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Celebrate the Rio Games with a Backyard Olympics

Help your kids go for the gold this summer with a neighborhood Olympics they can help plan

Photo credit: Rachel McClary

The last summer Olympics, held in London in 2012, began a few weeks after my family moved to Seattle from the UK. Watching the footage and hearing friends and family talk about attending different events made us feel homesick. We followed the British team online but it wasn’t quite the same. To muster some Olympic spirit, we decided to stage a backyard Olympics of our own. Some of our neighbors joined in, which promoted a healthy rivalry between Team GB and Team USA.

Now that the 2016 Olympics are rolling around, we're going to repeat our games, but expand. We plan to scale it up and invite the whole neighbouhood to join us, hopefully encouraging representation from a variety of nations.

If you’re planning on watching the Olympics with your children, holding a children’s Olympics can be a great way to help them feel involved. It's also a nice way to build community with the help of a little friendly competition. Here are our top ideas for planning a successful backyard Olympics of your own. 

Olympic preparations

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 street. Plan a larger-scale Olympics in a local park, school playground, youth center or church grounds.

2, Make decorations

Have kids paint Olympic rings and hang up a flag from your native country or display flags from around the world.

3. Prepare medals

Kids can take the lead on this activity as well. Have them make medals from bottle tops 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 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 could wave flags and carry banners supporting their home 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 in 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 stop watch. 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 used cardboard boxes, sports bags and paper shopping bags. Test them first to make sure the children 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.  

Horse race | Photo credit: Rachel McClary


Don’t worry, real horses aren’t required! First, make the horse. 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. The children 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.

Team games

There are a number of Olympic team games you can play in your yard.

Soccer: If you have enough children, play a five-a-side match (where each team fields five players, including four outfield players and 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 it 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.

Javelin throw | Photo credit: Rachel McClary


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 kids throw it from their shoulder. Measure the distance it travels. 


If you have proficient cyclists you could try long and short distance cycling races. Younger children could race on tricycles.


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.

Closing ceremony

Present the medals on the podium. This is a good opportunity to teach children their native anthem.

Watch the Olympics with your kids to see where their interests lie. How many more events can you come up with together?

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