Your garden is more than just a showcase for your horticultural skills. It's the outdoor heart of your home. Great garden games can make your garden a lively, vibrant center for welcoming and entertaining people of all ages and activity levels. And the best thing is, you don't need to invest a lot of money in equipment or supplies. In fact, half the fun can be making your gear yourself.
When my family gets together, it's a multi-generational affair. Little kids who want to run and play and scream. We have teenagers who lay low in the daylight then want to have their fun once the sun goes down. There are the gossips, the grill-captains, and the folks who want to have a drink and watch the world go by.
We have to plan for low-energy and high energy, for some people who can't sit still and others who can't move around so well. And an excellent variety of games can bring everyone together, regardless of age, life stage, or mobility.
Why Garden Games?
Everyone loves a party. But sometimes a party needs a little boost to get things started. Other times, a gathering may run out of steam before its time. Great garden games can break the ice if some of your guests are meeting for the first time. They can also provide a transition between the different phases of your party.
Best of all, they can bring diverse groups of people together in an activity that's fun for everyone. And whether you schedule your games in advance or keep them up your sleeve to use as needed, they can make an ordinary gathering into a party your guests will always remember.
Great Garden Games You Can Make Yourself
One of the most stressful parts of setting up for a party is trying to put things together while riding hard on youngsters who seem bent on taking things apart. And if your kids are young enough to be put to bed before the party's over but old enough to know what they're missing, they can make party preparation a misery. But you can turn your little hindrances into helpers by putting them to work making equipment for the games they will later play. It's easy. And fun.
Water bottle bowling
It might not sound like much, but this game is amazing. First, it's a great way to recycle all those plastic drink bottles. Also, aside from a soccer ball (or basketball, or four-square ball), you don't need that much else in the way of equipment. On top of that, anyone who can pick up a ball can play -- and they can do it while standing up, perched on a chair, or even sitting on the ground. Finally, and most importantly, there are a ton of variations so that you can tweak your bowling game for a wide range of ages and ability levels.
For older kids, adults, and folks with a good, strong throw, fill six to nine bottles with water. For people who don't need as much of a challenge, filling the bottles part way with dirt, sand, or pebbles will keep them standing upright, without making things too difficult. Experiment with weight and placement. This is one part where your little party preparation helpers can give you advice.
If your garden party is going to continue into the night, you can add glow sticks to your water-filled bowling pins for a glow-in-the-dark game that teens will love.
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If you have elementary-aged kids, they have probably played Memory at school. It's a card game, where players lay out special picture cards face up. All the cards have images, and every image appears on exactly two cards. Players get a minute or so to look at the cards; then someone turns the cards face down.
Then players take turns turning over two cards at a time, looking for pairs. The player who collects the most pairs wins. How can you play this outdoors? By making it giant, of course! And kids, teens, and people with a creative streak will love helping you make the cards.
How to build your set
We recommend using thirty-six 12-inch by 12-inch posterboard squares. Alternately, you could use pieces of recycled printer paper, the panels from cereal boxes, or the sides of cardboard moving boxes. The important thing is for the pieces to be the same size, and, preferably, to be blank on both sides. Also, consider the weather. If it's windy where you are, then heavier materials are a must.
Next, agree on a list of 18 images. You will put two of each image onto the cards. It's best if you can make them as uniform as possible. But you don't have to! As long as people can tell that each pair contains the same image (for example, a dog) the game will work. Finally, make those cards! Cut, paste, draw, and color. If you have very young helpers, you can print off the images on the computer, glue them on, and have your helpers color them in.
Elementary-aged kids will love showing grownups how to play a game they learned at school. Teens and adults will have fun bringing back a childhood activity, large and in living color. It's simple enough for the youngest and entertaining enough for grown-ups. It doesn't require exceptional strength or dexterity, and it's plenty of fun for spectators, as well.
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Great garden games so often begin with the word "giant" because making something big means everyone can see it. Also, it means you can make the game physical. That is, you don't just play it, you get inside it with your whole body. That is super-fun. And that's what you do with Giant Snakes & Ladders.
Anyone can take their board game outside to play. But with a giant board game, you and your guests get to be the playing pieces. Many board games make great garden games. Give it a try with checkers, Connect Four, tic tac toe, and more.
How to play Giant Snakes & Ladders
Americans will know this game as Chutes & Ladders. I'm borrowing the British name for the game because silly snakes are so much more fun to create than nondescript chutes. And kids will have a blast pretending to run away from giant, colorful snakes with goofy faces. But if you don't like snakes, you can always use chutes, or slides, for your imagery instead.
The game is set up on a grid of 100 numbered squares. The object is to move from square one to square 100. Players throw a giant die to see how many squares to move. If a player lands on a ladder, it pushes them forward fast through the rows. Landing on a snake moves you backward. The first player to square 100 wins. You can read the full rules here.
Building your game board
Sure, you can buy a set of Giant Snakes & Ladders for your party. But it's so much more fun to make one. There are some ways to do this. If you have a hard surface, like a driveway, you can use a yardstick and chalk to draw your board. Alternately, you could use masking tape to create a grid.
This works on grass as well as concrete. For the snakes and ladders, you can draw them or improvise with scarves, towels, or long pieces of cloth. If you're feeling ambitious, you can use a sheet or a large piece of paper to create a board that you can use over and over again, as this family did.
As for the big die, an empty moving box works well. Your guests may have more fun throwing around the giant die than with anything else! You may also use this as a garden mat after playing.
Great Garden Games For Teams
Working together brings people together. And playing together on a team can turn strangers into friends. Some of the great garden games throughout history have used teamwork to break the ice. And that's why they're still popular today.
You may need to buy equipment to play badminton. At the very least, you'll need a net, a shuttlecock, and racquets. Of course, you can always improvise by using racquets from other sports, a ball or other object in place of a shuttlecock, and a clothesline instead of a net. In fact, improvisation may prove to be part of the fun.
Badminton is similar to both volleyball and tennis, in that players take turns hitting an object over a net. But the rules are slightly different from both of those other games. The goal of badminton is to score points. Players score a point when they hit the shuttlecock over the net into the other team's space, and the other side is unable to hit it back before the shuttlecock hits the ground.
You can play badminton with as few as two players, or as many players as you have racquets. It takes a bit of skill, and little ones may have a hard time hitting the shuttlecock, handling a racquet, or reaching the net. But in addition to being fun to play, badminton is a terrific spectator sport. And this is why it's still one of the great garden games around the world.
By contrast, a three-legged race needs little regarding equipment -- just bandanas, string, or even streamers. It can get a bit clumsy. So if you have a large gathering, you may want to divide the competition into two or more different races. This way, you won't risk injury by having larger participants stumbling over smaller ones.
How do you play? Well, that's easy too. First, string a finish line across one end of your playing field. Then set up a starting line opposite that. Next, divide participants into pairs and line them up at the starting line. Pairs should stand side by side, while you tie their inside legs together. This makes a third "leg" that the members of each pair will need to use together. When everyone is ready, shout "Go!" The first pair to make it to the finish line is the winner.
Great Garden Games for Teens
One of the most common complaints from parents' about teens is that they're always glued to their phones, and never in the real world with the rest of us. But sometimes, all it takes is the right activity to draw teens out, and into the center of the party.
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A slackline is one of the great garden games for teens and young adults. Why? Because it requires a unique combination of coordination, physical development, and adventurousness that fits teens to the ground. And in recent years, the slackline has become a favorite activity at parties, park gatherings, and at the beach.
A slackline is like a tightrope in principle. Unlike a tightrope, however, it sits close enough to the ground to step up onto it, either from the ground, or using a stool. It's a fun way to show off balance and creativity. And it can keep your more adventurous guests entertained for hours.
This is one piece of equipment that, for safety reasons, you can't improvise. Slacklines come in different sizes and at different price points. If you think you might want to try it out, here's a handy buying guide with more information.
Glow in the dark capture the flag
If your party continues after dark, teens will have a real blast playing this version of the popular game. The rules are the same. But instead of team colors, players wear glow bracelets with their colors. Each team's "flag" is also a glow stick. This game is loads of fun but has the potential to get quite rowdy and loud.
So be respectful of the people around you. Also, for safety's sake, lay out the playing field while it's still light, and let players familiarize themselves with the features and landmarks. And make sure to remove obstacles and hazards that might cause injury in the dark.
Are You Ready for Some Great Garden Games?
Whether you buy them or make them yourself, garden games will bring your guests together. They're as fun to make as to play. And they can turn your ordinary party into something everyone will remember for years to come.