11 Fun Pool Games and Activities for Kids

Marco Polo will never go out of style, but mix it up with some of these lesser-known pool games and activities for kids.

kid underwater wearing goggles
Photo: Priscilla Gragg

During warm summer days, children love splashing in the swimming pool. It is a beloved pastime, one which kids of all ages enjoy. But eventually, even the most water-loving kiddos will tire of playing Marco Polo. That's why we rounded up 11 unique pool games and activities to elevate your swimming experience, whether you have an in-ground pool, above-ground pool, or kiddie pool. We also put together some safety tips to keep in mind while your children cool off in the water.

Swimming Pool Games and Activities

If you've got an above-ground pool or an in-ground pool, try out some of these unique games and activities recommended by real parents.

Test their recall. "Categories is one of our favorites," says Jennifer Tietjen-Prozzo, a mom of two in Fairfield, Connecticut. One person sits on the side of the pool while the others line up to jump off the diving board (or the edge). The person on the side calls out a category (favorite food! sea animals!) just as the first kid on the board jumps. The object: The jumper has to get their answer out before hitting the water. Try to say "pepperoni pizza"—it's next to impossible unless you get a lot of air.

Grease the melon. "Think water polo but with a giant, slippery watermelon," says Brooke Bomar, a mom of three in Durham, North Carolina. "My 11-year-old son plays this with his swim team, and it's so fun and so hard." Just rub Vaseline or sunscreen all over a watermelon, then break into two teams and do your best to get the fruit into your goal (the other side of the pool). Don't like to play with food? You can buy a fake watermelon ball on Amazon.

Give props to the racers. Hand each kid an inner tube and tell them to swim it to the other side of the pool using only their hands to paddle or feet to kick, suggests Jenny McCuiston, a mom of four in Troy, Michigan, and former competitive swimmer who qualified for the Olympic Trials twice. Her other fave: Each person has to push a beach ball from one end to the other without touching the bottom with their feet. "This one takes a lot of energy and is a great way to practice kicks," says McCuiston.

Splash in slo-mo. Have all the kids jump separately or together into the pool while you record a video on your phone using the slow-motion setting, which makes anything infinitely cooler.

Hang ten. Let kids try to balance on boogie boards and see how long they can stand (be sure they are in the middle of the pool, away from edges). It's great fun for little ones, too—just hold their hand.

Try a change of scenery. Take Marvel figures, L.O.L. Surprise! dolls, or anything plastic into the shallow end or a large stairs area. Something about bringing kids' actual toys into a place they don't normally go is a happy switch.

Stoke their competitive side. "One of the most fun things about being on Survivor four times is all the challenges," says season 16 champion Parvati Shallow, a mom of one. "Water races are some of the hardest but also the best chances to test your skills." Start each kid in a different corner, toss a few rings or pool noodles into the center, then, "Ready, set, go"—see who can capture the most and return to their corner first.

girl in swimsuit with wet hair
Priscilla Gragg

Kiddie Pool Games and Activities

You don't need a massive swimming pool to make kids happy this summer. These four activities can elevate your kiddie pool with a few simple supplies.

Hack a teeny water park. Got older toddlers? All you need is a plastic slide and a sprinkler, and you have your very own splash mountain. Put the bottom of the slide into the pool, aim the spray over it, and wheeeeeee!

Work in science. Gather up random waterproof items and play "Sink or float?" Amanda Cullinan, a mom of three in Summerfield, North Carolina, suggests grabbing anything—a quarter, a bottle cap, a golf ball, a LEGO brick, a pencil—and creating a chart with Sink and Float columns. Ask kids to predict what will happen once the items are plunked in the pool, then compare with the results.

Soak alfresco. Take a bubble bath outside in the kiddie pool. Bath bombs! Foaming soap! All the toys! "I do this with my kids when things start to feel like Groundhog Day around here, and they love it," says Meghan Cevey, a mom of three in San Diego.

Race boats. "My husband and I save our wine corks. Then come summer, we help the kids build boats for their kiddie pool," says Jo Piazza, a mom of two in Philadelphia and host of the podcast Under the Influence (which, incidentally, refers to mom influencers on Instagram, not alcohol). Glue a few corks together, make a sail using a toothpick skewered through a triangle of paper, then stick it into a cork, and you're seaworthy. "We drink a good amount of wine, so we can make a sizable fleet!" Piazza says.

kids jumping in pool
Priscilla Gragg

General Pool and Water Safety

No doubt, water play is super-fun. But there are risks. Stay vigilant and you'll keep the good times rolling.

Be proactive. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises swimming lessons for many children starting at age 1, but you can teach a baby as young as 4 months old to build confidence in the water, says Jenny McCuiston, cofounder of Goldfish Swim School. Avoid leaving toys in or near the pool so as not to attract kids, and drain baby pools and water tables at the end of each day.

Designate a water guardian. Ideally, rotate adults every 30 minutes," says Molly O'Shea, M.D., a pediatrician in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and a water-safety advocate. Have a physical thing—a lanyard with a tag, for instance—to hand off to the next guardian so everyone knows that there's a person who always has eyes on the kids.

Discuss rules of play. When friends come over, Melissa Gonzalez, a mom of three in Ormond Beach, Florida, and a former lifeguard, relays her requirements: no running on the patio, no going near the pool without an adult, no splashing in others' faces, no chicken fights, no leaving the yard, and no wet towels in the house. "Do I have to repeat myself? Absolutely," she says. "But you want these rules to be ingrained, so repeat them—a lot."

Save their skin. "My number-one tip is to wear sun-protective clothing," says Ellen Marmur, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. Buy two sets every few seasons, because the UPF may break down. But you still need to put on sunscreen: UV rays also reach about 2 feet underwater, so skin can get burned even if submerged. Apply every two hours or after getting wet.

Protect their eyes. Chemicals from the pool can have harsh effects, says Kara Hartl, M.D., an eye specialist in Fairbanks, Alaska. Have kids wear goggles if they go underwater. "Too much exposure can cause a surface irritation on eyes, like a sunburn," Dr. Hartl says. Soothe gritty-feeling eyes with over-the-counter lubricated eye drops. Store in the fridge for extra relief.

Keep cool. When temps rise, heat exhaustion and dehydration are issues. The AAP suggests giving kids water to drink before they ask for it. Plan for extra downtime even if they're in the water.

Parts of this article originally appeared in Parents magazine's July 2021 issue as "Water Play All Day!" Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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