The Best Outdoor Party Games for Your Kid’s Next Birthday
Outdoor birthday parties are the best. Here's what to do to make them that much better.
My birthday is December 28. When I was a kid, it would crush me to know that every year for my birthday, everybody would be celebrating the holidays with their families, and I’d likely be stuck inside decorating a cake that none of my friends would ever see. I longed for a summer birthday, and its illustrious tradition of outdoor party games, campouts, and pool parties. My mom ultimately allowed me to “change” my birthday and celebrate on my half birthday, June 28, which ushered in a glorious new era for me. I finally got to play those classic outdoor games, have fun in the sun, and spend time outside with my friends. Those were the most memorable birthday parties of my childhood, when the late June sun didn’t sink until way past bedtime and we were too busy running around the backyard barefoot to sit down and eat cake inside. To this day, I still think of June 28 as my birthday.
The only downside to a summer birthday is that it can be harder to round up other kids with so many families off on vacation. So we’ve included a few helpful tips for planning ahead for a truly great outdoor birthday party. But first: the 10 best outdoor activities you can organize for your kid’s next birthday party that will keep them happy, busy, and create memories that will last.
The Best Outdoor Activities for a Kid’s Birthday
Who hasn’t fantasized at some point about being a ninja, a spy, a superhero, or all three? Take a few yards of string and loop them between trees (a “laser field”), put together a balance beam with a few two-by-fours, put a small kiddie pool beneath a rope swing for a water jump, use a few old big cardboard boxes and tape them together to make a tunnel, and get out some spare tires to make a classic tire run. No fancy frills, just mud and fun. Racing through obstacles (and getting a medal after completing the course) is the stuff that competitive kid dreams are made of.
While no one will ever get tired of a water balloon fight, there are more ways than one to do it. We recommend using sponges (you can even cut them into strips and tie them together to make “water bombs”) they’re not only more convenient to clean up than a million tiny rubber balloon shreds, but they’re also reusable, so you won’t waste your summer days tying water balloons.
Obviously, most summer yard activities end in some sort of fun mess — water, dirt, or our dearly beloved mud. But it can be more fun to take the mess into your own hands. Enter flour bombs. Pour some regular white flour into tissues and tie the corners to create a little pouch of dusty mischief. Handle the “flour bombs” carefully when carrying them — they break pretty easily. When you’re ready for the game to begin, the same rules apply as a water balloon fight or dodge ball. Or use the flour bombs to elevate a game of Capture the Flag. Check out the rules for that here.
DIY “Drive-In” Movie
Creating an outdoor movie theater in your backyard really isn’t as difficult as it sounds. All you really need is a screen, a speaker, a projector, and snacks. When it comes to a screen, you have lots of options. Bed sheets, a white blackout cloth, a formal nylon projection screen, or even a white garage door or a plain outside wall of a house or garage can all work. Then, rent a projector from either your local library or tech store and grab the beefiest Bluetooth speaker you have. Queue the snacks, grab some comfortable pillows and blankets, and download your kids’ favorite movie. Movie-theater birthdays are a classic indoor go-to — and bringing it outside will bring on the magic. Here’s a complete guide on getting your backyard “drive-in” all set up.
The great thing about scavenger hunts is that you can make them whatever you want them to be: complex or simple, large or small scale. Regardless on if you make it a theme (where the clues and the prizes are all about superheroes, dinosaurs, spies, princesses, or astronauts), or you just do a classic ‘hide-and-seek’ with prizes, a scavenger hunts is always fun.
Take a BBQ to the next level and make a camp out party of it for a birthday. Kids love the idea of sleeping outside, and creating a camp-out birthday party is as easy as getting all of your camping gear out of the closet. There are plenty of ways to keep kids entertained — from having sleeping bag races and roasting s’mores to telling stories at the campfire. Bonus points if you hire a wilderness guide to come talk to the group about camping techniques, how to start a fire, how to navigate the wilderness, and what to do when you see a bear. Beats having a clown at the party.
Okay, okay, maybe some kids still like clowns. To each their own. But if you your kid is creeped out by clowns (I’m with you, kid), there’s plenty of other things to do when following a carnival theme, including ring toss, ping pong ball toss, the basketball hoop challenge, a dunk tank, and face painting. Cap it off by serving candy apples, funnel cake, and popcorn.
Have an artistic kid? Take the art outside and show them a whole new way to get creative. We love the idea of hanging a chalkboard on a fence, wrapping a tree trunk in canvas, and using chalk paint on the driveway and sidewalks. All you need to do is lay out some washable paint and markers for the canvas and some chalk for the canvas and sidewalks and see what kind of (washable) masterpieces come out of it.
The public pool can be a nightmare, but if you don’t have a backyard pool, don’t worry. Making a “water blob” is just as fun splashing around in a pool — plus, it’s safe for toddlers and doubles as a slip n’ slide for older kids. All you need to make your own water blob is a tarp, plastic sheeting, duct tape, and a water hose. Follow instructions here.
Have a little birthday musician on your hands? Build a music fence and let kids create tunes of all types in their own backyard. Either use a fence that you already have constructed in your backyard, or nail together a few planks of wood and make a small fence that you can put in your yard. Then, go to a thrift store and find as many strangely shaped, interesting oddities that make a cool sound and put those noisemakers on the fence. Give the kids some wooden spoons, drumsticks, forks and listen to the “music” they make.
What’s better than a classic picnic on a nice, sunny day? Invite kids to bring their favorite foods, spread out some blankets, and get out the yard games. Simple as that.
Tips for Making a Summer Birthday Party a Success
Make Your Summer Birthday a Big Production
Summer Birthday kids may not get to celebrate their big day in school with all their friends — which can make them feel like they’ve been cheated out of something important. Make up for their Unimaginable Loss by making a big deal out of their birthday. Think streamers on the door, for them to wake up in the morning, or a big banner in the living room that says Happy Birthday. Come up with a summer birthday tradition that’s just for a summer birthday celebrant, and no one else in the family.
Send Out Invites Super Early
If you are planning on having your birthday party in the middle of the summer, your child might be worried that their friends will forget about them or not want to come to their party if they don’t see them every day. It may help to assuage their fears if you lock down your RSVP’s ahead of time — that is, before the school year ends — so that your child can move into the summer knowing that they won’t show up to their birthday as the lone guest.
Do Something Extravagant for a Small Party
If you have a small guest list due to the limited availability of people in the summer months, why not take your guests somewhere you wouldn’t normally be able to afford if you had to entertain an entire classroom of kids? Maybe treat four of your child’s favorite friends to an outdoor movie and pizza night, or your child and their best friends to a baseball game. Or, host a backyard campout with a couple of their pals, complete with s’mores and scary stories. A more manageable number of kids means you can really do it up with the party activity itself and your level of involvement.
Or Invite Everyone From Your Child’s Class
Your kid might be attending school with a completely different group of friends in the oncoming school year, but if you have a summer birthday and you’re inviting more than just a few kids from the past school year’s class, the nice thing to do is to invite everyone from the class your kid was just in. Don’t worry about the kids in the class they’re about to enter. Those kids don’t factor in yet (and that would be kind of over the top). Besides, it is likely most people won’t be able to attend, so don’t worry about being saddled with a huge group of kids to pay for. Relax — it’s a summer birthday, and you get to say you did the right thing by not leaving a single kid out.
Take Advantage of That Warm Weather
The best part about a summer birthday is all the outside fun it affords when planning activities and party themes. There are so many possibilities and ways to make the summer season work for your party — from beach parties to backyard parties with slip n’ slides and water balloons and sprinklers. Transform a greenspace into a Butterfly Wonderland, and give guests butterfly wings to run around with. Or have a scavenger hunt party in a park, and give your mini detectives magnifying glasses and mini clip boards as they hunt for bugs, plants, or little trinkets you’ve hidden earlier that day.
Don’t Pay for the Space
Summer birthdays mean opportunities for outdoor birthdays! And being outside means you can opt to have a birthday in a shared public space, like your child’s favorite playground, beach, roller rink, carousel, or even sports field. Just make sure you know when these spaces tend to be less crowded, so you don’t have your party, say, when the local Y camp tends to take their campers to play. It also is key to send a family member or friend to the place early to stake out a few picnic tables so that you can guarantee having your own party area when birthday time rolls around. If you’re doing a park or beach birthday, bring activities like a piñata, bubbles, chalk, or balls, and help kids and parents stay engaged throughout the party.
Have a Contingency Plan
You don’t have to have an indoor space booked just in case it rains on the big day. Bring your own “Plan B” by buying some canopies and setting them up rain or shine — people will appreciate the shade either way. If the indoor space you’ve rented for your party has an outdoor/indoor set up, even better.
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