Today's children can be almost entirely sedentary, glued to screens interacting with a virtual games world rather than getting outside and playing games for real.
A recent and shocking report found that the average British child spent less time outdoors than adult prisoners: 74% of children spent less than one hour a day in the fresh air, almost a third of children play outdoors for 30 minutes or less and one child in five doesn't play outside at all.
Parents, it's up to us to rebalance our children's lives and introduce them to the joy of games we took for granted as kids ourselves. If our kids see us slumped on the sofa, switching our attention between different screens, it's little wonder they'll do the same.
As they grow up, you can bet the times that stand out in our kids' memories won't be (thankfully) the blank-eyed time spent in front of screens; they will be those days when their parents gave them their whole, undivided attention and played too.
Here's a guide to the rules to some of the best outdoor games for you to introduce to your children. All you need is a bit of outside space - a garden, playground or park. Play at least one of these games this week and you are guaranteed to feel better in both body and spirit. Enjoy!
1. British Bulldog
The larger the number of players, the more fun so why not suggest a game with your neighbours or other families? One or more kids are selected to be the 'bulldogs' who stand in the middle of the play area. The rest of the players stand at one end (home). The aim of the game is to run from one end of the field of play to the other, without being caught by the bulldogs. When a player is caught, they become a bulldog themselves. The winner is the last one to be caught - the zippiest, quickest dodger and diver.
Tag couldn't be simpler: one person is chosen to be 'it', then 'it' chases the others players. When 'it' touches another player then the tagged player becomes 'it'. And on you go.
3. Capture The Flag
This is a great game to play in a large group. Players are divided into two teams and given two zones (one side of the park grass each, one part of the wood each, wherever you are). Each team is given five minutes to hide their flag (or jumper, or scarf or whatever is to hand), then both teams return to a neutral starting point and simply try to get the other team's flag. If a player is caught and tagged by an opponent, she must go to 'jail' and can only be freed by a teammate who rescues her when the opposing team isn't looking. The first team to capture the other team's flag wins.
4. What's The Time Mr Wolf?
The point of the game is to avoid being 'eaten' by Mr Wolf. Choose who will be Mr Wolf, then Mr Wolf and the kids then line up at different sides of the play area. Mr Wolf then stands with his back towards the other children and the children ask in unison 'What's the time, Mr Wolf?' Mr Wolf answers with a time, such as, 'It's 9 o'clock'. The kids then take nine steps towards Mr Wolf. At any point Mr Wolf can answer: 'Supper time!' and turn round, chasing and howling as he tags (or pretend munches) as many screaming kids as possible before they reach their 'home' (a 'safe' area previously decided on like touching a tree).
5. Hide And Seek
Simple but great fun. One person is chosen to be 'it' and closes his eyes (no cheating) and counts to 10 (or whatever number has been decided, depending on the size of the space and age of children) while everyone else hides. When the person who is 'it' finishes counting, they call out 'Coming, Ready or Not' and sets off to find everyone. The rest of the players try to get back to base without getting tagged or else they are 'It'. If 'It' doesn't tag anyone, they stay 'It' for the next round.
It's like hide-and-seek but only one person hides at first. Everyone else has to try and find the hider, hiding with him or her when they do. The hiding place slowly becomes hugely cramped (like sardines) and the last person to find the group is the loser. An ideal game for indoors.
7. Stuck In The Mud
This game can be played with three or more or a large group of parents and children. One person (or two if it's a bigger group) are chosen to be the catchers. When they catch or tag someone, that person is 'stuck in the mud'. The person has to stand still with legs and arms spread wide apart, not moving. The only way to release him/her is if another person who isn't stuck goes under the child that is stuck to free them. (Cue comic manoeuvres if a large, not very flexible adult is trying to squeeze under a child.) The game continues until everybody is stuck - or you're all exhausted.
One child becomes the catcher – the hungry shark – and everyone else pretends to be shipwrecked, clinging to pieces of shipwrecked boats previously decided on - trees, bushes, garden furniture, walls but, essentially, always one less than the number of players. Everyone runs away from the shark and grabs hold of 'wreckage' to survive. If someone else arrives at your piece of wreckage, you have to move on because only one player is allowed on each piece of wreckage at a time (think Kate and Leo in Titanic). If you are caught 'in the water', you become the shark.
9. Red Rover, Red Rover
This works best playing with at least one other family. Do you remember the excitement of playing this at school when every child in the playground was involved in this game? Bliss!
You divide into two teams. The teams then line up holding hands parallel to each other with lots of space in between. The first team chooses a player from the other team to try and break through their line. After the child or adult is chosen, the team shout 'Red Rover, Red Rover... let (whatever the player's name is) come over.'
The named player will then try and break through the hands of two people on the opposing team. If the runner breaks through, then he chooses someone from the opposing team to join his team. If he doesn't break through, he must join that team. The game ends when everyone is on one team.
More From Back On Track
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more