Games for Kids: Old-School Games to Play with Kids

A mother and daughter playing a card game together

Old-school games are timeless and encourage thinking and imagination. Whether you are seeking a non-tech game for your children to play, need something to pass the time, or just want an inexpensive activity, check out this list created by Bright Horizons® early childhood education experts. 

It is a happy talent to know how to play. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

As parents, we’ve all heard that complaint, “There’s nothing to do. I’m bored!” These days, technology is often our default solution to boredom, but it hasn’t always been so. Previously, children were generally expected to entertain themselves; play was their answer.

Creative play is a universal human activity, dating back thousands of years. Children in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece played many of the same games children play today. Play may seem trivial, but through it, children learn skills and conquer fears, furthering childhood development. Play, for both adults and children, allows its participants a temporary respite from daily life. A playful mindset can be an antidote to modern day stress. Play can also be a valuable bridge for relationships. What child doesn’t adore a parent or grandparent who is willing to suspend adulthood for a classic game of Hide and Go Seek or Go Fish? Playing with children is a deeply intimate activity that strengthens bonds while transferring our culture and values. Think back to your favorite childhood games or the games your parents played — games like Kick the Can, Tag, Sardines, or Red Light, Green Light.

At Bright Horizons, we wholeheartedly believe in the value of play for families. In this article, we offer a roundup of old-school games to play with children that are worth reviving.

Old-School Kids Games for Anytime

There’s real value in games you can play anywhere — at the doctor’s office, while you’re stuck in traffic, or waiting in line at the grocery store. These games are relatively quiet, quick, and require no materials.

The Celebrity Game

One child thinks of a famous character from a book or movie. The other players must ask questions about the character, such as “Where does this character live?” or “What does this character enjoy doing?” until the players can guess the celebrity’s identity.

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

The game starts with somebody thinking of an animal, a vegetable, or a mineral. The other players then must ask questions that allow for only a yes or no answer. If nobody has guessed correctly after 20 questions, play one last round of guesses. Afterwards, the next person restarts the game with a new animal, vegetable, or mineral.

The Telephone Game

In this classic game, one player thinks of a word or phrase and whispers it to another player, who whispers it to someone else. The game continues until the word has been shared with everyone. The last person says the word, which is usually very different than the original one.

Grandma’s House

One person starts by saying the phrase, “I’m going to Grandma’s House and I’m taking an...” and finishes the sentence with an item that starts with the letter A. The next person repeats the phrase and finishes the sentence with an item that begins with a B. The pattern continues with the rest of the alphabet.

The Alphabet Game

First, someone decides on a theme, such as “food.” Then, members of the group take turns reciting foods in alphabetical order—avocado, bologna, chocolate, etc.

Old-School Pretend Play

Children have always used pretend play to make sense of their world, but as technology becomes more advanced, pretend play seems to be a less popular form of entertainment. Bring it back by paying attention to your children’s interests and offering a few props to get them started.

Puppet Theater

Young children love to put on puppet shows portraying simple fairy tales, such as “The Three Billy Goats Gruff ” or “The Three Little Pigs.” Older children can plan and develop their own plays.

Role-Playing

Children love dramatic play with adult roles. A child who loves animals might transform dishtowels into bandages and set up a stuffed animal veterinary office.

Playing Dress Up

Gather old clothes, shoes, and hats to create a costume box. With the right clothing and some imagination, your children—and maybe even you—can have endless fun.

Old-School Active Games for Kids

Silly, active games offer a physical release to children, while teaching them skills like taking turns and following directions.

Active Outdoor Games

During mild weather, head outside for some outdoor play. Start a rousing game of Tag or Red Light, Green Light. Teach your child jump rope rhymes and games or use sidewalk chalk to make a hopscotch court.

Active Indoor Games

Indoors, play timeless old games like Charades, Hide and Go Seek, or Sardines. Other great indoor games include Jacks, marbles, and the feather game, where children blow a feather to try to keep it in the air.

Keep a few of these old-school, classic games to play with children in your parenting arsenal. The next time you hear the familiar refrain, “I’m bored,” you’ll be prepared with simple, fun activities the whole family will enjoy.

Teach. Play. Love. Episode 4: Say Yes to Play

“Is play important?” On this episode, Rachel Robertson, Bright Horizons education and development vice president, and new mom Amanda, tackle this increasingly popular question. Find out why play is the key to healthy child development, and discover how you might already be helping your child learn through play. 

More on Games for Kids

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

April 26, 2019

About The Bright Horizons Parenting Newsletter

Teacher reading to a toddler boy and girl

Whether you’re looking for parenting advice, or trying to figure out how to bring learning from the classroom to the family room, let Bright Horizons early education experts be your trusted, knowledgeable resource. Get our weekly newsletter for all things early child development—from the benefits of pretend play to at-home STEM activities, and teaching kindness—along with encouragement for every stage of your parenting journey.