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Marco Polo for kids, in or out of the water

Marco! Polo! Chances are you’ve played this fun pool game on a warm summer afternoon. The game Marco Polo is a classic. No one is really sure who gets credit for creating it or naming it after the famous 13th-century explorer, but the game first started making its rounds in pools during the 1960s.




10 minutes

What You Need

  • Pool

  • Participants

  • Parent supervisor

While Marco Polo didn’t make an actual discovery, the Venetian merchant holds his place in history thanks to documenting his travels along the Silk Road in China. Polo coauthored a popular book of his adventures exploring places foreign to Europeans as well as his time in the court of Kublai Khan.

Blind Man’s Bluff

Marco Polo is essentially Blind Man’s Bluff in water. Blind Man’s Bluff was a trendy game in the 16th century. Both games have the same format with one player being “it” and closing their eyes while trying to catch the other participants who give verbal clues as to their location.

The game Marco Polo is played all over the world, but it does go by other names in some areas. It is also known as Mermaid on the Rocks and Alligator in other spots. It’s even moved out of the pool and online, but when summer rolls around and it’s time to hit the pool, you will inevitably hear the familiar call of “Marco!”

How do you play Marco Polo?

The rules on how to play Marco Polo are pretty straightforward. While you can play Marco Polo with two players, the ideal number of players is four to six. “Fish out of water” is a variation of Marco Polo, where one of the participants is caught by Marco trying to sneak out of the pool. Typically, all players stay in the water, though some variations allow the participants one chance to try to slip out of the pool. If a player gets caught exiting the water by Marco, they become the new “it.”

Step 1: One person is designated as “it.”

Step 2: The person tapped as “it” must close their eyes and resist the temptation to peek.

Step 3: They call out “Marco” while the other participants in the game answer with “Polo,” as they move around the pool.

Step 4: The person who is “it” relies on other senses to catch someone.

Step 5: Once caught (or tagged), the person now becomes “it” and the game continues.

Child in a pool with arm floaties
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to keep Marco Polo safe

Since Marco Polo is a game played in water, it's important to follow a few simple rules to keep all the players safe. Keep these rules in mind for your next game of Marco Polo to make sure everyone has fun.

Arguments are inevitable when games involve a group of kids, especially when some of the participants are very competitive. That’s when a ref comes in handy. Remember, Marco Polo is a game that relies on the honor system. “It” should keep their eyes closed the whole time, and the other players should acknowledge when they have been tagged.

Step 1: Before getting into the water, ensure all the participants can swim.

Step 2: Make sure players in need of noodles, floaties, or life jackets have them on before the game starts.

Step 3: If anyone in the group is not a strong swimmer, keep the game out of the deep end.

Step 4: Avoid making younger kids “it.” It'll be frustrating for them to catch anyone and hard for little ones to keep their eyes closed the whole time.

Step 5: Decide before the game starts that all players must stay in the water or if each player is allowed one opportunity to be the “fish out of water.”

Step 6: If the game involves a group of children, have an adult or caregiver serve as a referee/lifeguard.

Step 7: To avoid arguments, the ref has the final say about whether a player has been caught.

Step 8: When “it,” keep the tags light. Try not to grab players, especially those who may not be extremely confident with their water skills.

Kids jumping into a pool
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Set a time limit for “it”

The game can get pretty frustrating for the person being “it” if they can’t catch anyone. This is often when tears or fights start when the “it” kid keeps narrowly missing tagging someone. In order to keep the game rolling along with the laughs, set a time limit for each person designated as "it."

Step 1: Designate an adult poolside to keep time.

Step 2: Set a 5- to 10-minute time limit to complete a round if someone hasn't been caught.

Step 3: The person farthest away from “it” becomes the new Marco.

Marco Polo is definitely an exciting pool game for kids and adults. It’s a great way to have a bit of fun in the pool at a party or just with the family. The game has certainly stood the test of time and has even been turned into an amusing advertising campaign, complete with Marco Polo playing his game.

Why Marco Polo’s name became tied to the popular pool game remains unknown, but the Venetian merchant remains etched in history books for more than just his exploration adventures.

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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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