Do you wish your children were more active? In these sedentary times, teaching your children fun games is important to ensure they stay in motion like children always used to. These games can also make for a great family day outside. Family activities don’t have to be expensive or elaborate; some simple running games can give your child a happy, memorable day.

Beyond getting them away from technology for a while, it’ll also be helpful if you want to get your child interested in joining extra-curricular activities or sports. Not to mention the health benefits. So, let’s look at the best running games and how to play them.

The Benefits Of Running Games

Kids are energetic, active beings, and they're supposed to be in motion. It’s good for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. While organized and competitive running works for some, it’s not ideal for every kid. And even if you’re training young athletes, implementing some running games can improve their motivation and performance. It’s important to keep training fun and to make sure it’s not all about winning every time.

What Are Running Games?

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Most games children play tend to involve a fair amount of running. However, proper running games have more emphasis on it, and the rules and goals revolve more around the running. With some creativity, you can turn almost any game into a running game, and the examples in this article will show you how.

How Do Running Games Work?

Most of these activities are very straightforward. You create incentives to run, and the children do it with joy. With that said, these games aren’t just for kids. You can also play some of them with people of all ages. What matters is that you make it exciting and rewarding in some way for the participants, and that’s all there’s to it.

What Do You Need For Running Games?

Most of these games require no equipment whatsoever. For some of them, you’ll need a minimal set of common items like relay race batons or disc cones. However, you could substitute something else in a pinch.

The 11 Best Running Games

For this article, we’ve chosen 11 examples. Together, they cover all bases, and they give you enough variety to keep your children interested. They appear in no particular order; which one’s best depends on the age and activity level of the kids.

1.

​​​ Relay Running Games

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Relay races are true classics on playgrounds, Olympic stadiums, and office team building days. You can make these running games more exciting for the children with new rules and gimmicks.One example is the balloon pop relay. In this game, you place many balloons in one spot and instruct the kids to run and pop them, then run back and tag their teammates. It’s best to get a few different balloon colors and have one color for each team. Set a starting point for each team at least 10 feet from their balloons, increasing the distance for older runners. Each team sends one runner to pop a balloon, who then returns and tags the next runner until all balloons are gone. For extra fun, have them pop the balloons by sitting on them.You could also use water balloons and have the kids collect as many as they can within a set time, using the same relay race procedure. When the time’s up, they’ll have a water balloon fight with the balloons they collected.

2.

Pony Express

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The Pony express also draws inspiration from a classic relay race. To set up these running games, you must either mark a circle on the ground or floor or use existing ones like the ones found on a sports field. Furthermore, you can use relay batons for practice, but they’re not necessary.


Initially, you’ll divide the group into two even teams. Line each team up, so they’re across from each other, right outside the circle. When you give the “go” signal, one member of each team will run a lap around the circle. They can go clockwise or counterclockwise, as long as both teams run the same direction. Once a runner completes a lap, he or she will pass the baton or tag the next teammate in line.


The objective is to catch opponents and prevent them from catching you. If one runner catches up to the opposing team’s runner and tags him or her, this participant is out of the game. Thus, the running games end when one team runs out of runners. Another variation is to make the game about having all teammates finish a lap to win. With these rules, “caught” runners get in the back of their team’s line instead of leaving the game, and those who have completed a lap step aside.

3.

Treasure Hunt

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Sometimes, you may need a little extra incentive to get the kids to run. What’s better than a treasure hunt? You can use small and affordable collectibles, coins, or candy. Although the latter is sure to get the kids running, you’ll want to make sure they don’t get too much.


You can approach these running games in a few different ways. The simplest method is to spread the treasures out in an area and have kids run and search at random. To make sure they get their exercise, make a rule that they can only collect one treasure at a time and must return it to the starting point before looking for the next one. With older kids, you can create an extra incentive by making it a competition. Whoever has the most treasure at the end wins.

For a more elaborate game, you can make a treasure map or a list of clues. Or both. For example, you could write a description of the place where you hid each treasure. This way, you also stimulate their brains as they figure out where to search.

​4.

Capture The Flag

Who didn’t play and love this game as a child? The easiest way to prepare the game is to go to a soccer field or a gymnasium and use the existing lines. If you don’t have access to one, some cones or a long rope will make a good center line. Place each flag around 50 feet from the line, in opposite directions. It doesn’t have to be an actual flag. Any item the kids can carry and run with will do, as long as it’s visible enough.

Next, divide the children into two teams. Now, the goal is to take the opposing team’s flag and bring it back to your base. When a participant is on the opposing team’s side of the center line, their opponents can tag them. Once tagged, the player drops the flag and goes to “jail,” but teammates can rescue him or her by tagging. If all members of a team go to “jail,” that team loses. Successfully bringing the opponent’s flag back means winning the game.

You can also place several flags on each side, and make the game about collecting as many as possible. Another variation is to start with all flags in the middle and have the teams capture them back and forth. You can also skip the jail rule and have the player return the flag to its base instead.

​5.

 Red Light, Green Light

Who didn’t play and love this game as a child? The easiest way to prepare the game is to go to a soccer field or a gymnasium and use the existing lines. If you don’t have access to one, some cones or a long rope will make a good center line. Place each flag around 50 feet from the line, in opposite directions. It doesn’t have to be an actual flag. Any item the kids can carry and run with will do, as long as it’s visible enough.

Next, divide the children into two teams. Now, the goal is to take the opposing team’s flag and bring it back to your base. When a participant is on the opposing team’s side of the center line, their opponents can tag them. Once tagged, the player drops the flag and goes to “jail,” but teammates can rescue him or her by tagging. If all members of a team go to “jail,” that team loses. Successfully bringing the opponent’s flag back means winning the game.

You can also place several flags on each side, and make the game about collecting as many as possible. Another variation is to start with all flags in the middle and have the teams capture them back and forth. You can also skip the jail rule and have the player return the flag to its base instead.

​6.

Running Quiz

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​These quizzes are simple, effective running games that also train the child’s brain. You write some questions down on cards and place them so that each one’s further than the previous one. You can also hide them if you prefer. The children will run to a card, read it, and agree on an answer. Then, they’ll run back to you and say it. If it’s correct, they can go right for the next card. Incorrect answers lead to a penalty lap or some other exercise before continuing.

​7.

The Captain’s Run

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​Here’s a game that trains the children to control their speed and work as a team. It’s also a fartlek practice. While the word may draw some giggles from the kids, it’s actually Swedish for “speed game,” and many athletes use this method to their advantage.

Begin with the children jogging in a straight line formation around a loop, such as a running track. Next, you’ll blow a whistle or shout when you think it’s time for a change. On this signal, the person at the end of the line will sprint to the front and then keep jogging along. This goes on until everyone’s done one sprint. For larger groups, you’ll want to split them into two or three lines.

Lastly, the captain’s run isn’t suitable for children younger than eight due to the intensity and coordination required. This page has more info on appropriate ages and activity levels.

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​8.

Last Runner Out

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Cross-country coach Jim Stintzi of Michigan State designed this game to train his team. The children will run around a loop repeatedly, as many times as there are children, so make sure it’s not too long. Each lap, the last person to finish is out of the game. Now that child must keep running the opposite direction. The game continues this way until only one runner remains and becomes the winner.


The nature of running games like this makes them ideal for activating kids and training them for competitions, in particular. They’ll learn to be strategic and manage their energy. Some will go all out from the start, while others will keep their cool and aim for a late-game rush. The best part is that losing doesn’t end the game, you just keep running at a moderate pace. Therefore, the children won’t get lazy or lose motivation and give up to have an easier time.

​9.

Destination Unknown

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This simple idea is one of the best running games for elementary school children. It requires a basic reading ability, and that’s it. Furthermore, all you need is some paper and a bag or envelope.

Destination unknown is ideal for a day in the park or a similar outdoor area. First, you cut small pieces of paper and write down various landmarks or locations on them. These must exist in the area where you play the game. Next, you put these notes in the bag or envelope, which you give to the children. They take a note out, read the location, and run to it. Once there, it’s time to draw the next note. If there’s a group of children, make sure that everyone gets a turn to draw and read. If you need to motivate slightly older kids, give them a small reward for completing all destinations.

​10.

Puzzle Run

Running games that stimulate the brain are ideal for the young, and this is one such example. For this one, you’ll need a simple jigsaw puzzle or a similar puzzle to complete, and some envelopes or ziplock bags. You’ll put the pieces individually into separate bags or envelopes, and then you’ll spread them out in a suitable area. Ideally, they should be semi-hidden.

Now, the child or children will run around in search of the pieces of your puzzle. Whoever finds a piece must return it to you before continuing the search. Once they’ve gathered all pieces, it’s time to solve the puzzle. If it’s a big group, you’ll want to split them into two teams that must each complete one puzzle.


What makes this game so great is that you can promote lots of running in a small area where it’s easy to keep track of everyone, and it promotes teamwork. If the puzzle part sounds like too much hassle, you can use simple paper notes with clues to a riddle instead. If you want to maximize the running, have them search for clues that they need in order to find the puzzle pieces.

​10.

Sharks And Minnows

​Although it may be one of the most well-known running games, not everyone knows it. Simply put, it's a bit like capture the flag, but without capturing any flags.

First of all, you’ll need a defined rectangular area with lines or a fence, such as a football field or basketball court. Otherwise, you can mark the perimeter with cones or rope. Next, you’ll assign the shark. In a small group, there will only be one shark. For bigger groups, you’ll want two to four of them. The sharks start in the middle of the playing area, while the minnows begin in one end.

Now, the shark or sharks will call out “Fishy, fishy, fishy, come swim in my sea!” to which the minnows respond with “Sharky, sharky, sharky, you won’t catch me!” That is the cue for the minnows to dash across the field to the other side, avoiding the hungry shark. If the shark tags a minnow before he or she reaches the other end, this minnow will also be a shark for the rest of the game. The game continues until only one minnow remains, who wins and will start as the lone shark for the next game. In a big group, it will end when there are two to four minnows left so that you can start over with that many sharks.

​What Are Your Favorite Running Games?

There you have them, the 11 best running games for activating your kids. Which ones did you like the best? Leave a comment below if you feel like sharing your favorites or have any questions or suggestions. I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of running games and gained some exciting ideas for activating your children.

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