The Best Backyard Games to Play With Kids at Your Next Cookout

Cookouts take on an entirely different dynamic when you bring children. Here are 5 games to keep then busy while you eat ribs.

A boy and girl playing the Toddler Cornhole Race in their backyard
Shaw Air Force Base

Once a relaxing way to spend a warm summer day with family and friends, cookouts and backyard BBQs take on an entirely different dynamic when you bring kids. Whereas you used to kick back with a cold beer while your buddy worked the coals, you’re now on constant watch to make sure your toddler’s not walking off the deck or yanking at the dog’s tail.

Sure, kids will often entertain themselves in such situations ⏤ especially if there are a bunch of them running around ⏤ but it still behooves parents eager to enjoy the party to show up with more than just potato salad ⏤ as in, with games. Maybe not a full Rolodex of engaging outdoor activities ⏤ it’s not a birthday party, after all ⏤ but with at least with a handful of games that can keep kids occupied and in full view. Here are five fun ones that require very little prep (or supplies) and should ensure you get at least a few minutes to enjoy those ribs in peace.

Toddler Cornhole Race

Prep Time: 2 minutes to set up the boards.

Entertainment Time: 15 to 45 minutes depending on age and attention span.What You’ll Need: An official cornhole set with beanbags. ‘Toddler Cornhole Race’ is a fast-paced, kid-friendly version of every adult’s favorite backyard BBQ game that blends a running race with tossing bean bags. Essentially, two kids race between the boards, dropping (or tossing) the bags in the holes in a mad dash to complete a set number of laps or reach the winning number of points. It’s a great way to let kids get a taste for the game ⏤ as they’ll inevitably be drawn to snatching bags off the board anyway ⏤ and hopefully after a few rounds, they’ll let the adults actually play uninterrupted. Maybe. Nonetheles, here are the full rules.

Zombie’s Bluff

Prep Time: 30 seconds to find a blindfold.

Entertainment Time: 10–15 minutes.What You’ll Need: A scarf or handkerchief. Think of this as an alternative version of tag played in slow motion. Tie a blindfold around the ‘Seeker’ and spin them around a few times while the other players scatter ⏤ but don’t hide ⏤ in the yard. Once everyone picks a spot, the ‘Seeker’ uses their non-seeing senses to roam the yard zombie-style with outstretched arms trying to tag the other players ⏤ who are desperately trying not to laugh or call attention to themselves. Should the zombie get close, players can duck or crouch or dodge in order not to get tagged, but they can’t move their feet! The last player to get caught becomes the next zombie.

Statue & Tourist

Prep Time: 30 seconds.

Entertainment Time: 10-15 minutes.What You’ll Need: A flashlight or phone with flashlight app and at least four players. Great for sundown or after dark, ‘Statue & Tourist’ is super silly game that also helps kids practice their balancing skills. The premise is simple: One player is the ‘Tourist’ and is on a nighttime tour of some really cool looking ‘statues’ (aka, all the other kids). Players must stand as still as possible ⏤ and resist the urge to giggle or move ⏤ when the ‘Tourist’ shines a flashlight on them and tries to make them laugh (without touching them). Every time the flashlight is not shining on them, the statues are free to move around the yard. But they should do so with caution. If the tourist catches a glimpse of a statue moving, that statue is out and becomes another tourist. Same is true of statues that move or laugh when the light is on them. Eventually, there should be entire group of tourists and only one statue left standing ⏤ the winner.

Ghosts in the Graveyard

Prep Time: None

Entertainment Time: 10-15 minutesWhat You’ll Need: As one might deduce from the name, ‘Ghosts in the Graveyard’ ⏤ a combination of ‘Hide & Seek’ and ‘Tag’ ⏤ is another great after-dark game. One player is the ‘Ghost’ and hides in the yard while the other kids assemble in the graveyard and count to 25. When the count is up, everyone runs to find the ghost. The first person to spot the hidden player should yell out “Ghost!” and upon hearing the call, all the other players must race back to the safety of the graveyard before the ghost tags them. The first person to get caught has to hide in the next round.

Daisy Chain

Prep Time: 1 to 2 minutes.

Entertainment Time: 5 minutes.What You’ll Need: Ideally, more than 5 people. That said, the game works best with 10 or more people and a large yard. All players hold hands in a straight line across the yard. The player at the ‘front’ end of the line (decided beforehand) starts running full force and in all different directions, pulling the rest of the group with them at every turn. While all players must hold on tightly to one another so as not to break the chain, those at the end/back of the chain will have the hardest time ⏤ and ultimately will fall the hardest (because, physics.) Note: this is not a game for kids who are particular about their linen cookout attire. There will likely be grass stains.