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Get kids active this summer with these excellent running games

Encourage kids to be active during summer vacation with activities that require running

Group of kids running in a park with a dad
Alistair Berg / Getty Images

School is out for summer, which means it’s the perfect opportunity to encourage the kiddos to get outside and run. Running is great exercise and just fun. Sure, going for a jog with the parents doesn’t exactly fall into the exciting category. That’s why you need to disguise it in the form of running games, which are super cool and encourage the kiddos to get off of those devices and head outside.

You can incorporate running games into a family fun night, backyard barbecues, get-togethers, athletic practices, and of course, outdoor birthday parties. In case you’ve forgotten your favorite running games from your childhood, let us refresh your memory.

Running games

Group of children running in capture the flag in a park
Andrey Norenko / Shutterstock

When kids are little, they run everywhere. Remember that feeling of joy when you would just run? Well, keep that love alive with your kids. Many of these running games are tried and true. They continue to be played in gym classes during the school year and at camps over the summer. Running games are relatively straightforward to play and open to all ages and abilities. Another wonderful thing about running games is that they typically don’t require much equipment. So, on your mark. Get set. Go!


You’re it! Tag is a universal game that has been played for ages. It’s the ideal game to get kids off and running. One of the awesome things about tag is that you just need an open area to play. The rules are simple. One person is chosen to be “It.” The rest of the players take off running and are out or become another “It” when tagged.

The worst part about tag is being “It.” So, to keep players from becoming frustrated, set a time limit and rotate the “It.” Feelings are less likely to become hurt when players are stuck being “It” without a light at the end of the tunnel. Basic tag is super fun, but there are cool variations like freeze tag and sharks and minnows, which kids love, too.

Capture the flag

A camp mainstay, capture the flag is often played at summer camp overnights and sleepaway camps. The running game is also a playground favorite. To play, all you really need is multiple participants and two flags. If flags aren’t available, improvise. A flag can be a hat, bandana, or even a baby blanket.

Divide the players into two teams. Then, each team picks a home base. Next, it’s time for the teams to hide their flag. When both teams are ready, it’s time to start. The object of capture the flag is to get possession of the opposing team’s flag and bring it back to base.

Kids can play capture the flag during the day or at night. Tweens, teens, and adults enjoy a spirited round of capture the flag. This running game is also a wonderful team-building activity since players need to work together to be successful.

Nerf battles

Paintballs may sting, but Nerf darts don’t. Tweens especially love taking out their Nerf blasters, dividing up into teams, and heading out into the neighborhood for a battle. A local park is another fun spot to break out the Nerf blasters. These never go out of style and kids will ultimately be running all around trying to get their targets. Just remember to set the boundaries and clean up the darts. Not all the neighbors appreciate Nerf darts all over their lawns.

Obstacle course

If you’re looking to keep kids busy for an afternoon at home, create an obstacle course in your backyard using stuff you have around the house. Kids can take turns running, climbing, and crawling through the obstacle course. You can set timers to see who is the fastest or run races. A backyard obstacle course is also a perfect running game for an outdoor birthday party.


An easy way to get kids outside and running is to set up two soccer nets outside. Even toddlers will enjoy running back and forth on the grass and trying to kick the ball to score a goal. You don’t even need two goals. One is fine. After a goal is scored, the ball goes to the other team. You can play soccer with or without a goal for backyard soccer because the nets are small. Playing goalie should always be a choice and if nobody wants to, playing without a goalie works, too.

Driveway or grass hockey

All you need is a driveway or space on the lawn to play some summertime hockey. Remember hockey in gym class? Kids love this, and it will definitely get them running. You can use a plastic puck or a ball. Divide kids into teams or play one on one. If you’re hosting a backyard party for older kids or tweens, have a set on hand. Driveway hockey is super fun to play as a family too. Soccer nets can double as hockey nets.

More fun running games

Toddler boy running in the park
Ann Rodchua / Shutterstock

Looking for additional inspiration to get kids to want to lace up the sneakers and run around? Try these mainstay running games.

  • Hide and seek
  • Manhunt
  • Pony express or relay races
  • Fill the bucket
  • Egg and spoon races

If you’re a Friends fan, then you remember the iconic Phoebe run. Phoebe may have had a weird running style, but it was all about the joy. Running games are a wonderful way to encourage kids to be active during the summer or any time of the year. Eventually, they may discover the overall joys of running and join you for a jog. If not, these running games are ideal for when boredom creeps in, when the kids need to get the sillies out, or just because. Running games help keep that toddler happiness of running alive regardless of age.

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Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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