Max, turns to me and asks, “Dad, when can I go out and do things on my own – like go to the park by myself and stuff?”

He was watching the freedom those kids have in The Sandlot – running around their neighborhood, getting into trouble – and he knew he wanted it too. He saw they were having the time of their lives.

Many parents keep their kids busy with organized sports, music lessons and other activities. Those things almost always involve adults telling kids what to do.

Unfortunately, the biggest lesson we teach them there is how to follow orders. Rarely do those activities teach our kids how to think on their own and get along together without a grown up forcing them to share and be nice.

The Sandlot gang didn’t play in a summer Little League program. They organized games themselves. I believe the lessons kids learn playing with each other –unsupervised- will serve them much better in life.

But first – we may have to reprogram them. As a Wisconsin parent, it is our duty to teach our offspring the following outdoor activities.

Then set them loose. To be free. To be kids. To get hurt. To get filthy.

1. Capture the Flag

capture-the-flagYour kids might already be familiar with the rules of Capture the Flag. That’s probably because popular video games like Call of Duty and Halo have a Capture-the-flag mode.

But have your kids ever experienced this outdoor game in real life?

Classic Capture the Flag is best when played in a relatively large area with trees to hide behind. And it’s even better in the dark.

If you live in Green Bay, some good parks for Capture the Flag include Colburn Park on the west-side and Preble Park on the east-side. Voyager Park in De Pere and Green Isle Park in Allouez are two more good ones.

I’m not sure of the best places in the Fox Cities/Appleton area, so leave us a suggestion in the comments below if you have some.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

The most common injuries in Capture the Flag come from recklessly running through the woods. Your child may run smack into a tree trunk while looking over her shoulder at the opponent chasing after her.

Your child could also get an eye poked out with a stick.

Watch a Video on How to Play Capture the Flag

2. Red Rover

red-rover

Another classic group game for kids of all ages is Red Rover. While Capture the Flag is a bit complicated, Red Rover is super easy to play.

Remember the feeling in your gut when you heard the other side call you out? “Red Rover, Red Rover send Jimmy right over!”

Then you’d grit your teeth and run with all your might at the pair of kids you thought might be the weakest link. Or you targeted the kid who chose to call your name, just to prove to him (and everyone else) you could break through that line.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

Typically, kids will get clotheslined. They fail to break the line and instead land flat on their backs with the wind knocked out of them. It’s like some sort of professional wrestling move – only real.

Also – your child could suffer a dislocated elbow or shoulder. But at least the other kid didn’t make it through!

3.  Kick the Can

kick-the-canThere are a lot of variations to the game hide-and-seek. But Kick the Can has to be the most underrated.

When you teach your kids to play this game, make sure to use a real can. If you can find something like a big, old coffee can, that’s perfect. You need a can that is satisfying to kick and makes a lot of noise as it bounces around on the cement.

So set up the can in your driveway. If you live on a cul-de-sac, you’ve got the perfect arena for a game of Kick the Can with all the neighborhood kids.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

The most likely scenario for getting hurt in Kick the Can comes as two kids race for the can at the same time from different directions.

This could result in a head-on collision – much like two outfielders going for the same pop-fly in baseball.

Watch a Video on How to Play Kick the Can

4. Ghost in the Graveyard

Moon-ghost-graveyardHere’s another almost-forgotten version of hide-and-seek.

The big difference with Ghost in the Graveyard is the the kid who is “It” goes and hides while everyone else tries to find him.

As kids wander through the dark, they try to hunt down the Ghost. Then he jumps out of his hiding spot and scares the seekers, chasing and tagging them.

This game is best played at night, for obvious reasons. You get extra parenting points if you let your kids play it in an actual graveyard. Okay – I’m kidding. But it would certainly increase the scariness factor.

Sometimes, the “ghost hunters” use flashlights, which adds another fun element to the game. The kids in the video below turned their game of Ghost in the Graveyard into an awesome homemade scary movie!

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

With hide-and-seek games there’s always the possibility that someone will never get found. That likelihood increases after dark. If your kid scares easily or has a wild imagination – you may also be dealing with some bad dreams inspired by a game of Ghost in the Graveyard that got too real.

Watch Ghost in the Graveyard Movie – Made by Kids

5. Spud

spudBalls are amazing. All you need is a ball and some friends and you’ve got yourself a game. That’s certainly true with Spud, an activity I’d almost completely forgotten about.

Here’s how it works. All the kids gather around one person who is “It.” That person throws a ball in the air (as high as they can if they’re being honest) as the rest of the kids scatter.

When “It” catches the ball, she yells out “SPUD!” All the other kids have to freeze right where they are. Then the player with the ball tries to tag one of the other players with it.

Hit someone, and you’re not “It” anymore. Miss your target, and you’re trying again.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

Depending on what kind of ball is used, getting tagged in the face could leave your kid with a black eye or a missing tooth.

6. 500

playing-500

Another basic ball game is 500. I remember usually playing this with a football. But you can use anything.

There’s one kid with the ball or balls while other kids stand a good distance away.

The thrower launches a ball into the air, and yells out a number. That’s the point total you’ll get if you catch the ball, or are the first to pick it up, depending on how you play.

The first player in the field that reaches 500 points or more is the winner and gets to be the next thrower.  So your kids will actually do some mathematics in this game too!

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

Let me tell you a little story…

One day, my buddy Dave and I were playing 500 with our little brothers. We were using a big basket of tennis balls and our baseball gloves.

Then a cocky neighborhood kid came over and started dominating the game – without using a glove. What he didn’t know was there was one ball in that basket that wasn’t a tennis ball. It was a rock-hard, neon-colored baseball.

Dave shouted out “500!” And launched the baseball as high as he could. The cocky kid got underneath, and the rest of us watched as it smacked him right in the face.

Blood came dripping out of his nose and he ran home crying. Game over.

7. Making Mud Pies

mud-pies

Getting your hands in the dirty, gloppy mud feels good – no matter how old you are. Too many parents get overly-freaked out about their kids getting dirty.

The summer I built a sandbox for my kids, a relative told me, “Oh no! Don’t do that. They’ll track so much sand into your house.”

Yeah sure. For a few years. Then they’ll stop playing in the sandbox and making mudpies forever. So I can put up with the dirtiness for now.

When I was a kid, my friends and I created a muddy concoction we called “skunk wash.” It involved all sorts of backyard vegetation, some compost material, and perhaps a sandbox cat turd or two. I can neither confirm or deny that last ingredient.

It really did smell bad.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

A post on the blog Let the Children Play details 10 reasons to let kids get muddy. One of them is because research shows exposure to the “germs” in mud can boost their immune systems.

However, touching cat poop (like I may or may not have done) could mean your kids just might come in contact with dangerous parasites. Still – some research shows cat poop parasites might fight cancer. So there’s that!

8. Playground Chicken

monkey-bar-chickenI don’t know if other people did this as kids or not.

You’re probably familiar with the concept of the game of Chicken using cars. Basically – two people race towards each other and the person who chickens out and moves out of the way first loses. In movies, this game always takes place on “Dead Man’s Bluff.”

My friends and I played this game on the monkey bars. First one to fall off is the loser.

That made it sort of like an American Gladiators event. When the two opponents met in the middle of the monkey bars, they’d try to take the other kid out by wrapping their legs around the other guy. The other strategy is to furiously kick your opponent until they fall.

You can also play chicken in the swimming pool. It’s perfect with two adults (or two big kids) and two littler guys. Just beware of lifeguards. I’m pretty sure Swimming Pool Chicken is considered horseplay. It is against almost every swimming pool’s rules and will get you kicked out. But you could always argue that it is technically chicken-play.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

The obvious injury to young boys comes with the possibility of getting kicked where it counts. This may result in an inability for your son to provide you with grandchildren.

The fall from the monkey bars is dangerous too. My little sister shattered her elbow falling from the monkey bars. But not playing chicken – it was because my mom told her to jump. Way to go, Mom!

9. Dodgeball

dodgeball

Every now and then, I run across some whiner on the internet talking about how they hated playing Dodgeball in gym class.

What?! Listen, I was far from a jock in school. I wasn’t the last kid picked for teams, but it was close…sometimes way too close.

But the great thing about Dodgeball is that anyone can be a hero. Just hide behind the fat kid on your team. Then jump out at exactly the right moment. Peg the bully on the other team with a ball and take him out of the game.

A spacious, fenced-in backyard can be the perfect place to play Dodgeball outdoors. Otherwise, an open tennis court could be an ideal, makeshift Dodgeball court too.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

The ways you can hurt yourself in Dodgeball are countless. It is a chaotic game with bodies running all over the place and rubber balls flying through the air. Pure madness.

Speaking of the balls. Depending on what kids choose to use, there could be some serious injuries. Those cheap rubber balls at every store work great. But a strategically thrown basketball could knock a kid out cold.

Watch a Video on the Rules of Dodgeball

10. Neighborhood-wide Squirt Gun War

squirt-gun-war

What would summer be like as a kid without squirt guns? Pretty boring that’s what.

Water guns are like the bacon of toys because they make any game a little more fun. You can play tag with squirt guns, hide-and-seek with squirt guns, Capture the Flag with squirt guns – you name it.

Or just split into teams and have an all out war. A Cops & Robbers/good guys versus bad guys game is one way to play. When I was a kid, there were quite a few squirt gun turf wars in our neighborhood.

My little brother would set up shop by the hose where he’d refill our empty guns so we could return to the battle. This station was also our “saloon.” We’d rehydrate with cups of outdoor faucet water while our squirt guns were reloading.

Remember the cocky kid with the bloody nose from our 500 game? He was very creative in the art of squirt gun wars. That kid came up with the idea of adding garlic powder to his Super Soaker’s water tank. He called the smelly juice his “toxic ammo.”

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

They probably won’t. They’ll probably just get really wet.

11. King of the Mountain

king-of-hill

King of the Mountain, aka King of the Hill, is a great wintertime game in Wisconsin.

Those huge piles of snow that the plows leave in school parking lots are the perfect place for this kind of contest.

You’ve probably spent some time teaching your kids not to push and shove. That all goes out the window in King of the Hill. This game is about doing whatever it takes to stay on top. It’s a fitting metaphor for the dog-eat-dog world we live in.

However, size and brute force are no guarantee of victory. When the little ones team up and target the big guy – bullies and kings can easily be overthrown. Power to the people!

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

Of the many potential injuries in this game, one of the most-likely in a wintry Wisconsin version will be frostbite from the jerk who shoved snow down your kids shirt – or worse yet – gave them an icy face-wash.

There’s always next time.

12. Tackle the Bum

tackle-the-bum

Got some overactive kids and you need to tire them out? Teach them to play Tackle the Bum!

This game is easy and exhausting. The kid with the ball is the “bum.” The rest of the group chases him until they catch him and take him down with a tackle. At that point, the rest of the kids usually jump on top in a dog-pile.

They’re learning some football fundamentals as well as how to run from the cops at the same time.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

There are no pads in Tackle the Bum. No helmets either. Enough said.

13. Sneaky Sprinkler

Sneaky-sprinkler

So what if the neighbors have a fancy, in-ground pool? Teach your kids this game and you’ll still be the coolest parents on the block.

Sneaky Sprinkler was a new one for me. It sounds like a ton of fun and I’ll definitely be playing it with my kids this game over the summer.

The Sneaky Sprinkler game has kids gather around the sprinkler while the person who is “It” stands by ready to turn it on. The other kids dance around the sprinkler creeping closer and closer. Then the person who is “It” turns the sprinkler on without warning!

Everyone has to freeze where they are as they get hit with ice-cold water. The person who lasts the longest in the freezing water gets to be “It”. That means they have the chance to operate the sprinkler and drench their friends the next time around.

How Your Kids Can Get Hurt:

There’s always the possibility that somebody will trip over the hose or the sprinkler itself. Plus, wet grass starts to get pretty slipper after awhile.

You have to expect that at some point, one of the kids will come running inside soaking wet, crying and covered in lawn clippings.

Bonus Game – Obsta-ball

Teach your kids to play enough of these fun-filled outdoor activities, and sooner or later they’ll start coming up with their own. That’s the beauty of play – it’s creative and you can make your own rules.

Which is why I want to tell you about a backyard game my friends and I made up in the late 1980s. We called it Obsta-ball!

Obsta-ball is nothing more than baseball/tee-ball combined with an obstacle course.

Instead of normal base-running, we created different challenges at first, second and third base. You’d hit a ball off the baseball tee as far as you could, and then try to run the bases and obstacles without someone tagging you with the ball you just hit.

If I remember correctly, there were orange cones you ran around on the way to first base, some makeshift hurdles and a balance beam on the way to second, and a broken, two-wheeled skateboard at third. (I was the one who broke the skateboard – but that’s a story for another day.)

You had to do some sort of trick on the skateboard before heading towards home-plate. And as you ran to home, everyone else would pelt you with tennis balls.

Finally, we had Olympic-style scoring from a designated judge – like in diving, gymnastics or figure skating…

Let’s go with diving. That sounds the coolest. Yep, diving!

The Final Word – Free Range Parents vs Helicopter Parents

You can probably guess which side of the fence I’m on when it comes to parenting styles.

No one likes seeing their kids really get hurt. My comments and stories about injuries were facetious and sarcastic…well, mostly. But just remember, scraped knees, bruises and bumps on the noggin are all part of being a kid.

Those wounds are more than just “owies”. They are badgers of honor and courage!

Needless to say – I’m not a fan of the moms who tell their kids not to climb up the slide because it’s “against the rules.” But at least they’re better than the parents who sit in the mini-van and let me push their kid on the swing.

The trick – as with many things in life – is striking a balance between being protective and letting them have some freedom. Kids do need rules, but they also need to learn to make their own decisions and fend for themselves.

Playing outside with my two boys might be almost as much fun for me as it is for them. Of course, I know there will come a day when they would much rather play with their buddies than me.

When that day comes, they’ll be ready to show the rest of the kids how to play – because someone needs to keep the game of Obsta-ball alive!

Help keep this story alive. Tell us about your favorite childhood games and stories of mischief in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Love the article!!!! GET UP GET OUT AND GO PLAY. Come home when the street lights come on.

  2. Carol Urness says:

    You’re right. The blame for the descent into non-active video play is correctly placed on the parents/guardians. It is so much easier in today’s hectic work world to simply come home and read a book, drink coffee, etc., while knowing where your kids are – games room or tv or computer, without having to worry about them getting dirty (washing them and their clothes), getting hurt and need patching up or a trip to the emergency room for broken bones, and hollering outside for them to come to supper or bathtime and bed. Sometimes, even an outside trip is required to break up a tangle!
    All that takes an EFFORT on the parental part to get children outside for play in the neighborhood. Must easier just to sit.

  3. Good memories. You asked for a good place for capture the flag in Appleton? Peabody Park would be perfect. It has woods and hills and a pavilion–lots of hiding places. Let’s see…other games I played…baseball in the street with ghost runners that we always argued over. We would go to the woods a couple blocks away and just play. No woods anymore, just houses. I climbed trees, of course. My mom was just forced to chop down my climbing tree–a big old maple. It was pretty devastating for both of us. So when I went home this Christmas, I climbed it one more time for old time’s sake. At age 38. I’m a little bigger than I was when I was a kid, so I didn’t make it to the thin branches at the top, but it was a good time. Winter was time for snow forts and snowball fights. Good times…

  4. One of my best scars and lots of great memories came from playing kick the can! And you can’t beat playing in the woods. Great article

  5. Terri Zeddies says:

    I played kick the can and ghost in the graveyard almost every night when I was young. Such great memories. We went outside in the morning and didn’t come in until it was dark

  6. Played almost ALL those games in my neighborhood growing up. One more to add, which was my favorite, we called “Sides.” There were 2 teams that lined up on the curb on either side of the street. Then, the one who was “it” sent one of his/her team members after one team member from the opposite side. “I send Suzy after Johnny!” Suzy would try to catch Johnny before he get to the other side. If tagged, he would need to become a member of the opposite team. (kind of like Red Rover) Play kept going until one side had all of the other side’s members on their side. I also remember, “Alley, Alley Over!” Great memories of outside play with fresh air and sunshine! 🙂

  7. Jim & Gale says:

    Young animals in the wild play games to develop skills for life. That should give us a clue. Growing up without computers (or even TV) was a real blessing with many great memories to look back on. Running free to experience life instead of watching it.

  8. We played a variation of Spud in De Pere that went like this:

    The kid who’s ‘It’ picks a category, say ‘Ice cream flavours’, and all the other kids huddle together and each kid picks something from the category – so here, vanilla, chocolate, etc. The kid who’s ‘It’ calls out an ice cream flavour every time they throw the ball up until they call out something one of the other kids chose. Then that person has to run up and get the thrown ball while the ‘It’ person and all the other kids run out. They all freeze when ‘SPUD’ is called, and the new person gets three big steps, then one throw. If they tag someone, that person is the new ‘It’, otherwise they are. It’s really fun to play it with categories because it makes it different every time, and it’s fun thinking of categories.

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