Games from the 80s Vs. Group Games for Kids Today
Being a child of the 80s, I grew up with lots of neon, hairspray, and freedom! I fondly remember playing after-school and outdoor recess games, sometimes learned from gym class, but usually, passed down from our parents and friends. Even as an adult, I love group games for kids. Not just to watch how much fun the kids have, but to join in too! Childhood outdoor games from the 80s are an amazing way to get moving with your kids!
Freedom to Play
Since there were often so many of us kids out playing after school (what else would we do, with no cable, no homework, and no parents to nag us?), we organized kids group games a lot. Rarely were there parents around to lead our play. However, I don’t remember the games turning violent or too rough. We were content playing by the rules and working out our problems – it was more fun that way!
Inventing and playing outdoor games without equipment gave us kids tons of physical activity, outdoor time, and encouraged creativity and our bodies to move in all different kinds of ways…just like nature intended! Read up on kids natural fitness in my other post devoted to the ins and outs of it. Or download your jumpstart guide to getting your family moving more here!
Of course, adult-directed activities are not always a bad thing! Check out this online gymnastics course taught by yours truly that allows kids to follow along on their own!
Not only did games 80s games for kids seem less violent, but also more teamwork orientated, compared to games (kids group games and video games) of today.
Kids don’t need any more competition than is already inbred in our individualistic society. Competing further isolates children, when we should be helping them cooperate together. When they get to work together, as opposed to always trying to win, they develop a feeling of belonging.
Non-Competitive Games and Activities
Even when I wasn’t playing kids group games, you could find me playing with other kids. I played the stereotypical 80s games, including jump roping games, hand-clapping games, and all of the basics. Games like tag, Hide and Seek, and Ring Around the Rosie are timeless (but not included here since, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock 50 years, you should know them!). Obviously, not all of the group games for kids we’re talking about are games from the 80s. Many were made up years before. But, these were what was popular in my, and the other contributors of the article’s, childhood!
I have recently taught my kids all of the hand-clapping games I remembered from childhood and we have a blast doing them. They are perfect before bedtime or waiting for something (think doctor’s office, the bus stop, a restaurant, etc). They have also had fun learning how to jump rope and are starting to learn some jump roping games.
Now I’m on a quest to remember some of the best old school group games for kids. I want to pass them down to my kids so they can grow up with the social, active, cooperative play that used to be so popular. I want to pass them to you, too, to show your kids how much fun physical activity with friends can be. And perhaps you’ll end up on a walk down Memory Lane as I experienced!
So I asked fellow bloggers what their favorite games from the 80s are. I got some great responses – a lot that I’ve never heard of! Then, I tested them on my own kids and friends…let’s just say the pictures I took speak for themselves!
Sensory Processing Disorder was not a “thing” in the 80s. Now that more kids have SPD (or it’s more recognized), we offer them sensory rooms and special sensory toys and activities. Outdoor games can be a more natural approach, for children that crave sensory input. For those that have a hard time with it, ease them into the games, never pushing.
The Best Kids Group Games From the 80s
Scroll on to see details on how to play them!
- Flashlight Tag
- Caterpillar Tag
- Duck, Duck, Goose
- Scarecrow Tiggy
- British Bulldogs
- Red Rover
- Kick the Can
- Snake in the Grass
- Capture the Flag
- Marco Polo
- Red Light, Green Light
Contributed by Julie from waitingforfireflies.com
I’ve recently introduced my kids to the game SPUD, which I played regularly as a child. The game is best with at least 4 people, and requires a lightweight ball, such as kids bouncy ball. It was one of the popular games in the 80s where I grew up.
How to Play SPUD
To begin, pick numbers out of a hat or count off. One player begins with the ball and stands in the center of the other players. That player throws the ball straight up in the air and calls out a number. When she throws the ball, all the other players run away. The player whose number is called runs to catch the ball, and once caught yells the work SPUD, at which time all other players freeze. The player with the ball can take 3 large steps toward any player, and then throws the ball, trying to hit them.
Flashlight Tag / Spotlight
Contributed by Audrey Chalmers at Gumnutsabroad.com
One of my favorite childhood outdoor games from the 80s is Spotlight (aka, Fashlight Tag) on hot summer nights. It is like hide and seek. The difference is, it’s played at night and players catch someone and make them “it” by shining a torch on them. The game is usually played outside, but it can be played anywhere that’s dark.
How to Play Flashlight Tag
Players move around from spot to spot instead of hiding in one place. It makes the game more fun and kids get a kick out of playing in the dark. Usually, a boundary is set for the playing field that they aren’t allowed to cross.
The game can be played with only two people, but the fun-factor skyrockets when you reach six or more.
It’s a fabulous game for kids as they don’t need any special skills and anyone can play. But it’s not always easy to find a good hiding spot so they’re forced to put their thinking caps on. And of course, it gets the kids outside and moving around.
But the best thing about the game is that it’s a whole lot of fun – even when you’re it.
Contributed by Anna of abrazoandcoze.com
Caterpillar Tag is a great version of tag because it takes cooperation and coordination of everyone who is part of the Caterpillar, and everyone is moving for the duration of the game. Nobody is ever “out” – they’re just reassigned to a different role. It’s a fun 80s game to play, especially for younger players. It makes a great kindergarten P.E. game without equipment!
Any number of kids can play, but it’s a longer game with more players. As a minimum, you’d need three players but it’ll be more fun with more.
How to Play Caterpillar Tag
Caterpillar tag starts out like regular tag, with one person assigned to be “it”. When “it” touches another player, they hold hands and both are “it” together, and are the start of a growing caterpillar. As each player is tagged, they join hands at either end of the line, until everyone is caught. The last person to join the Caterpillar is “it” when played again.
Duck, Duck, Goose
Submitted by Rosie Wolf Williams of www.alwaysrosie.com
Did You Know? A group of students in the US earned the record for the largest game of duck, duck, goose in 2011! They had to use the school’s football field to create their circle!
This game can be played outdoors or indoors, and no equipment other than players is needed. You will need at least 4 people to play this game, but 5 or more make it more fun! Have all the players sit in a circle, facing each other, with their legs crossed. Make sure there is plenty of room between and behind the players so the “it” and “tagged” persons are able to walk or run easily.
How to Play Duck, Duck, Goose
One of my favorite 80s games to play is Duck, Duck, Goose! One player is chosen as “it.” You could draw straws, or draw names to choose this person.
“It” walks behind the other players, who are still sitting cross-legged in the circle. “It” taps each player on the head as he passes by, stating the word “duck” each time he taps. At some point “it” chooses a player, taps him on the head, and says “goose.” That person gets up and runs after “it” attempting to tag him before he takes the empty spot in the circle. If “it” is successful and reaches the empty spot before being tagged, the new person becomes “it.” If the “goose” is able to tag “it” before he reaches the empty spot, then “goose” goes back to his place in the circle and ‘it” resumes tapping players on the head.
If “it” is not able to reach the empty spot, you might choose to have him sit in the empty spot but facing out. The “goose” becomes “it.” Play resumes until everyone but “it” is facing out!
“It” might carry a handkerchief or beanbag as he goes around the circle. He would then drop the item behind the person he chooses as “goose.” The chosen player has to grab the item before chasing after “it.”
Change the name of the game! Use “square, square, triangle,” or “fishy, fishy, turtle.” Names could relate to a party theme or school lesson.
Contributed by Sandra from thesmarterwriter.com
A variation on the classic tag game, Scarecrow Tiggy was a favorite primary school game of ours in the early 1980s in Melbourne, Australia.
The rules are really simple and no one is ever truly ‘out’ so the game would keep going and going and going…
How to Play Scarecrow Tiggy
One or two kids are ‘it’ with the power to tag others. If you’re tagged, you have to stand still with your arms out and legs spread wide, just like a scarecrow. To release someone from being a scarecrow back into the game, another kid has to crawl between their legs.
You don’t need special equipment, but you do need plenty of outdoor space where you can run around. You need at least four players, but the more you have, the more fun and chaotic it is.
Because there are no real timeouts and it’s perfect for the playground, I think this is a great game to pass to the next generation.
Contributed by Angela from readinginspiration.com
I remember playing a game called “Sevensies” as a child in the 1980s. It was a great game that kept us active as we tried to perfect the moves!
All you need is a wall and a small bouncy ball. A tennis ball is ideal. (Rebecca’s note: for younger kids, or to make it easier, I would use a larger bouncy ball!) A child can play the game on their own or be with others as they practice together. Just make sure you have enough balls to go round!
How to Play Sevensies
The aim is to complete a set of seven types of special ball throws and catches without dropping the ball. Of course, it takes a bit of practice to get all the way through the sequence.
You do the first move seven times, the second move six times and so on. There are variations and others may remember playing to different rules, but these are the rules I remember:
Sevensies – First throw the ball to bounce against the wall and catch it. Do this seven times.
Sixsies – Then bounce the ball off the wall and allow it to bounce once on the ground and then catch it. Do this six times.
Fivesies – Next bounce the ball off the ground continuously for five bounces.
Foursies – Then bounce the ball off the ground, aiming at the wall to have it bounce off the wall and back to you. (This is the reverse of the sixsies move).
Threesies – Next lift your leg to your side, throw the ball under your leg, aiming for it to bounce off the wall and then catch it. Do this three times.
Twosies – Then throw the ball at the wall, clap your hands twice and catch the ball. Do this twice.
Onesies – Finally, throw the ball at the wall, turn around and catch it before it reaches the ground.
It’s a great game to pass onto children now because it teaches the value of practice. It helps to improve coordination, concentration, involves counting and can create a lot of laughter and fun. It’s portable and low cost and is great for long summer days, keeping children occupied for long periods of time as they perfect their moves to achieve a perfect seven!
Contributed by Lisa from MakePlusDo.com.au
Rebecca’s note: Lisa called this game Red Rover, growing up in Australia. I, growing up in the States, played a different form of Red Rover (see below). So I did some research! The game Red Rover descends from the game British Bulldog. I found it interesting that they began calling it Red Rover before the game changed!
My favorite playground game at primary school was a game we called Red Rover. It’s a pretty simple game and can be played with at least 3-5 kids and up to as many as you like. This means both small groups and very large groups of kids can play. From memory, almost our entire grade of 100 kids or so would play it every lunchtime – it was great!
The beauty of the game is that it can be played in smaller spaces as well as large, depending on the number of players and their abilities. However, I recommend ensuring it’s played away from objects that kids can run into (or trip over). Outdoor ovals, basketball courts and beaches tend to be perfect! But empty classrooms can be ok too!
How to Play British Bulldog
To play, one person is designated ‘in’ and the aim of the game is to cross the play-space without getting tagged by the person (or group) who is ‘in’.
To begin, all but the person who is ‘in’ stand on one side of the play-space, usually behind a line. The person who is ‘in’ stands in the middle of the play-space. They then chant: “Red Rover, Red Rover, I call over…” and name a player in the large group.
The named player has a choice. They can either attempt to cross the space on their own without being tagged or can call “Bullrush!” Bullrush means the entire group then runs across the play-space to the ‘safe’ side. If any player is tagged, then they are then also ‘in’. This means the group who are ‘in’ grows larger as the other group gets smaller. This makes it more difficult to cross without being tagged as the game continues.
The game finishes when there’s just one person who hasn’t been tagged. They get to be ‘in’ for the start of the next game.
British Bulldogs has been banned in many school playgrounds because apparently, it was too violent. Our game never involved tackling, lifting, hurting or punching any other players, which is how British Bulldogs may be played elsewhere. Our version only ever involved tapping someone, just like in a game of tag.
To me, Red Rover (British Bulldog) is an ideal game for a group of kids as it’s simple, scalable, no-one is ‘out’ and it can allow kids the opportunity to explore group dynamics and working together to achieve a goal, in a way that encourages their natural desire to move.
Red Rover Game
Honestly, I don’t remember Red Rover being one of my favorites since there is a lot of standing, depending on how many kids are playing. It doesn’t seem to be the safest game and I don’t recommend playing without an adult’s supervision. I did want to clarify with the version of Red Rover I grew up with in the States. I think the old version above sounds more fun!
How to Play Red Rover
My version of Red Rover involves two teams. Each team hold hands and takes turn yelling to the other team, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send name on over!” Said child would run through a set of clasped arms on the other team. If the player was able to break through the arms, they chose a player from that team to come to theirs with them. If they didn’t, they stayed on that team.
Contributor Nina westaustralianexplorer.com
The game of my childhood is elastics and we played this without fail during every break in the school playground. It’s great fun and great exercise too. All you need is a long piece of elastic that’s tied together (approx. 12ft/3.5m) and three people – although you can replace one person with a chair.
How to Play Elastics
Two people need to hold the elastic and the third person does the jumping. The jumper needs to complete a jumping sequence over the elastic. At the first level, the elastic is at ankle level. If completed correctly, without error, the people holding the elastic then move the elastic to their knees, where the jumper completes the sequence again, it then moves to the wait and to the armpits. If the jumper makes an error, the roles are switched and one of the people holding the elastic become the jumper and so on. The jumping sequence can also be done to a series of riddles.
Elastics is inexpensive, needs little equipment but is great fun and builds up stamina and energy.
With everyone else’s great submissions, it brought the memories back. Of course, I had to share some of my favorite outdoor group games of my childhood too!
Kick The Can
Kick the Can is a modified version of Hide and Seek. You need at least three players, but there is no maximum number of players. One player is “It”. If you have a large group, you can make two players “It”.
How to Play Kick the Can
While “It” counts to 100, the other players hide. Whoever is It needs to go and find them and identify their position, such as “I see Lindsay behind the tree.” That person then goes to “jail” and the other player’s goal is to free her before they are also seen.
To free her, they run and kick a designated “can” (usually a bucket, but can be anything such as a soccer ball” and yell “CAN KICKED!” The players in jail are all free. The person who is It needs to reset the can and count to 20. Then keep hunting.
If all of the players are captured, a new person, usually the first person caught, becomes it. If the can is kicked 3 times (or as many times as the players choose), then a new person is chosen as It.
Snake in the Grass Game
Snake in the grass is fun because it starts off so exciting! The players wait in anticipation for the game to begin, giggling, and the snake can tease them, building the excitement!
How to Play Snake in the Grass
The player designated as “it” lies in the grass on their stomach. S/he is the snake and has to crawl around like one. All of the other players must put one finger on the snake. When the snake calls out “snake in the grass!” , the group can start running around inside designated boundaries. If the snake tags someone, that person turns into a snake too. The purpose is to make everyone snakes.
The snake can have some fun, teasing the group a few times with “snake in the tree!”, “snake in the ground!”, or get silly with a “snake in the peanut butter and jelly sandwich!”. The snake can then catch the group off guard with a sudden “snake in the grass!”.
Capture the Flag
I remember playing this more when I was an older kid. It is a lot of fun with a big group and at night – but is also played during the day. I would imagine anyone that went to camp has played Capture the Flag!
How to Play Capture the Flag
Divide into two teams, each with a “flag” (or some sort of cloth or other item) and designated territories. Each team chooses a place to hide their flag within their boundaries. The object of the game is to capture the other team’s flag and bring it back to your own team’s side.
Players can guard the flag, trying to prevent it from being captured. If a player is tagged while on the other team’s side they go to a designated holding area (or, jail). They can be rescued by being tagged by one of their own teammates.
Capture the Flag is a fun game of strategy and teamwork!
We always played the game, Marco Polo in swimming pools. However, it is a fun game to play on land too, and can be done a few different ways!
Marco Polo is a great game to use the sense of hearing. We are normally so dominated by our sense of sight, it’s beneficial to switch it up.
How to Play Marco Polo
This is the pool version but can be played on land as long as there is a large, very open, area. One player is designated as “it” and gets blindfolded or closes their eyes. They yell out “Marco!” and the other players respond by yelling, “Polo!”. The player that is “it” tries to tag another player based on listening for them. The players must respond each time “it” calls “Marco!”
For a different land version, play it like Hide and Seek. Add the shouts in and it makes the game a bit easier. Players can change hiding spots.
In elementary school, I used to play a lot of foursquare at recess time. It’s nice when you don’t have too many people, as the game uses four players at a time (and we all know lines are no fun!).
Use a foursquare grid already set up or make your own with chalk, a rock, or tape on the floor. One big square (about 5 or 6 ft across), with four sqaures inside. The squares are named 1 – 4, starting with 1 in the upper left corner and counting clockwise around.
How to Play Foursquare
The player in box one is the server. They serve by bouncing a ball on the ground once and hitting it to another square.
If the ball bounces into your square you hit it to another before its second bounce. If you don’t hit the ball before it bounces twice or if you hit the ball and it does not bounce in another’s square, you go to square 4 (or out in line if there are more than four players and others are waiting to play). You may not grab or kick the ball.
The goal is to get to square one and be the server! Often we would play that the server can make up a special rule for that round (like you have to spin around after each time you hit it!).
Red Light, Green Light
Red Light, Green Light was a popular game from the 80s. It belongs in a group of games that requires one or more leaders and the rest follow what the leader says. Other games in this category include Mother, May I?, What Time is it Mr. Fox?, and Simon Says. They are all fun, but Red Light, Green Light is one of the simplest and most popular. I have noticed I have to really watch my kids if they play this without me. You have to be fair with this game or it’s no fun!
How to Play Red Light, Green Light
One person, the leader, stands at one end of the area and the rest of the group stands side by side facing the leader. The leader starts by saying “red light!”, which means no one can move. The leader says “green light!” and turns their back to the group. Players can then hurry to run to the leader.
Every time the leader says “red light”, players should freeze. If the leader sees them move on a red light, they must go back to the starting point. They may only move on a green light!
Players try to be the first to the leader so they can be the next leader. Or, as we play it, take turns being the leader, no matter who gets there first!
There you have it! 15 outdoor, active, non-competitive kids group games from the 80s. Go teach some kids and watch them have a blast!