Backyard Olympics: Fun games for your kids

Tips from Bay Area Parent magazine:

Even though your young ones won't be competing in the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, a Backyard Olympics can be just the ticket to fun for the last days of summer or the long Labor Day weekend just ahead. Call your friends, gather your neighbors and let the games begin!

How To Stage a Backyard Olympics
(Thanks to Bay Area Parent writer Carol Band)

Preparing for the Games

Design a poster or mascot. Assemble or create flags from many nations. Have older children research a country that they choose to represent.

Create scorecards for observers that have arrows. Judges can point them up, down or sideways. Or, they can be smiley faces, frowning faces or a Yuck! face.

Carry a make believe torch. No Olympics is complete without an Olympic torch. Open the games with a run around the block. Use a decorated flashlight or streamers on a stick.

Track & Field

Create an obstacle course in your yard with plenty of things to crawl through, jump over and run around.

Team up for a wheelbarrow race. One child holds the legs of another and teams compete walking on their hands.

Do the limbo. Use a long pole and see how low you can go.


If you have a swing set, let kids use it to create freestyle programs. Set a time limit and strict safety rules.

Bring a foam mat or mattress outside for tumbling routines. Set to fun music, like Kids Bop or Radio Disney tunes.

The Dream Team

The tug-of-war was discontinued as an Olympic sport in 1920, but you can resurrect it for some backyard fun.

Shoot baskets or have a dribbling contest.

Play Whiffle™ ball.

Organize a backyard soccer game.

Divide into teams for relay races. Think back to the classics - carry an egg on a spoon, pass an apple from neck to neck, or hand a baton off to the next person on your team.

Water Sports

Even Michael Phelps can have fun with these!

Water Balloon Toss - Fill balloons with water. Toss with a partner. Gradually move farther apart until the balloon breaks. See which team can go the greatest distance.

Squirt Gun Target Shoot - Set up various objects to hit: cans, Barbie dolls (whoever gets her hair wettest wins!), paper targets.

Wet Nerf Ball Toss - an alternative to the water balloons.

Create-a-Raft Race - Build miniature rafts from found objects (film canisters, popsicle sticks, toothpicks). Race your tiny rafts in a swimming or wading pool.

New Games

With a nod to the Olympics' recent addition of a mountain biking event, create a bicycle slalom. Set up cones or objects to weave through. Use a stopwatch to mark the best time. An in-line skate course can also be fun.

Celebrate the inclusion of beach volleyball. Use a short net or piece of ribbon for the net. For younger kids, volley with a balloon or a Nerf™= ball. Babies can celebrate the beach aspect of the sport in the sandbox.

Think up your own Olympic sports: thumb wrestling, watermelon seed spitting or jump roping.

The Medal Ceremony

Award all participants with popsicles or juice pops and, if you choose, medals or wreaths of leaves. You can buy medals at party supply stores or create your own from paper and foil or candy coins glued to ribbons.

Competition - with yourself and with others - is an intrinsic part of the Olympics. Children, however, aren't always gracious in the face of defeat. When organizing teams, try to balance them with both boys and girls, older kids and younger kids. With individual sports, encourage the idea of a personal best and include a wide range of activities so that everyone can have a chance to excel.

Did You Know?

Renowned pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock won an Olympic gold medal with the Yale University rowing crew in 1924.

U.S. diver Pat McCormick won four Olympic gold medals, the last two in 1956, only eight months after giving birth!

Another U.S. diver, Marjorie Gestring, was the youngest recorded Olympic gold medalist; she won a gold medal in springboard diving in 1936, at the age of 13.

About Peggy Spear
Peggy Spear is the editor of Bay Area Parent magazine and the mother of three children, ages 16, 14 and 10.

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