16 Fun Backyard Water Games for Kids
We’ve cooked up 16 wacky water games that will cool your kids off. Round up the troops, crank up the hose, and have a blast getting soaked!
Sizzling hot summer days call for clever ideas that can keep you cool. To beat the summer heat, check out these fun water games for kids. Some of them need minimal supplies like water balloons, sponges, or jump ropes—but others require nothing more than your garden hose. Prepare to get soaked!
- RELATED: 18 Fun Outdoor Games for Kids
1. Water Balloon Piñatas
Fill large balloons with water, knot them, then use a short length of string to tie them to tree branches or a clothesline, suggests Michelle Bachman of Little Miss Party, a party-planning firm in New York City. (Note: Cheapie balloons work best for this; they’re easier to pop.) Then grab a Wiffle ball bat and take turns being the blindfolded hitter. Instead of candy, you’ll all get a nice, refreshing shower after this water balloon game!
2. Make an Ice Mold
Toss plastic toys (or any small trinkets) into a big container, fill it with water, and freeze. Flip the ice block out of the mold, and give kids some (not-sharp) tools, like a spoon or a paintbrush, as well as a salt shaker and a spray bottle of warm water. Let the excavating begin!
3. Water Balloon Relay
For this silly race, fill up a bunch of water balloons and split them between two buckets at your starting line. Then put two beach chairs at the opposite end of the lawn. Ready to relay? Break into two teams and have the first person in each one grab a water balloon, run to the chair, and sit down on the balloon until it pops. Then dash back to the starting line and tag the next person to go. If a player drops the balloon before sitting on it, they must go back and get a new one. The first team to pop all of their balloons wins.
4. Ready, Set, Jump
Our simple spin on jumping rope turns it into a fun water game for kids! Provide each player with a full cup of water. One at a time, each player must jump rope for ten turns while holding their cup. The player with the most water left wins.
5. Sponge Ball War
Water balloons are fun, but sponge balls are a total blast! “These spiky guys are easy to make, don’t hurt when they hit their target, and ‘refilling’ them is as simple as tossing them into a bucket of water,” says Meredith Sinclair, author of Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit.
Here’s how to make them: Pick up a bunch of sponges from a dollar store. Stack three on top of one another, and cut them lengthwise into three strips. Cinch them in the middle with a rubber band, then fan out the strips to create a ball shape. Fill up a bucket of water, dunk them in, then fire away!
Or make a game out of it by placing two buckets throwing-distance apart. Divide into teams, and stand behind the buckets, taking turns chucking sponge bombs into the opposite one. The team that gets the most in the bucket wins this water game! Whether your kids get a direct swish or miss, they’re bound to get wet in the process.
6. Human Car Wash
As a fun water game for kids, treat them to a “car wash.” “My boys have me make different trajectories with the hose—a rainbow, a flat line, a shower—and they race through on scooters in our driveway,” says Meredith Shanley, a mom of two in Rockport, Massachusetts. “They squeal at the cold water, but it’s great for cooling off. It counts as a shower in my house!” (You could also have them, you know, actually wash the car.)
7. Freezy Tees Contest
The chill factor in this fast-paced race makes it much cooler than your average dress-up game. Before the contest, prepare a T-shirt for each participant by soaking it with water, wringing it out, and folding it. Placing waxed paper between each one, stack the folded shirts on a baking sheet and freeze them. When they're stiff, hand them out to the players. The first to get into their frozen tee wins!
8. Fill ’Er Up
Place two pails—one full of water, one empty—about 15 feet apart, says Lauren Love, a mother of two in Knoxville, Tennessee, who previously ran a sports camp. Have kids race back and forth trying to transport water from one container to the other using only plastic bowls, sponges, or recycled grocery bags. “The idea here is to get wet,” Love says.
9. Watercolor Chalk
When you get regular sidewalk chalk wet, it transforms into a watercolor-like paint. Start by drawing circles of color on the driveway or sidewalk with the chalk, and then swirl a wet paintbrush into it to create the “paint.” After the kiddos are done admiring their work, all you have to do is hose it—and your little Picassos— down.
As another water game idea, you can add water to clean spray bottles so kids can draw pictures on the patio or “water” flowers drawn with sidewalk chalk. “Sometimes the easiest way to entertain a toddler is to use the everyday items they want to play with anyway,” says Mandisa Watts, a mom of three and founder of Happy Toddler Playtime.
10. Paint with Ice Pops
Fill ice-pop molds with water and a couple of drops of food coloring, and freeze overnight. Set the kids up outside with white paper to design frosty masterpieces using the pops as paintbrushes.
11. Curvy Wet Balance Beam
Lay the garden hose in the grass in any creative, curvy shapes and patterns you want and see if kids can walk on the "curvy balance beam" without falling off, suggests Randy McCoy, curriculum director at The Little Gym. Increase the challenge by trying it with your eyes closed, he says, or with a sprinkler attached at the far end of the hose. "With the water turned on, the hose will be much more firm and more difficult to balance on—and the closer you get to the sprinkler, the wetter you'll get," McCoy says. Next, make a totally new pattern with the hose and try again!
12. Try a Water Table
“We bring the plastic fruits and vegetables from our indoor play kitchen out to the water table, add dish soap and sponges, and let kids wash—and then cook—their veggies,” Watts says. Hand them a pot and a big spoon, and “soup’s” on.
As another idea, load the water table with ice water, bubble foam in different colors, oobleck, and water beads, the way Caroline Nordstrom, a mom of two in Lincoln, Massachusetts, does for her kids: “My 3-year-old loves the oozy, bubbly mess, and it’s a hit with my 7-year-old too.” Raid the recycling bin for interesting containers they can use as pitchers, or poke holes in the bottom of a jug for a DIY sieve.
13. Construct an Igloo
“One of our pandemic impulse purchases was a chest freezer, so now we’re doing a lot of building with frozen colored ice blocks that I store in there,” says Caroline Nordstrom. She makes the blocks using loaf pans with food coloring, but you can also try Solo cups and create pyramids.
14. Create Sprinkler Games
Freeze dancing under a sprinkler offers a good soaking if you stop the music at the right time. “Summer in Arizona is hot, so our outdoor activities are brief and involve water,” says Raquel Beniquez Foreman, who often joins in with her four kids.
Alternatively, call out the name of an animal and tell kids they have to act it out while running (or hopping, slithering, or galloping) through the sprinkler.
As a final sprinkler game idea, lay a Twister mat on the lawn, turn on the sprinkler, and get from right-foot-red to left-hand-blue!
15. Water Balloon Ball
Nothing makes a splash like water balloon ball. This handheld water game can be enjoyed by four players or more, says Len Saunders, a children's fitness expert and author of Keeping Kids Fit. Here's how:
Gather supplies: You'll need 25 to 50 small balloons, a Wiffle ball bat, two bases, a garbage can, and a basketball.
Fill the balloons with water. "It takes only about 10 minutes," says Saunders. Keep them in a trash bag or large bin.
When a batter hits a water balloon, it'll explode—cue squeals of delight—and the batter runs from home base to the second base, placed wherever you like.
Meanwhile, a player from the opposing team tries to shoot the basketball into the garbage can, placed behind home base. "A shooting line designated by both teams must be respected," says Saunders. "If a player misses the shot, she can chase the ball and throw it back to one of her teammates waiting on the shooting line, so she may take another shot." If the shot is made before the batter returns to home plate, he's 'out,' and the opposing team gets a point. If not, the batting team gets a point.
16. Water Olympics
There's no end to the competitive possibilities involving a little H2O, and you don't even need a pool. Think sponge tosses, sprinkler dance contests, water-gun target practice, and shooting baskets with water balloons. Gather a bunch of buckets and tubs and set up an obstacle course. This is a great activity to build kids' confidence, leadership, and creative ingenuity. Encourage them to take the creative lead on devising the games and playing judge.