With more access to technology like television, tablets, and smartphones than any other generation, children around the world are getting less exercise. For example, a recent study by Bristol University has revealed that there is a significant drop in children’s physical activity levels by the time they finish primary school. In fact, their results suggested that between the ages of 6 and 11, children in the UK lose an hour of exercise each week of the year, with an even greater fall in activity levels on weekends. It’s therefore more important than ever that we encourage our kids to get up and get active — and games are a great way to do this while still keeping it fun and light-hearted.

Outside play in early childhood is not only important for keeping kids physically active, but it’s also a key factor in their emotional, social, and cognitive development (Cranmore). Children can learn to share, communicate, and read social cues as they play together, which are all important skills they will take with them into later life. So, to help keep their minds and bodies active, here are three forgotten schoolyard games you can introduce your little ones to this September.


Similar to the classic game of British Bulldog, the aim of Octopus is to reach the other side of the playing field and be the last remaining player that gets tagged. Choose one child to be the Octopus, either by a random selection or a quick game of rock, paper, scissors among the volunteers. The Octopus stands at the centre of the playing field and calls out the rhyme, “I am the Octopus, full of black potion – Let’s see if you can cross my Ocean!” All the other players are lined up in a row and will be the ‘fish’ that will attempt to get from one side of the ocean to the other.

After the Octopus calls out their rhyme, they run to catch and tag the players attempting to cross to the other side. In one version of this game, the tagged players then link arms with the Octopus to become a long tentacle that grows and helps to tag more children as they run across the ocean. In another, you can add a sea-themed twist to Stuck in the Mud by having tagged children freeze in place to become seaweed. Once they’re frozen as seaweed, they can pivot in place and wiggle their arms to reach passing players and freeze them too. The last player to be tagged by the Octopus or any of their seaweed friends is declared the winner!

What’s the time, Mr Wolf?

This old-school game requires no equipment, meaning it’s perfect for last-minute playtime both indoors and outdoors. To start, arrange all the players in a row and nominate one child to be Mr Wolf. Have Mr Wolf stand at the opposite end of the playing field (or the room) to the other players, and turn to face away from them.

Once in their positions, the players ask in unison: “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” The child playing Mr Wolf then responds with a time, such as 4 o’clock, and the players advance the same number of steps (in this case, four) while counting them aloud. The game continues like this until Mr Wolf feels that the players are getting close to his back and decides to respond with “Dinner time!” instead of a number — using their scariest, most scream-inducing growl, of course. Once they declare dinner time, Mr Wolf can turn around and chase the players: whomever he catches and ‘tags’ becomes the next wolf to stand and turn their back.

Because the traditional version doesn’t allow Mr Wolf to turn around and look at the players sneaking up on him, this helps to develop children’s visual and working memory, patience, and quick reactions. So, as well as the physical exercise (and fun) required to chase and nominate the next player, ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf?’ has actually been referenced by Harvard as a useful developmental game for children aged 5–7.


Another forgotten game that’s great for both indoor and outdoor play, Sardines is all the fun of hide-and-seek but flipped on its head. One person must be chosen or volunteer to be the first hider, while the rest of the players congregate with their eyes closed and count. Players should try to choose an appropriate amount of hiding time for the space they are playing in, as while indoor spaces may offer plenty of quick hiding places, games held a large playing field will require more than ten seconds of counting. This element of the game makes it a good test of kids’ communication skills and their ability to judge times and distances.

Once the first person has hidden, the remaining players must split up and seek him/her out. Once a player finds them, they must join them in their hiding place — cue lots of stifled giggling! Eventually, all the hiders will be packed into the original hiding spot like sardines until the final seeker tracks them down. This player then become the first one to hide in the next game.

“The time our children spend on the playground is more important than you might think. It’s more crucial than ever that we find fun, affordable ways for our kids to stay active and spend more time outdoors. Not only this, but games can also play a large part in their social and cognitive development, such as learning how to cooperate, use their imagination, and practice patience.

“You might be buying them new school shoes or new lunch boxes for the year ahead, but introducing your little ones to some forgotten old-school games can be a great way to give them something different to show their friends — and let us parents take a walk down memory lane!”