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Backyard Olympics: How To Have Your Own Field Day

Want to encourage active play for your kids? Give them something to anticipate and an event to remember? Invite their friends, neighbors and cousins over and put together a Backyard Olympics for them! You can stick with a theme of physical fitness and fun, or add a geography element by having each 'team' of kids represent a country. While you're getting the games ready, they can research their country and make a replica of its flag.
Getting Ready
Have a cooler of ice water on hand for your athletes, and they'd probably appreciate some frozen fruit pops, fresh fruit or other cooling treats.
First Place Ribbon

You can buy medals at your local party supply store, or make them yourself with gold-wrapped chocolate coins or homemade medallions glued to ribbons. If you decide to make medals yourself, enlist the older kids to help the younger ones assemble them.

You may want to begin with a torch and a ceremony. You can use a glow stick for a torch, or tie strips of red and yellow tissue paper to a handle. Let the kids run around the block with the torch. Just make sure there's a system in place to ensure that each child who wants a turn gets one!

Games can be as simple or as complex as you like. Kids are happy to be active in a group and have your attention. They won't mind if you don't have time to pull together something elaborate; use what you have on hand. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Individual Events
Backyard games

Frisbee Golf
Set up goals in the yard — a tree, a light post, a rock — and mark them with colored tape. Each participant "tees off"  from a specific spot and tries to hit the next goal with the Frisbee, standing wherever it lands for their next toss. Whoever makes it to the final goal with the fewest tosses is the winner.

Long Jump
Moving on to the next event you can have the winner from the last round go first. Choose a soft spot in the yard for a long jump and mark off the beginning spot for each jump. Let the kids get a running start and see how far they can get. Mark at least three areas by using different color flags or cones, this will give each child a goal to hit.

Balance Beam
Based on how long everyone jumped in the last round have the third longest jump go first. Set a sturdy two-by-four across some concrete blocks or bricks to create the beam (remember safety first have a parent near by to hold hands with younger children). Let the kids take turns being the judges, using magic markers and index cards to score the participants.

Freestyle Gymnastics
Again be creative with who starts this round first based on the scores from the Balance Bean. Let the kids who enjoy tumbling create on-the-spot routines to music, while the other kids act as judges. Hot outside? Do the tumbling routines under the sprinkler! If you have a swing set or play equipment in your yard, some of the kids may want to use the bars, rings or trapeze. Monitor them closely for safety.

Team Events 
Team sports

Beach Volleyball
Mix and match the teams based on performance from the last four events. Maybe you don't have a beach, but you can still play volleyball! If you don't have a net and ball, string a piece of ribbon between two branches and play with a blow up beach ball.

Relay Races
You can use the same teams from volleyball or set up each relay team according to the ages of the kids (adults could play, too!) and the number in your group. You can fill an afternoon with old-fashioned relay race activities. Egg on a spoon? Sack races? Three-legged race? Wheelbarrow races?

Kids' Choice
Ask the kids for their ideas. What other team sports can they think of? Soccer?  Baseball? Badminton? Field Hockey? What games do they have equipment for and love? You may be surprised at what gets dragged out of neighborhood garages.

Kids are not always fair or kind to each other, and they don't always manage themselves well in groups (remember "Lord of the Flies?"). You'll need to help organize well-balanced teams, relieve judges of duty if they're not being fair, make sure no one gets hurt and arguments are resolved quickly. Keep things moving and keep it lighthearted. If there are kids in your group with disabilities, injuries, asthma, or other reasons for sitting out the games, help them be involved as organizers or judges — or encourage them to put together the half-time show! Happy summer!

Lauren Haas is a writer who specializes in finding the fun! Lauren was the publisher of the St. Louis Area Family Gazette for eight years, and now writes freelance articles on St. Louis events and attractions, budget travel, arts and entertainment and fitness topics. Her work can be found at

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