Posts Tagged ‘junkyard games’

Shark Tank, Treasure Hunt

This game is a bigger and better version of the playground classic “Sharks and Minnows”.

I was subbing as the P.E. Teacher at Lin Howe Elementary the other day. The game “Shark Tank” was planned by the regular teacher and a nice diagram was drawn to illustrate it. I had never heard of the game Shark Tank before but the diagram showed a large circle in the middle of the playing field that served as the tank. I asked Coach Doug what the purpose of the tank was and figured out that there was no real purpose for it. In other words, this was about to be a big field game of Sharks and Minnows. I thought about adding something to the tank area that gave it a reason for being there. We spread out a bucketful of bean bags within the tank boundary and told the minnows that in addition to getting safely to the other side they needed to pick up one, and only one, tresaure from the tank. That day, we had 100% participation from the students which is a rare occurrence.

Special thanks to Coach Doug and Coach “G” for helping make this game come to life and for working out the bugs in the game until the rules made sense. 

Area: Soccer field or half football field

Number of Participants: 50 – 100 participants; 3 referees.

Materials: Three long ropes tied together to make one large circle; about 15 large pylons (two colors) to delineate the playing boundary and the shark tank; about 50 bean bags; field whistle.

Set-up: Tie three ropes together and lay it in a circle out in the middle of the field that is desginated as the shark tank. Stretch the rope with 4 – 6 cones of one color (we used blue) so there is a clear boundary. Arrange other cones around field boundary. Choose 3 – 7 participants to be “sharks” who will do the chasing and have them stand in the tank area at the beginning of each round. All other participants go to one end of the field to start off as a group of “minnows”. Designate one referee in the center to organize the sharks; one referee stays on one end of the field and the third referee goes to the other end of the field fo start the minnows during each round. All referees watch for fair play.

How To Play: When the referee blows the whistle, the round begins. Minnows try to get to the other end of the field without being tagged by the sharks. If they get tagged, they must freeze where they are, even if they have a bean bag treasure. Minnows may choose to go into the shark tank and steal one of the bean bags (treasures) and make it to the other side. They may only steal one treasure each round. If more than one treasure is taken by any one minnow during a round, all minnows forfeit their treasures for that round and they are re-dispersed in the shark tank area.

Minnows who successfully make it to the other side without being tagged, whether or not they’ve picked up a bean bag treasure, are safe for that round and live to see another round. All the minnows who were tagged during the round are called in to the shark tank (I like to call out “Shark Swarm! Shark Swarm! and clap whie motioning all sharks and tagged minnows to the center for a huddle). That’s where the shark swarm gets a chance to plan their strategy for the next round. At this time also the minnows can plan their strategy to outwit the sharks. When referees see that both the sharks and minnows are ready to begin again, they blow the whistle to signal the start of the next round.

Play continues, round after round until either all the treasures are taken (minnows win) or five minnows are left (sharks win). Once a winning team is determined, the last five minnows can choose to be the next sharks or they can choose a person to replace them.



Like the action-packed video game from the 80s, this playground game is sure to make you just as anxious when you get trapped by the Pac-Men coming at you. I learned this game while substitute teaching for a PE coach. I worked with groups of 30-35 kids, all in grades K – 2nd. I taught this game in steps, introducing the “options” at the bottom later once the kids mastered the game and could handle opening it up more.


Object: Pac-Men try to tag all other players while all non-Pac-Men try not to get tagged.

Number of Players: 10 – 50, depending on size of court and number of “outlets” you draw.

Area: small size = volleyball court, large size = basketball court

Materials: chalk to draw “outlet” lines if you choose this option. 4 vests or jerseys to distinguish Pac-Men from “food”.

Set-up: Show players the boundaries. Choose 4 Pac-Men to be it.

How To Play: Pac-Men stay at center court until “go”. Other participants (the “food”) must stay on the lines of the court they are on. No jumping lines. And no running, ever. Both Pac-Men and “food” must walk the entire game. “Food” participants use the lines as their highways to roam around on. When they are tagged by a Pac-Man, they must sit down. As a first option, I have them sitting off the lines so all players can continue to roam freely. Once all “food” has been tagged, all players return to the center to restart the game, picking new Pac-Men.

Options: To make the game much more interesting and to accommodate more people, try these options. First, use chalk to connect playground lines. For example, if the basketball court you are playing on is next to the four-square or volleyball courts, draw a line using chalk to connect the lines, providing a new outlet for the “food”. Second, to make it harder on the “food” and easier on the Pac-Men, instead of sitting down off the lines when you get tagged, sit down on the line to create a roadblock that no one may pass.

Blind Man’s Bombardment

Junkyard games are games that are made out of the materials and area you have at hand. When kids at the YMCA in the late 1800’s had a bouncy ball and a peach basket nailed up high to a post, they began the first basketball game. Blind Man’s Bombardment was invented on the spot at Camp Sunshine at Lindberg Park in Culver City. We had a soccer ball and a volleyball and used a handball court with a high backboard wall (20 ft.). It kept some older, sports-minded campers very busy for a good hour or so.


Objective: Land the ball in the other team’s court before they catch it. First team to lose 16 points loses the game.

Area: A double-sided handball wall or practice tennis court wall.

Equipment: Two balls that participants can successfully throw over the wall.

Number of Participants: 8 – 12

Set-up: Divide up teams evenly. Send each team to opposite sides of the wall. Give each team one of the balls.

How To Play: Each team starts with 16 points. On “go”, teams throw their ball over the wall, trying to land it in the other team’s boundary area. When a ball hits the court inside the boundary area, that team loses a point. If a ball is thrown out of bounds, there is no penalty and there is no score; it is a non-issue. When a team has been unable to catch 16 balls that land on their court, they lose.

Adaptation: For younger players who don’t have the strength to throw the ball that high, use a tennis court. The rules need to be adapted to the ability of the players involved. Kindergarteners through 2nd graders, for example, are allowed to let the ball touch their court but they lose their point if the ball goes off their court. 3rd – 5th graders on a tennis court might have the rule that only one bounce is allowed.


Magic Wish Bean Bag Toss

This is a simple game for the very young elementary school age camper. It’s a basic bean bag toss with rules that make it a creative exercise more than a physically challenging test of skill. If you don’t have the equipment, substitute trash for the bean bags and other targets for the hoops and buckets.

This game helps campers who might have a hard time listening to instructions. It also can help staff identify those campers early on.


Equipment: Beanbags (if you don’t have beanbags, a crumpled up piece of paper will do fine), hula hoops, buckets.

Area: Basketball court or an area long enough to accommodate all the kids in the group standing on one line. For 20 kids, you might need 50 feet.

Number of Participants: Any

Set-up: Arrange hoops and buckets or any other targets on one side of the line about 10 feet away. If campers are 8 or older, you can make this farther away. If they are under age 6, targets should be closer. Hand out one bean bag to each camper. Whatever beanbag they get is the one they get because what makes the bean bag magic is that “the magic bean bag chooses the camper”. This way, you don’t have fights over someone not getting the pretty blue beanbag that they wanted so badly.

How To Play: Line up campers on a line. Campers hold their beanbags and toss them all at the same time, on the count of 3. If a camper makes it in the target area, they get a magic wish. The magic wish only comes true if all the  following conditions are met:  a) campers all throw their beanbags at the same time,  2) no camper crosses the line to retrieve their magic beanbag until the “all clear” whistle is blown,  3) each camper retrieves their own magic bean bag, nobody else’s, and gets back behind the line. Campers keep track of the number of magic wishes they get. Downplay the role of “who got the most” wishes. Point out anybody who has not crossed the line before the whistle was blown or who threw their beanbag right on time. Let campers know you will try and trick them to crossing the line so they learn to listen.

Variation: Try this game in a big circle with one target in the middle. Instead of tallying wishes individually, make it a group effort.





When kids have very little equipment to play with and lots of play time, they get pretty creative. Here’s a game I watched evolve over the course of the last three months at Farragut Elementary School in Culver City, CA.  It’s active, fun and addictive. Give it a try if you’re looking to add a new active game to your repertoire.


Materials: One picnic table, one playground ball (a handball works best)

Area: A picnic table that is unobstructed on the long ends by about 30 feet.

Number of Participants: Two teams of 2 – 3 players each.

Set-up: None

How To Play: Teams stand opposite each other at the long ends of a picnic table (“long end” means the part you don’t sit at). One team starts by bouncing the ball off the table top towards the other team. If the other team doesn’t catch the ball before it hits the ground on their side, the throwing team gets one point.  If the ball doesn’t hit the table top first, the receiving team gets the point. Players may throw the ball as hard or as soft as they want. Play continues until one team reaches 15 points.

I’ve seen kids throw the ball as hard as humanly possible without injury. I’ve also seen spectators sitting at the table on the bench part without incident. Once a team wins, the next challenging team may step in to play against the the winners.

Scooter Bowling

Here’s what happens when you don’t try to stop kids from playing a game the way you intended it. In the tradition of Bernie de Koven’s “Junkyard Games” and The League, I am very proud to post this game that organically happened when I had a group of kids on their Razor Boards (inline scooters) and a bunch of boundary cones. Rather than following the established route that I made with the cones, the kids kept knocking them down, so I followed their lead and this is what we invented as a group.


Object: Knock down all ten “pins” in two or less attempts.

Number of Participants: one or more

Materials: Inline scooters, ten small (12″) pylons

Area: 10′ wide 30′ – 50′ long

Set-up: Arrange cones in a pyramid shape with one at the front and four in the back (like bowling pins). Space between cones should be at least as far as the base of the cones.

How To Play: One person gets two chances each turn. On their turn, a person rides their scooter down the lane and into the cone arrangement. They must not stop or go out of the lane until they have gone through the end of the cones. A “spotter” counts the cones that have been knocked down, re-places any that have slid off their mark but were not knocked over, while the rider goes back to the starting point for their second chance to knock the rest down. Scores are kept like bowling. Play continues through ten frames per person. Highest score wins.