Backyard fun

Whether you're hosting a party or entertaining your kids, outdoor games are fun for everyone.

Traditional games like horseshoes and bocce ball can be played in a spacious backyard, as can croquet. These games are relaxing and require negligible athletic skill, though supervision is advised with children, given the nature of flying horseshoes, balls or mallets.

There are a multitude of oversized games available, including chess and checkers, Connect 4, Tic Tac Toe, Scrabble, Bananagrams, Yahtzee or dominoes. Kids especially enjoy these larger-than-life games in an outdoor setting, where their bodies can move in the fresh air while their brains strategize.

Not every game requires the purchase of specialized equipment. Many old schoolyard games are coming back into play for a fresh generation. Tag and its variants such as freeze tag, TV tag and flashlight tag have been enjoyed by children for generations. Younger kids love games like Duck, Duck, Goose; Simon Says; Red Light/Green Light; Follow the Leader and Mother May I.

Playing hide and seek while the lightning bugs flash in a cool evening breeze is a rite of childhood passage. The game of sardines is a reverse hide and seek, where the person who is "it" hides, and everyone else seeks. When found, the seeker joins the hider in their hiding place until only one person is it. Careful where you choose to hide – you may soon feel like a sardine!

Outdoor scavenger hunts can be enjoyable, especially if you hunt with your eyes instead of collecting items, greatly decreasing the clean-up time when the hunt is over. The list of items might include things in nature like a butterfly, flower or squirrel, or things in your neighborhood, such as a yellow house, a little free library or a city bus.

On hot days, water cup races can bring on the fun, as well as relief from the heat. String up a few plastic cups along a string and shoot a water gun to move them along. First past the finish line wins!

Cornhole is a popular Midwestern game, involving throwing a bag of dried corn (or beans) through holes in an angled wooden board. If you don't have one, you can use a ladder, upright or prone, instead. The farther away, the more points your bag of corn or beans scores.

A colorful parachute can be the basis of a lot of imaginative fun for kids, and there are many games that can be played. One of the most popular is Popcorn, where the kids grab the handles of the parachute and move them up and down and side to side, while balls skitter around on the surface. Try not to let the popcorn escape the pan! Another is Up We Go, where everyone lifts the edges of the parachute as high as they can while a predesignated person runs underneath and tries to make it to the other side before the parachute comes down.

Jump ropes still maintain their popularity, including jumping double Dutch. The singsong sayings that maintain the rhythm of jump rope games can also be used for hand clapping games. Some of these games can be quite complex, and science has shown that reaching hands across the midline of the body can increase brain activity and reduce stress.

Capture the Flag can be quite exhilarating and fast-paced, as opposing teams try to capture a flag from each other's territory. Rules vary, but the competition is generally fierce.

Relay races can be a fun activity to get out the jiggles. Be sure to spice it up with variations like skipping, jumping, bear crawling, twirling or hopping on one leg.

If you have a backyard patio, draw a hopscotch. This not only gets the kids active, but it can also help young children learn to count. A bubble machine pairs nicely with a game of keep away from the bubbles, or alternatively, bubble pop. And lastly, lawn Twister can be played with just a bit of spray paint on the grass.

Make sure to have some delicious outdoor drinks or frozen goodies to cool off afterward! Or once the weather turns cool and crisp this fall, some hot apple cider or hot chocolate will do the trick.

Carey Smith is a freelance writer from Springfield who has spent many years enjoying outdoor games with her kids.