Every four years, the Summer Games provide the perfect excuse to rally your family for some good, old-fashioned outdoor activities—and a little healthy competition. 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
You’ll need at least four people to make two Olympic teams, but more is better. (Recruit best friends, babysitters, cousins, and neighbors if you want to beef up your roster.) Then 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 Uniforms
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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Games for the Grass: Backyard Gymnastics
What you need: A can of water-based athletic-field striping paint (Rust-Oleum Athletic Field Inverted Striping Spray, $7.50, amazon.com).
How to play: First, paint a straight, even stripe on a flat section of lawn to stand in for a balance beam. (A standard 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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Games for the Grass: Blindfold Croquet
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, with 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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Games for the Grass: Crab-Walk Scramble
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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Games for the Beach: Water-Balloon Relay
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. (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 ($5 for 250 balloons, fatbraintoys.com).
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Games for the Beach: Olympic-Ring Bean Bag Toss
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: 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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Games for the Beach: Hula-Thon
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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Games for the Pool: Tugboat Tug-of-War
What you need: Two air mattresses and a rope (at least 10 feet long).
How to play: 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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Games for the Pool: Beach Ball Race
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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Games for the Pool: Cannonball Contest
What you need: One member from each team (who isn’t afraid of getting everyone wet!).
How to play: Turn the Olympic dive event on its head: For this game, the water landing with the biggest splash wins.
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The Awards Ceremony
As a nod to the royal rulers of this year’s Olympic host country, crown the winning team kings and queens for the day—complete with construction-paper crowns or plastic versions from the costume shop. They get to decide the dinner menu, pick the evening’s movie rental, and let their loyal subjects (a.k.a. the losing team) handle the chores.