Sharks and Minnows

One child is the shark and stands in the middle of the yard. The other kids are the minnows and line up at one end of the yard. The object is for the minnows to get from one end of the yard to the other without being caught, aka tagged, by the shark. If tagged, then the minnow also becomes a shark. The game is repeated as the number of sharks grows. The last minnow is the winner.

Red Light, Green Light

A player is the traffic light, standing at one end of the yard. The other players line up on the opposite end of the yard. The traffic light turns away from the other players and says, “Green light!” Players try to run as quickly as they can towards the traffic light. At any time, the traffic light can turn around and say, “Red light!” That’s when all players must freeze. If they are spotted moving, the traffic light sends them back to the start. The first player to reach the traffic light wins and gets to be the next traffic light.

Mother, May I

Like Red Light, Green Light, one player, “Mother,” stands at one end of the yard. All other players line up at the other end of the yard. Players take turns asking “Mother” if they may take 1, 2, 3 or more steps forward. “Mother” answers “Yes, you may,” or “No, you may not.” The first player to reach “Mother” wins and gets to be the next “Mother.” This game invites creativity, too, because players can ask to take baby steps, giant steps or even spins.

Blind Man’s Bluff

One player is designated “It” and is blindfolded. To start the game, “It” spins around five times as the other players disperse around the yard. Now “It” tries to find the others, who must stay rooted in the spot where they landed when “It” stopped spinning. Players can dodge and duck from the seeking “It,” but they can’t move their feet. “It” moves around the yard until all the players are found while whoever got caught first wears the blindfold for the next round.

Freeze Tag

This variation of the classic game of tag involves players freezing whenever “It” tags them. They must stay frozen as “It” tries to tag the other players, but they can unfreeze and rejoin the game if another player tags them. The game ends when “It” freezes all players.


Players draw and number a hopscotch grid, usually 10 squares. Start by tossing a rock or beanbag onto Square 1. Hop over the square on one foot, going up, then down the grid. Players stop on Square 2 to pick up their marker from Square 1. Repeat, tossing the marker to Square 2 and so on. For added difficulty, players lose a turn when they fall, touch a line with their feet, or miss tossing their marker onto the next square. – Katy M. Clark

Frisbee Tic Tac Toe

Draw a tic tac toe board on the driveway with chalk or in the yard with spray paint. Gather four Frisbees for each player and try to get the Frisbees to land in the squares to win tic tac toe.

Water Balloon Toss

Stand in parallel lines and pass a water balloon back and forth without dropping it. Change it up by setting one person in the middle of a circle with a bowl on his head. Players try to toss the balloon in the bowl.

Clothes Pin Tag

Everyone clips a hinged clothes pin to the back of their shirt. The person who is “It” tries to grab the clothes pin as they run by. – Pam Molnar

Sharks and minnows is a popular children’s outdoor game played by kids aged 2-12. Sharks and minnows have many variations, but the basic idea of this outdoor game is to reach the other end without being caught or tagged by the “shark.” In essence, most variations require the “minnows” to avoid getting caught by the child who’s acting as the shark. It is an easy game, so children of all ages can easily play it and have fun. In this article, we’ll be looking at a number of ways you can play the classic children’s game sharks and minnows. Although there are different ways to play it, and as we mentioned before, the idea remains the same. However, where you play the game, the rules of the game and the duration might be different in varying ways the game is played. Check out some of the ways you can play sharks and minnows.

Playing sharks and minnows in a field

This is probably the simplest version of how sharks and minnows are played. In this way of playing the game, there are two categories of players. One side acts as the shark, while the other side has to play the game as minnows. Typically, there is only one shark in this version of the game. However, you can have more sharks if the number of minnows is large. Who gets to be the shark and who gets to play as minnows are often decided with the help of a toss. In the mid of the field or the playground, the child playing with the shark stands. The shark stands in such a position that he is able to catch or just touch the minnows going towards the other end of the playground. The minnows have to run towards the other end of the field without being caught or tagged by the shark. The shark acts as the offense, while the minnows act as the defense. Whenever a minnow is caught by the shark, it also turns into a shark. All the children must go back to the initial position again as minnows and have to come back again to reach the other end of the playground. As more and more minnows are caught, the number of sharks increases, and it becomes difficult for the minnows to reach the other end without being tagged. When there is only one minnow left against all the sharks, he becomes the winner.

The pool version of sharks and minnows

The pool version of sharks and minnows is a little different than the one you play in a field or a playground. Still, the idea remains the same; you have to prevent yourself from becoming a shark. The pool version of sharks and minnows is played by a pool. After doing the toss, the person who becomes the shark must go out of the pool to act as the attacker. The shark has to stand by the pool with his face on the other side and back on the poolside. The other players acting as minnows must line up on one end of the pool. The target is to reach the opposite side of the pool. An additional rule in this version is that a category has to be picked. For example, if the category “color” is chosen, each minnow must choose a color and keep it to themselves. After taking a position, the shark will turn his back on the pool and shout an item from the category. For example, in the category of “color,” the shark will shout blue, green, yellow, etc. Whichever minnow had chosen the color that the shark shouted, they had to quietly move to the other side of the pool without the shark knowing. Since the shark is not looking at the pool, they must keep their ears open to sense any movement. When the shark hears a minnow moving towards the other side, he has to catch the minnow before it reaches the other end of the pool. If the shark catches the minnows, they switch positions. In another variation of this, the shark goes back to its original position while the tagged minnow just observes the game till there is only one winner left. He wins when the last minnow crosses to the opposing side without letting the shark know.


Sharks and minnows is an interesting outdoor game for children. It can be helpful in increasing their sensory development, and best of all, it’s really fun to play! So, if you are looking for fun games to introduce your children to, sharks and minnows might be the best thing this summer!

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“Ugh! That game is for babies!” How often have you heard this from your fifth and sixth graders? Mitigate these kinds of reactions by:

  • Knowing the skill level, energy, and development of your students
  • Setting up age-appropriate games at every recess

This also helps younger kids feel comfortable jumping into games. While most games can be played with all ages, it’s helpful to modify them based on age.

Here are some starting points to consider:

Lower Grades (K–2)

  • Keep instructions and rules short and simple.
  • Minimize the use of spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.
  • Modify movements—for example, skip rather than run.

Upper Grades (3–5)

  • More complex rules and heightened levels of competition are okay.
  • Kids can practice deeper use of spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.

Here are some age-appropriate games we like:

Pre-K/K: Sharks and Minnows

  • Set up a clearly designated rectangular play area with visible boundaries.
  • Remind players to be aware of their surroundings (so that they do not run into others) and that all taggers should use safe butterfly tags.
  • Identify the sharks (either players or the leaders). Everyone else will be minnows.
  • The sharks stand in the middle of the play area and say, “Fishy, fishy, come out to play!”
  • The minnows slowly walk toward the sharks.
  • At any time, the shark can yell, “Shark Attack!” and the minnows must run to the opposite boundary line without being tagged.
  • If a minnow is tagged, they become a shark.
  • When there are only one or two minnows left, they become the sharks in the next round.

Grades 1–2: Mannequin Tag

  • In an open area with boundaries, demonstrate safe tagging, review how to give a double high five, and designate two players to be ‘it.’
  • To begin, the players spread out within the open area, and the leader designates what movement everyone should be using (i.e., running, skipping, hopping, walking, etc.). If a player gets tagged, they immediately become a mannequin.
  • To bring a mannequin back to life, another player must give the mannequin a double high five.
  • Neither player may be tagged while bringing a mannequin back to life and taggers cannot stand around waiting for them to finish. The leader should switch taggers and styles of movement.

Grades 3–5: Hula Tag

  • Prepare boundaries and a space for students to line up when they get out.
  • Choose 2–3 students to be “it.” Each one gets a hula hoop. These students, and these students only, can touch the hula hoop with their feet. The hoop must remain flat on the ground.
  • On the magic word, all students can move freely around the playing area, while the two who are “it” will begin kicking their hula hoops toward the other students’ toes.
  • If a student is hit on the foot with a hula hoop, they go to the sidelines and form a line.
  • If a student who is still in the game jumps with both feet in a hula hoop and says the magic word without getting hit by the hula hoop, the first student in line can return to the game.
  • After a few minutes, freeze the game, choose new taggers, and let all students back in the game to start a new round.

Our students have really taken ownership of running games on the playground themselves and inviting kids from all grades to play. Students who were reluctant to play at recess get involved because they feel welcome, which relieves any sense of stress or pressure they may have felt before. Altar Elementary, UT

Skills Building Breakdown

For tips on modifying games for all age-levels, print this document to share with your fellow teachers or principal. Download PDF

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