Backyard Games Keep the Whole Family Healthy and Connected

Backyard Games Keep the Whole Family Healthy and Connected

Photo by Kim Stahnke

While backyard games were once a summer mainstay for neighborhood kids and their families, cell phones, smart devices and gaming systems provide some stiff competition for attention these days. Not to mention, hectic schedules, planned down to the minute, rarely leave room for carefree backyard play.

Whether it’s a casual game of tag or something more strategic or team-oriented, look no further than the backyard for opportunities to get active, bond with your children and create lifelong memories.

It’s time to power down the devices and get outside.

Play for the Health of It 

It’s no secret that physical activity benefits the entire family. Running, playing catch, kicking a soccer ball, shooting hoops in the driveway — anything that gets the blood flowing — works against the development of health challenges often found with kids who stay stationary.

“There’s definitely a correlation with less physical activity and higher weight, which tend to lead to more health problems,” says Dr. William Mudd, pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Medina. “We’re seeing a lot more high blood pressure in children and Type 2 diabetes in teenagers that we used to only see in adults.” 

Thankfully, when parents lead the charge or set an expectation for a shared outdoor physical activity, kids are more likely to hop on board. When mom and dad show their fun side through games, play and physical activity, it’s natural for kids to want to mirror those positive behaviors.  

“With the age of screens and video games, any activities we can use to get kids motivated to go outside and be physically active is fantastic,” Mudd says. “And kids respond well to parental involvement.”

See Mom Run

Children are innate copycats. When kids see their parents being playful and demonstrating appropriate play, they will eventually repeat those actions in their own independent settings. 

“When families are together and being their best selves, they’re modeling fairness, they’re modeling good sportsmanship, all those positive prosocial things,” says Bob Gralnick, manager of children, youth and teen programs at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood.  

Gralnick, who oversees school-age programs at the center, knows many kids do get opportunities to model respectful behavior through organized programs and structured sports. However, kids who can see their parents practicing these behaviors and working together as a team go a long way.

“The fact that (interactions) are happening with the family and happening organically makes it very powerful,” Gralnick says. “It’s a great way to teach and demonstrate boundaries and (how to play) by the rules in a safe, positive location.”

 Backyard games allow for a variety of teachable moments and opportunities for parents to set a positive example. Mudd says demonstrating healthy ways to deal with embarrassment if we make a mistake, frustration when we miss a shot or anger if we lose encourages patience and resiliency. 

“Being able to take the child aside and tell them it’s okay that they’re feeling this way, model for them how to take deep breaths, or any other ways we cope with these feelings — there are many opportunities for connection on how to deal with harder emotions,” he says.

Make Time for Play Time

Although organic interactions are incredibly beneficial, sometimes shared family downtime doesn’t exist on its own. Many families cruise through days and nights on a jam-packed schedule to meet work, school and extracurricular activity commitments. Gralnick suggests families try to be just as intentional with outdoor play time and even reserve a slot on the calendar if necessary. 

“It can be uncomfortable, but in order to get comfortable with it, (families) may have to go through a bit of an awkward time,” Gralnick says. “But, if families practice it more, it will happen more on its own.” 

While it’s impossible to add more hours to the day, take a closer look at when and how often the family has quality time together. In the midst of endless busyness — for parents and kids — 20 or 30 minutes to get outside and play a game may end up being the family’s highpoint of the day. 

The physical, mental and emotional benefits of playing outside easily beat another hour of screen time. Plus, fresh air and warmer weather help families destress, unwind and, most of all, connect. 

“One of the most important benefits is strengthening connections and the relationships with your children, and this is just one other avenue to do that,” Mudd says. 

Backyard Games: House Rules 

Be ready for nostalgia with some of these backyard classics and read up on rules for some newer games on the scene. Feel free to put your own spin on the rules if you play a little differently, as long as everyone agrees on them before the game begins.

Freeze Tag: One person is “It” and tries to run and chase other players. If the person who is “It” tags or touches another player, that player is “frozen” and must remain still until another player touches them to “unfreeze” them so they are allowed to run again. Take turns being “It” to keep it fair. 

Hide and Seek: The “seeker” closes his or her eyes and counts to 20, 40 or 100 while other players hide. When the seeker finishes counting, he or she must try to find the players in their hiding spots before they make it back to “base,” an agreed-upon spot where hiders are safe from becoming the seeker.

Capture the Flag: Two teams each have a flag or other object located at the team’s “base.” The goal is to capture the opposing team’s flag and bring it safely back to your team’s base. Opposing players can be tagged and be out of the game, become members of the opposite team or frozen in place until freed by a member of their own team, depending on the agreed upon rules. 

Red Light, Green Light: One person is the “Stoplight” and calls out “red light!” and “green light!” commands to other players. “Green light” means players are free to run from one end of the yard to the other, but “red light” means they must stop in their tracks. If a player moves after the Stoplight yells “red light,” they are out of the game. The first person to make it to the opposite end of the yard wins.  

Cornhole or Bags: Two Cornhole boards are set up about 30 feet apart. For a 2-player game, opponents alternate throwing four bags from one board toward the other, attempting to land the bags into the board’s hole. Bags that land in the hole are worth 3 points, and bags that land on the board are worth 1 point. The first player to score 21 points wins. 

Ladder Golf: Two game ladders are set up about 15 feet apart. For a 2-player game, Player 1 tosses three “bolas,” or nylon ropes with golf balls attached to either end, attempting to land the bolas on one of three rungs on the game ladder. Player 2 follows. The top rung is worth 3 points, the middle rung is worth 2 points, and the bottom rung is worth 1 point. The first player to score 21 points on the dot wins.   

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