10 best outdoor games that get the whole family playing together in the sun
Make the most of the sunshine with the very best games for taking playtime outside
There’s nothing quite like an early summer heatwave to get you in the mood for some family fun in the sun. But while the sun’s welcome appearance might be enough to coax the kids outside, working out how to keep them occupied outdoors can be tricky.
Cries of “I’m bored” are no fun at the best of times, but that’s the last thing you want to hear when you’re encouraging your little darlings to top up their Vitamin D levels – and trying to keep them away from digital distractions. Which is where decent outdoor games come in.
Playing outdoors shouldn’t necessarily mean spending lots of money, but climbing trees and making daisy chains can only hold a modern child’s attention for so long.
At some stage, if you want to ensure hours of outdoor play, you’ll need to invest in some carefully-chosen games.
Carefully-chosen, because there are lots of outdoor games that top various must-buy lists at the start of summer, only to end up forgotten in a corner of the garden before long.
Thankfully, there are also lots of brilliant outdoor games that will keep everyone entertained beyond the first flush of summer enthusiasm – and actually stand the test of time.
Our tip? Avoid gimmicky games unless they come well recommended – we tried out several in the course of writing this, and anything that the kids quickly lost interest was consigned to the “no chance” pile.
If you’re looking for an outdoor game that will be enjoyed by young and old alike, stick to the classic garden games. Modern twists on old-fashioned games tend to enthral the grandparents but also hold the attention of youngsters who like to think they’ve seen it all.
Finally, factor in how much space you have and where you’ll be using your outdoor games. A long-distance frisbee is frustrating unless you’ve got a park or a beach nearby, and even then you’ll want to minimise the chances of it colliding with an unsuspecting passerby.
Above all, remember that game play isn’t all about harmony and winning. Even the least competitive family members can quickly find themselves drawn into a cheating scandal when outdoor games are involved. It’s to be expected. Appoint an independent adjudicator where possible and above all, remember to have fun.
We tested these outdoor games over a period of three weeks with three children aged five, 12 and 14 years old. We set them up in the garden and took into account how easy they were to set up and which games the children returned to play with repeatedly, as well as how long each item held their attention for. We also took each item to the beach or to the park to test for portability and travel use.
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Pro all surface Swingball: £39.99, Mookie
It’s an old-skool classic but this is about as much fun as it’s possible to have in the garden with kids of all ages. Our teen tester is so hooked that he appears in the kitchen late in the evening with a bat in his hand and a hopeful expression on his face, and our youngest tester has been outdoors perfecting her swing every single day since this arrived. We love that it works on any surface – fill the base with sand or water and it converts to a carry case that holds all the parts when you’re travelling.
Geologic soft archery set: £34.99, Decathlon
This exceeded all our expectations: it’s so much sturdier and more robust than we imagined and was a complete hit with absolutely everyone – including Grandpa. But be warned, the arrow hits the target with an almighty thwack. The set comes with a bow, two suction cup arrows and a target, and our only complaint is that one bow isn’t really enough. A spare would have meant twice the fun and fewer squabbles over turn-taking.
Aerobie pro flying ring: £9.99, Smyths Toys
Billed as the furthest thrown flying object in the world – apparently it was used to set a Guinness World Record for the farthest throw at 406m – this flying ring has rubber edges so it’s soft to catch. The aerodynamic design makes it easy to throw – even for our five year old tester. Thei claims are true; you can actually play catch with a friend 100m away.
JoJo Maman Bébé dinosaur hoopla game: £21, JoJo Maman Bébé
A lovely outdoor toy for younger kids and one you won’t mind looking at even when it’s cluttering up your house, this wooden hoopla game comes with five rope hoops for throwing over the five cute woodland characters. It’s a good choice of game for helping little ones develop their hand-eye coordination.
Garden Games compendium: £34.99, Museum Selection
This is a brilliant idea and very well executed. You get five classic garden games – snakes and ladders, noughts and crosses, and draughts plus quoits and inflatable dice – and the weatherproof foam pieces slot together easily. Our five-year-old tester enjoyed the set so much that she’s taken to keeping it as a permanent playmat in her bedroom.
Giant pass the pigs: £14.95, Amazon
We had no idea there was an outdoor variation on this classic family game but this has literally provided hours of fun for all ages. We even took it camping! It comes with a rulebook, scorecards, two pencils and two inflatable pigs, all of which fit neatly into a handy string bag. Our five-year-old loved the opportunity to practice counting by keeping score, and our teen testers just enjoyed the hilarity of chucking inflatable pigs around the garden.
Robert Dyas giant garden tower block set: £19.99, Robert Dyas
Think Jenga, only if you’d been shrunk like Alice in Wonderland. This larger-than-life tumble tower game is big enough to cause a stir at your garden party but not so huge that you need to be worried if it falls over near you. It’s made of FSC-certified fir wood, too.
Muddy Puddles traditional wooden rounders set: £29.95, Muddy Puddles
We don’t know about you, but the thing about garden games is that it’s easy to lose bits when you finally put them away at the end of the summer. So we love that this rounders set – complete with four wooden posts, a bat and a soft tennis ball – comes in a handy printed cotton bag. The pieces won’t get lost and it’s easy to cart to the park or the beach.
Rex tennis and Velcro catch ball game: £9.95, Rex
This is a real bargain if you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful outdoor game to perk the kids up when their summer spirits are flagging. You get two double-sided bats, each with velcro on one side, plus a rubber ball and a velcro ball. For such an affordable game, we like that it offers enough versatility to keep kids of different ages interested. Our five-year-old tester loved the velcro option, while her older brothers preferred battling it out without the velcro assistance.
Liberty Games garden chess set: £54.99, Liberty Games
You need a still day to get the most fun out of this outsized chess set – we found a sea breeze quickly blew things off course – but when the weather is in your favour, it’s heaps of fun. The pieces are 30cm high and it comes with a 1.2m square playing mat.
The Verdict: Best outdoor games
The Mookie pro all surface swingball is by far our favourite outdoor family game. It has engaged everyone from ages five to 75 and we love that it’s so portable – we’re even taking ours on holiday! The Decathlon geologic soft archery set also scores top marks with us all – hours of fun guaranteed.
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