8 Best Running Games for Kids

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Running is great for all people, young and old, including our kids! But while we are born to love running, the idea of “going for a run” isn’t exactly the most enticing. That’s why we want to share the best running games for kids to make running FUN!

Exercise is good for kids. In fact, health organizations deem exercise as critical for growth and development. In the U.S., it is recommended kids ages 6 through 17 get as much as an hour of physical activity a day to stay healthy. 

This is because physical activity has been linked to benefits such as: 

  • Improved thinking, memory, brain development, and function
  • Stronger bones, muscles, self-confidence, and competence
  • Higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness; reduced levels of cancer, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and stress
  • And the development of goal setting teamwork, and cooperation

That’s a lot of benefits!

Unfortunately, running is often used as a punishment for kids, zapping the fun out of the activity we were born to love. And many adults will push kids too hard, also killing any will to do it. 

However, playing games is a great way to foster kids’ innate run of loving. 

Here are 8 running games for kids to get them active and into the sport of running!

Related: How to Teach Your Kids to Love Running

8 Best Running Games for Kids

1. Simon Says

In this running game for kids, one child is “Simon.”

The other kids gather around Simon who calls out instructions for what the kids should do including running, jumping on one foot, jumping jacks, hopping, and other physical activities—beginning with the phrase “Simon says…” The kids should only perform the actions if the sentence begins with “Simon says…”.

When “Simon” gives a command that doesn’t start with, “Simon says…” and the kids do it, they are out. For example, the leader says, “Simon says run in a circle”, the kids will run in a circle. “Touch your nose”, if the kids touch their nose, they are out. 

The object of the game is to do what “Simon says” without getting out—boosting listening skills as well as physical activity.

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2. Fruit Salad (or Categories)

In this running kid game, one kid stands at the end of a field or gym, and the others stand on the other end. The child that is “it” has a type of fruit in mind that the other kids must take turns guessing. 

When one of the children guesses the correct fruit, the child who is “it” will say “Yes!”. Then the correct guesser must try to run to the other end of the field where the “it” person is without being tagged. If they do, then they win. If they don’t, then they are “it” next. 

This game can be played featuring different categories such as candy, vegetables, or sports. 

The object of the game is to correctly guess the fruit (or another category) and run to the other side without getting tagged.

Related: 13 Tips to Balance Running with Being a Parent

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3. What time is it Mr. Fox?

This is another game in which the “it” child aka Mr. Fox stands on one end of a field or gym and the other kids stand on the other side. 

The kids will ask “What time is it Mr. Fox?” and Mr. Fox will answer with a time such as 6 o’clock. At which point, the kids will take that number of steps forward. So, at 6 o’clock, the kids will take 6 steps forward. 

This will repeat until Mr. Fox deems “it’s supper time!!” Then Mr. Fox will turn around and try to tag one of the other participants before they can run to the side Mr. Fox was on (similar to the Fruit Salad game). 

If he or she tags someone, they are Mr. Fox next. If they don’t, then they are Mr. Fox again. 

The goal of the game is to get to the other side without being tagged by Mr. Fox!

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4. Red Light/Green Light

This game is similar to Simon Says in which kids must be great listeners. If they get a command wrong, they are out. 

The “it” child or adult stands on one end of a field or room with the other kids on the other side. The “it” person calls out the following commands:

  • Red light which means stand still
  • Yellow light which means walk slow
  • Green light which means run

The person who can make it to the other side of the room (where the commander is) is the winner and gets to be the person to call out the shots next time. Those who don’t follow the instructions, for example, run on a red light, are out!

Related article: The 9 Best Kids’ Running Shoes

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5. Mother, May I?

Mother, May I? is another twist on Simon Says and is great for children as young as 3. The
“mother” can be a child or an adult standing at the front of the room or far end of a field, facing the kids. 

The Mother calls out a child by their name and gives a command like “Eleanor, run 5 steps forward.” The child will then ask, “Mother, May !?”

The mother can then say “yes” in which the child runs forward 5 steps or “no” in which the child stays in their spot. 

If the child moves and forgets to ask “Mother, May I?”, they must go back to the starting position. 

The goal of the game is to get to Mother first. If you do, then you have a chance to be the one calling the shots in the next round. It’s a great way to practice listening while getting exercise. 

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6. Sharks and Minnows

There’s a good chance you’ve played Sharks and Minnows in the pool, but you can play it on the ground, too! And it’s great exercise (and fun!) for kids!

In this running game for kids, one kid is selected as a “shark” and must stand on one side of a room, gym or field. The other players are on the other side. They will call out “Shark, shark, may we cross your ocean.”

The shark can say yes or no. If the shark says, “Go, minnows, go!” the “minnows” must run across to the shark side without being eaten (aka tagged) by the shark. If you are tagged by a shark, then you join the shark team. The rounds repeat until there is one minnow left who is the winner! 

The winner can then choose to be a shark in the next round if he or she would like. 

Related: Running with a Stroller Safety Tips

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7. Ghost in the Graveyard

Ghost in the Graveyard is a classic running game that’s fun for kids all the way up into the teen years where it’s often enjoyed at night in the dark. 

Here’s how to play: choose an area where there can be good hiding spots. Make sure everyone is aware of where the boundaries are. It could be in your yard or a field. (It is best played outside). Designate an area as the “base” such as a tree where players are safe from being tagged if touching it. 

The kids are divided up so that one is the “ghost” and the rest are the “ghost hunters.” The ghost hides and the other players stay at home base and count, “1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock” up to midnight. Then they yell, “midnight, midnight, I hope I catch a ghost tonight!”

At this point, the players leave the base and look for the ghost. If the ghost is spotted, the ghosthunter will yell “Ghost in the graveyard!” The ghost will try to catch one of the other players by tagging them before they get back to base. 

If a person gets tagged, they are the ghost for the next round. If no one gets tagged, the person last to the base is the ghost in the next round.

The object is for the ghosthunters to get to the base before being tagged by the ghost. 

Related: What to Wear When You Start Running

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8. Zombie Tag

We can’t talk about running games for kids without talking about tag.

In this sense, we are going to give the traditional game of tag a spin and make it “zombie tag.” (Though you can keep it simple with tag or even freeze tag.)

To play, one (to two) players is “it.” The “it” player counts to ten while the other players move away. When the “it” person has counted to ten, then it’s up to them to run and eat (aka tag) the other players. When tagged, the players turn into zombies and try to eat (tag) the other humans. 

You can spice up the game by giving the humans soft balls or rolled-up socks to hit the zombies with. When hit, the zombie must freeze for 10 seconds. 

The object of the game is to remain a human. The first person tagged and turned into a zombie is it for the next round.

And, if your kid gets the running bug from playing these fun running games for kids, check out our Getting Started Running Guide for ways to go even further in the sport!

Photo of author
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the US Olympic Trials marathon.

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