With summer in full swing, you’re going to need a plan for how to keep your kids entertained at the pool so you can dip out of play for a sec and wade (or sunbathe) in peace. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back—this refresher course covers all the best pool games for kids so they can get wet and wild all summer long while the grown-ups get some time to chill.
1. Air Ball
You know how your kids can spend hours playing with a sad helium balloon a week after the birthday party? Well, this is the pool party version of that frantic form of entertainment—and no matter what, the beach ball cannot hit the water. The rules are simple (just keep the ball up in the air) and kids of all ages can dive and splash like professional athletes while you sit back and listen to the shrieks of joy (i.e., summer memories in the making).
2. Marco Polo
It might be old news for grown-ups, but don’t snub this classic. Marco Polo has endured because it’s downright exhilarating for children. Here’s how it works: “Marco” keeps her eyes closed and catches the other players based on their reply to her call (“Marco” then “Polo”). Best of all, Marco Polo can be played among a wide age-range of children: The youngest ones (prone to peeking) can’t be ‘it’, but they are likely to gleefully give away their whereabouts.
3. What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?
This pool party staple boasts an element of surprise that provides big thrills to little people. One child, stationed in the middle of the pool, plays the role of sneaky Mr. Fox while the innocents in the shallow end ask what time it is—whatever the Fox claims to be the hour on the clock is the number of paces the other players must take towards him. When, on a whim, Mr. Fox declares lunchtime the intensity breaks...into a game of tag.
It’s like the game of H-O-R-S-E on the basketball court, but you don’t have to be good at shooting hoops to succeed. OK, it’s actually more like Simon Says with water and higher stakes. The leader shows off his underwater skills (a handstand, an impression of an octopus, etc.) and the rest of the kids strive to replicate the move. In each round, the player with the worst performance earns a letter, and the first to spell out F-I-S-H loses the game. It might sound harsh, but don’t worry—no one cares about winning and losing in this absurdly funny game of fishy see, fishy do. (Actually, there’s a high likelihood that pint-sized players will intentionally lose just for laughs.)
5. Treasure Hunt
If you have children, there’s a good chance you’ve searched for buried treasure before (your car keys, perhaps?). But once your beloved is bigger, the game gets more fun. Swim school graduates can get their rocks off by diving for sunken treasure in the depths of a swimming pool, and this mission is just as entertaining solo as it is with a team effort involved. (Try tossing a couple of these Squigz to the bottom of the ocean and see how fast kids can collect all the toys in the same color.)
6. Sharks and Minnows
The prey and predator theme of this pool game packs plenty of kid-friendly thrills—just be prepared for your child to reveal her true, diabolical nature when she takes a turn as the shark. The game starts when the fearsome mammal announces her desire for a lunchtime snack (“Fishies, fishes come to me…”). Then the minnows scatter and try to avoid the pretend jaws of their playmate. Of course, only the strongest swimmer will survive this action-packed pool game—but all parties will be ready for a sun-drenched snooze after.
7. Floatie Race
Those pool toys look ideal for lounging and bobbing around, right? But kids will have none of that laziness at their pool party. Instead, put every inflatable toy and pool noodle to use for fast-paced fun. Kids pick a pool toy and launch themselves from the deck and into the water—the first one to steer their vessel to the opposite side wins the race. But really, you’ll be the one winning because you’ll be sitting poolside...having a conversation in (relative) peace.
8. Beach Ball Race
No need to trek to the seashore, those dollar store beach balls can be blown up and put in play in your own pool. Toss a couple of these summertime staples into the water and let the kids compete to see who can swim their ball to the finish line the fastest. Note: It’s truly not easy to swim with a beach ball in tow and the resulting struggle is a welcome gift for any parent of a tadpole. (Translation? A few rounds of this race will buy you time to take at least a few sips of your icy beverage.)
9. Underwater Charades
Charades: The super fun game that can drag on and on until the littlest ones lose interest and start to stray—unless the mimes pick up the pace because they’re holding their breath for an underwater act. In that case, you have a riotously funny and fast-paced aquatic take on a classic. (Plus, the pool affords a range of movement that could make anyone into a master of charades.)
10. Popsicle Freeze Tag
Any kind of tag provides endless entertainment for little people, but the novelty (and challenge) of playing in water only adds to the fun. This form of freeze tag has been adapted for aquatic play and the theme of the game is summer—so if a kid gets tagged, he’s got to throw his hands in the air to freeze in the shape of a popsicle. Arms needn’t get too tired, though, since players can rejoin the game as soon as a teammate swims between their legs to bring ‘em back to life.
11. Chicken Fight
Presenting the only time you won’t be mad when your child resorts to pushing and shoving. If you ever find yourself wishing those sibling clashes would feel more playful than stressful, the swimming pool is the solution. Grab another grown-up and give both big kids a shoulder-height boost for a round of chicken fighting. It’s physical fun with a happy ending.
12. Rubber Ducky Push
These little water birds are good for more than just bath time. Toss a few of your son’s favorite tub toys into the swimming pool to get the fun started with a friendly race. The first one to push their rubber ducky to the opposite end of the pool wins—and that’s no small feat, since this is a no-hands game. Chests, noggins, noses, and even feet will have to do the work as kids compete to be the first to push their ducky across the finish line.
13. Ping Pong Scramble
There’s nothing little kids love more than scrambling and competing to get all the stuff. Fortunately, this take on the common theme is less Lord of the Flies and more pool party fun. Small savages will delight in this aquatic activity—and all you have to do is toss a bunch of ping pong balls into a pool and challenge the children to collect them all as quickly as possible. Bonus: The kids do the cleanup for you.
14. Atomic Whirlpool
STEM learning in the pool? You betcha. This aquatic activity takes a village, or at least a group, so it works best when you have some guests to participate in the water experiment. That said, the whirlpool effect can be created by a team of kids and the outcome is downright cool. With all children evenly spaced in a circle in the water, they can walk and then jog in one direction to stir the pot (something that kids are exceedingly good at). Once the whirlpool is in motion, children stop and try to walk the other way. Oof, swimming upstream will never be so silly or so much fun.
This one is a bit like sharks and minnows but with far more intrigue. To play the game of Colors, the one child who is ‘it’ stands in the middle of the pool with her back turned towards the row of players on the other end, each of whom have secretly chosen a color. ‘It’ then begins calling out common colors and when a player’s color is called, he must slip into the water and try to silently swim past without alerting the child who’s ‘it.’ This game of stealth requires a poker face and bonafide swimming skills.
16. Underwater limbo
All you need is a noodle to pull off this swimming pool adaptation of the classic party game—that and the ability to hold your breath underwater, of course. Blast some festive tunes and find a good seat so you can see how low those kids can go.
17. Doggy Paddle Contest
The wee ones can get in on pool party fun, too with a doggy paddle contest. (Same goes for adults that, um, forgot how the freestyle stroke works.) Beginners can benefit and learn valuable swimming skills with an introduction to treading water, also known as the doggy paddle. Little ones can squirm and maneuver like pups in the pool as they compete to see who can stay afloat the longest. Parents, feel free to throw self-consciousness to the wind and join in the fun—it turns out that treading water is just as good as that workout you meant to squeeze in on dry land.
18. Squirt Gun Stand-off
The rules of engagement are flexible in this water war (except for the one about not spraying poolside loungers) but if you hand squirt-guns to a bunch of kids, the fun is guaranteed. One highly recommended squirt-gun game is spray tag, where kids must dive under the water to stay out of their friend’s line of fire. But kids must move fast, because any player that gets sprayed must surrender their weapon until the next round. The last one standing (or swimming) is the winner.
Younger kids will love this pool game, and a pool noodle is the only prop needed for play. One child gets the noodle while the others line up in a row and start popping in and out of the water to avoid getting whacked. Fortunately, the bop on the head is soft so the fun is tear-free.
20. Boogie Board Balancing Contest
Kids can surf without the waves, or at least start honing their balancing skills before they boogie to the beach. Order a couple of boogie board online (we like this pick for ages 7 and up) and let the fun begin. Happily, the swimming pool is a forgiving place for finding one’s center of gravity and this training exercise will have everyone in stitches.
21. Splash Dance
The kids wore themselves out with tag and relay races, and the youngest one started crying. Sound familiar? But fear not, those tears are not the pool party death knell sounding. You just need to take things down a notch with a soothing and often silly round of splash dance. Kids can let their creativity shine as they choreograph an original water dance, full of sensational splashing and teamwork, too. (Also, if you like the Moana soundtrack as much as we do, the music will make everyone happy.)