How to Host Your Own Olympic Games for the Kids

Organize an event your future gold medalists will never forget. (Including one event that's more artsy than sporty.)

Kids Olympic Games for Fitness
Photo: Emma Kim

If you can't wait until the next Olympic Games in Tokyo, plan your own fun activities for the family. The summer Olympics provide perfect excuse to rally your gang for some good, old-fashioned outdoor activities, a little healthy competition, and some great family fitness. Fortunately, you don't need much to pull off these games: just a few easy-to-find props and some open space, whether a backyard, a beach, or a swimming pool. For best results, choose challenges that play to a variety of strengths and abilities, and remember—you don't have to wait four years to do it again.

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Break Into Teams

Teenagers sitting on bouncy balls
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You'll need at least four people to make two Olympic teams for your family fitness competition. Have the whole crew line up in order of height, and send the two bookends—the tallest person and the shortest—to one team. Direct the next pair of bookends to the other team, and alternate until everyone is accounted for. This helps level the playing field without focusing on gender, age, or Little League-MVP status.

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Get Creative With Your Olympic Uniforms

People screenprinting t-shirts
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If your clan skews more artistic than athletic, make designing a uniform your first contest. Give each team the same plain white T-shirts, plus fabric markers or paint, glue, and colorful add-ons (felt, feathers, whatever you have stashed in your crafts closet), and have them trick out the tops according to a team theme. Otherwise, just distribute color-coded tees, wristbands, or knee socks—or all of the above.

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Outdoor Games for the Grass: Backyard Gymnastics

Girl doing cartwheel on the grass
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What you need: A can of water-based athletic-field striping paint.

How to play: First, paint a straight, even stripe on a flat section of lawn to stand in for a balance beam. (A standard gymnastics beam is four inches wide by 16 feet long, if you're feeling fastidious.) Then challenge team members to perform a series of increasingly difficult maneuvers without straying from the stripe: walking backward; hopping on one foot; and doing cartwheels.

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Outdoor Games for the Grass: Blindfold Croquet

Croquet mallets and balls in the grass
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What you need: A croquet set and a length of dark-colored, opaque fabric to use as a blindfold.

How to play: Fun fact: Croquet made its Olympic debut at the 1900 Paris Games (and never got invited back). In this twist on the classic, one team member must complete the course blindfolded, using only vocal cues from a single team member to guide him—which puts as much emphasis on communication and cooperation as on sheer mallet-wielding skill.

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Outdoor Games for the Grass: Crab-Walk Scramble

Two girls crabwalking in the grass
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What you need: Your nimblest teammate.

How to play: Each team selects one member to compete in a crab-walk race—like a reverse crawl, on your hands and feet with your stomach facing up—from one side of the yard to the other and then back again.

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Beach or Backyard Games: Water-Balloon Relay

Water balloons in a bucket
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What you need: A pack of water balloons and a half-dozen position markers (sand pails, large stones, or driftwood would work).

How to play: A water-balloon relay is just as tricky as the old egg-in-spoon relay race you grew up with, only less messy—or wasteful. (If you're able to do this on the beach, running in sand adds an extra challenge.) Mark handoff points (about 30 feet apart) and position runners at each. The first team to make three successful balloon transfers and cross the finish line—balloon intact—wins. Tip: Try using biodegradable water balloons, in case one of the remnants gets buried before you have a chance to collect them.

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Beach or Backyard Games: Olympic-Ring Bean Bag Toss

Boys picking up balls on the beach
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What you need: Five hula hoops and five bean bags. (You can make your own by filling a crew sock with dry beans or rice and tying the ankle in a knot.)

How to play: For this fun backyard game, position the hoops in the same formation as the five Olympic rings. Then have players take turns tossing a bean bag into each ring, while standing behind a line several feet away. Each team member takes five tosses, and earns one point for each bag that lands in a hoop. (Only one bag per hoop gets a point.)

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Beach or Backyard Games: Hula-Thon

Two girls hula hooping on the beach
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What you need: Hula hoops!

How to play: Select one player from each team to compete in a hula-hoop endurance test. Whoever keeps the hoop spinning around his or her waist longest wins.

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Pool Games: Tugboat Tug-of-War

Girl carrying flotation toys for pool
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What you need: Two air mattresses and a rope (at least 10 feet long).

How to play: For this fun Olympic game, choose a pair of players from each team, designating one the "captain" and one the "tug." Each captain sits atop an air mattress, holding one end of the rope, while the tug grasps the outer edge of the mattress and acts as the propeller, pulling the captain and mattress away from the other team. The first captain to drop the rope, topple into the water, or be pulled to the opposite side of the pool loses the game.

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Pool Games: Beach Ball Race

Beach ball floating in a pool
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What you need: Two inflatable balls and two water guns.

How to play: Each player must move his or her beach ball from one side of the pool to the other across the water's surface, using only the spray from the water gun to propel it. Depending on the size and shape of the pool, you may want to position both shooters on one side of the pool, pushing their balls to the opposite side, or have each racer travel along a different pool edge.

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Pool Games: Cannonball Contest

Boy doing a cannonball into a pool
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What you need: One member from each team (who isn't afraid of getting everyone wet!).

How to play: Try this twist on the traditional Olympic dive event: For this pool game, the water landing with the biggest splash wins.

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The Olympic Medal Ceremony

Father and daughter wearing crowns
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Don't have gold medals to award for your winning Olympic team? Crown the family fitness winners kings and queens for the day—complete with construction-paper crowns. They get to decide the dinner menu, pick the evening's movie to watch, and let their loyal subjects (a.k.a. the losing team) handle the chores.

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