Entertain (And Exhaust) Energetic Toddlers By Playing “Jump The River”

Add it to your birthday party game list, ASAP.

by Dave Baldwin

Jump the River is an elimination game where kids take turns jumping over an imaginary river until only one is left standing on the other side. It’s super easy to set up, can be played by an entire group of any age kids (or one, if you just want to work on your toddler’s vertical leap), and it adds an element of imagination and storytelling to the simple physical act of jumping. As activities for kids go, it’s one of the best at combining creativity and physicality.

While some parents might recognize it from grade-school PE class, it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as other popular playground games. My wife played as a kid, but I’d never heard of it until she mentioned it when our 2-year-old daughter was learning how to jump. It seemed like a fun way to practice, although it’s obviously meant to be played with a bunch of kids ⏤ the bigger the group, the more fun/competitive. The best part, though, is that it can be played either indoors or out and all you need are two objects to serve as the “river banks.” That and you could be inadvertently be grooming a future Olympian without even knowing it.

Prep Time: one minute

Entertainment Time: 15 minutesEnergy Expended by Child: Moderate

What You Need:

  • Two sticks or pieces of string/tape, chalk, or a handful of rocks

How to Play:

The game begins by laying down two pieces of string (or sticks or tape or two rows of rocks) parallel to one another a short distance apart. That’s the “river.” After deciding whether you want the kids to practice the standing or running long jump, line them up either on the river’s edge or a few feet back. Depending on the age of the kids, at this point it’s fun to create a story. We’re not just jumping over two sticks, you tell them, but rather we’re on an epic treasure hunt in the middle of the forest and have just come upon this raging river. If we don’t all jump across it, we’ll never find the gold!

From there, the kids take turns leaping over the “water.” If a kid’s foot lands in between the sticks, they’re “wet” and out of the game. When the entire group has jumped, the adventure continues. Of course, you then widen the river (moving the sticks, rocks, or string further apart) and … oh know, there’s another river in our way! Everybody lines up to jump again. The game/expedition continues through multiple rounds until only one adventurer/jumper remains “dry” and is left standing on the opposing riverbank to claim the hidden treasure. If nobody can make the final jump, it’s up to you how to end the story. Maybe the entire group starts on another expedition. Maybe the final two split the gold. Maybe everybody just eats a Fruit Roll-up, who knows.

Wrap Up:

I like Jump the River because it develops physical skills while also exercising the kids’ imaginations. Sure, you can skip the storytelling and it’s still fun, but for toddler’s ⏤ or at least mine ⏤ combining them kills two birds with one stone. Also, while we haven’t done it yet, some people like to use the game to practice specific jumping skills ⏤ swinging arms, landing squarely on two feet, etc. ⏤ and/or balance as kids get older. Instead of a simple broad jump, maybe they have to jump off or land on one foot, with the parent offering instruction along the way. No matter how you play it, though, there’s something to be said for a game that keeps both their minds and their legs active.