Kids celebrating the Olympics at home. Photo by Rachel McClary
If you’re planning on watching the Olympics with your children, holding your own backyard kids’ Olympics is a great way to get them involved and excited. It's also a nice way to build community with your friends and neighbors — with the help of a little friendly competition. Here are our top ideas for planning a successful backyard Olympics of your own.
1. Figure out the venue
If you want to plan something only for your own children, a small-scale Olympics could be held in your yard or on your street. For a group of friends or neighbors, plan a larger-scale Olympics in a local park, on the school playground or at a community center or playfield.
2. Make decorations
Have kids paint the Olympic rings and hang up a flag from a country they choose, or display a variety of flags from around the world.
3. Prepare medals
Kids can take the lead on this activity as well. Have them make medals from lids or cardboard, painted in gold, silver and bronze and attach to ribbon or lanyards. Or if you prefer, buy ready-made plastic medals.
4. Build a podium
Use stools or crates of different sizes to serve as a podium or present medals on stairs or steps.
5. Plan the opening ceremony
If you have theatrical children like mine, they will need little encouragement to put on their own show. You could organize a mini parade where kids wave flags and carry banners supporting their chosen country. Make an Olympic torch from a cardboard or paper cone filled with colored paper, tissue paper or cellophane.
How to create kid-friendly Olympic events
Making the track: If you live on a quiet street, chalk a track on the road. On grass, mark the track using builders' tape. Using the track or playfield at your local school or park is also an option.
Sprint: Run around the track once or run between two points. The children could race against each other or you can time them individually with a stopwatch. If you have children of mixed ages, give the younger ones a head start.
Middle and long distance: Choose appropriate distances based on the age of the children and the size of your track.
Hurdles: Hurdles don’t need to be sophisticated; any lightweight obstacle that children can jump over is fine. We've used cardboard boxes and paper shopping bags. Test your hurdles first to make sure kids can jump them easily without tripping.
If you have a large group, you can even run heats and finals to determine who gets a medal.
Don’t worry, real horses aren’t required! First, make your horses. You can use a milk carton as the head and attach it to a stick or gift-wrap tube. Draw a face on the carton and attach curled strips of paper for the mane. The open end, painted or covered with black tape, works for a nose.
You can also make a horse from a pool noodle by folding over one end and tying it with string to make a head shape. Draw eyes and nose onto the head and, if desired, add yarn or curled paper for a mane.
Show jumping: Reuse the same obstacles that served as hurdles for horse jumps or paint boxes to look like a wall for added fun. You can also include water jumps — dish tubs work well.
Horse racing: Have kids ride their "horses" on the same course as the sprint track.
Long jump: Mark a starting line using chalk or tape. Competitors take a run up and jump as far as they can. Mark the point at which they land. Use a tape measure to measure the distance; this is great practice for young children learning about measurement.
High jump: Use a rope (held by two adults) or a bamboo stick and see which child can jump the highest. If it looks like they won’t make the jump, let go of the rope. To make it fair children should be roughly the same height.
9. Team games
There are a number of Olympic team games you can play in your yard.
Soccer: If you have enough children, play a small-sided match (where each team fields 3–5 players, with or without a goalkeeper).
Beach volleyball: Use a beach ball; if you don’t have a net simply draw a line on the ground or hit the ball over an obstacle such as a hammock, box or a row of chairs.
Tennis or badminton: Use the same net as volleyball or hit the ball or birdie over a line.
Hockey: Make a simple hockey stick from a gift wrap tube and use a foam ball or make a ball from scrunched-up paper.
Discus: Use a Frisbee for a discus and show the children how to throw it like a discus. Measure the distance.
Javelin: Make a javelin from a stick. Have your kid throw it from their shoulder. Measure the distance it travels.
If you have proficient cyclists, try long- and short-distance cycling races. Younger children can ride their tricycles or balance bikes.
Beam: An upturned wooden pallet makes a perfect low-level balance beam for practicing balancing routines. If you don’t have a pallet, lay a rope on the floor or chalk a line for the children to walk along.
Trampoline: If you have a trampoline in your yard, the children will love showing off their talents. The trampoline could also be used as a soft surface for a wrestling tournament.
Rhythmic gymnastics: Make a ribbon stick by attaching a long piece of ribbon to a stick or cardboard tube.
13. Closing ceremony
Present the medals on the podium. This is a good opportunity to teach children the national anthem or anthen of their choice. Watch the Olympics with your kids to see where their interests lie.
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published before the 2016 Rio Olympics and updated in July 2021.