15 Fun Running Games to Encourage Physical Activity

running games to encourage physical activity.

You can use these fun running games as a form of physical activity for kids. Running improves their cardiovascular fitness, strengthens muscles, builds strong bones, reduces feelings of stress, and provides many other health benefits.

But even the enthusiastic and energetic child will eventually become bored with running laps around a track or in the gym. The best solution is to teach your children a variety of cool running games to get them moving again.

These types of games can keep children entertained for hours and make it much easier for them to obtain the exercise they need to stay healthy.

In this guide, I’m going to share my top 15 running games to encourage physical activity. These games are easy-to-learn, highly addictive, and guaranteed to make your children more physically active. 

Fun PE Running Games to Encourage Physical Activity

A collection of running games for kids.

Know the kid’s limits. Make sure it’s not too hot out and make sure kids get enough water while playing these run games.

1. Scavenger Hunt

This classic game is incredibly exciting and very popular amongst young children. The objective of Scavenger Hunt is to solve a series of clues to find the ‘treasure’.

To play Scavenger Hunt, you will need:

  • A large outdoor space with landmarks
  • A set of clues

How to play Scavenger Hunt:

  1. Start by creating a set of clues. Each clue should direct the children to the next clue until eventually, they reach the treasure. Some clues specific (“Run to the drinking fountain”) and others more cryptic (“Get up now and walk on your feet, find the next clue beneath a seat”).
  2. Give the kids the first clue and have them run to that destination.
  3. Once they arrive, they must find and decipher the next clue and before moving to that destination. Eventually, they will find the “treasure”, which can be candy or a toy.

Because there is a prize at the end, the children will be running as fast as they can – using up a lot of energy and improving their fitness. To make the game more interesting, make some clues that have multiple potential answers.

This will split the group up, giving some of the slower runners a chance to find the clue first and take the lead. Check out our nature scavenger hunt riddles.

2. Flag Football 

The game has all of the fun of football without the collisions! It is played in a similar way to American football, except there is no tackling. Instead, people will pull a flag off of a player’s belt to signify that they have been tackled. 

There are also several other differences, like no kicking and the fact that you can’t run the ball when you are within five yards of a touchdown. The rules are designed to be simple, which makes it a great game for children to play.

To play Flag Football, you will need:

  • A flag football set 
  • A football 
  • A large open area to play, which can be marked out using cones 
  • At least 10 players  (5 per team).

How to play Flag Football:

There are several variations of flag football, but the most common way to play it is:

  1. Choose a large open playing field. The size of the field can vary slightly based on the number of players. If you have 7-9 players per team, a field measuring 80 yards by 40 yards with 10-yard end zones and a halfway line marked out. Feel free to use a smaller field if you have fewer players. 
  2. Split the players into two teams and choose a captain on each team. The quarterback is often a good choice for captain, as they direct their team around the field.
  3. Before starting, decide how long the game should be. Two halves of between 10 to 25 minutes in length usually work well.
  4. Flip a coin to determine who starts with the ball. Play starts with a team holding the ball on their five-yard line. 
  5. The team with the ball will have three plays to make it to the halfway line. If they do so, they get another three plays to score a touchdown. Remember that teams cannot run the ball when they are within 5 yards of the opponent’s end zone, they must pass it. Additionally, the quarterback cannot run unless he has been rushed.
  6. Teams receive 6 points for every touchdown under 50 yards and 7 points for touchdowns over 50 yards.
  7. If the team does not score a touchdown, the other team gets the ball and starts playing from their own 5-yard line. 

You can read the official rules here or simplified rules for kids here.

If flag football sounds like something you want to try, you will need a flag football kit. It consists of field markers and belts with detachable flags. This kit from Stumptown Sportz is a great choice because it includes belts for 14 players with 3 flags per belt.

3. Sharks and Minnows

This kid’s running game is similar to capture the flag but much easier to learn. This makes it ideal for younger children who may struggle to learn the complex rules of CTF.

To play Sharks and Minnows, you will need:

  • A large rectangular playing area (a basketball court or half a soccer field is ideal). You can also use lines or cones to mark out a rectangular area that is ideal for the number of players you have.

How to play Sharks and Minnows:

  1. Choose between one to four children to be the “sharks”. They will stand in the middle of the playing area.
  2. The rest of the children are “minnows”. They must attempt to cross the playing area. The minnows stand on one edge of the playing field.
  3. The game starts with the sharks shouting “Fishy, fishy, fishy, come swim in my sea!!”.
  4. The minnows respond with “Sharky, sharky, sharky, you can’t catch me!”, then they attempt to run from one side of the playing area to the other without being tagged.
  5. When a minnow is tagged, they become a shark and will try to tag the other minnows.
  6. The final one or two minnows are declared the winners and will start as sharks in the next round.

4. Solve The Puzzle

This is a challenging game that combines puzzle-solving with competitive running. The rules are extremely easy to learn, so kids of all ages can give it a go.

To play Sharks and Minnows, you will need:

  • 2 x large-sized jigsaw puzzles (less than 40 pieces each)
  • Colored envelopes to hold jigsaw pieces (a different color for each team)
  • A large outdoor playing area

How to play Solve The Puzzle:

  1. Prepare for this game by placing all of the puzzle pieces into colored envelopes. The envelopes should be differently colored, so each team is seeking envelopes that look different.
  2. Place the envelopes around the playing area, in fairly obvious locations.
  3. Divide the players into two teams and tell them which envelope color they are seeking.
  4. When you say go, the two teams will run as groups in search of their envelopes. When they find one, they will run back to the starting point and open it to reveal the jigsaw pieces. Once the pieces are placed, they will search for another envelope.
  5. As they bring the pieces back to their home base, they combine the puzzle. The first team to complete the puzzle wins!

5. Pony Express

This fun running game is a fantastic way to introduce young children to competitive running. The concept is simple, so they will pick it up in minutes and will have the time of their lives as they try to outrun or catch their opponent.

To play Pony Express, you will need:

  • A large open space with a 25-foot diameter circle marked out on it using chalk or some rope
  • At least 6 players
  • Two batons (optional)

How to play Solve The Puzzle:

  1. Start by dividing the children into two teams.
  2. Have the teams line up on opposite sides of the circle. The first player should be standing on the circle line with the rest of the players standing behind him or her. The first player in the line holds the baton if you decided to use one.
  3. When you say go, the first players on both teams will start running around the circle in a clockwise direction. They have two goals – either to reach their starting point and hand their baton to the next player without being tagged OR to tag their opponent.
  4. If the player successfully makes it to their starting point and hands the baton off, they walk to the end of their team’s line and awaits their next go.
  5. Play continues until one player manages to catch the player on the other team.

6. Capture The Flag Redux

Capture the flag is one of the most exhilarating kids running games. It is very strategic, competitive, and encourages teamwork. Capture the Flag “Redux” is an even more exciting version of the game which is designed to be played in the dark. 

The goal of the game is to capture the other team’s flag from their base and bring it back to your own base. If you are tagged in enemy territory while trying to obtain the flag, you will be placed in jail. Fortunately, you can be freed if another teammate manages to tag you.

In Capture The Flag Redux, all players are wearing glow in the dark wrist bands, so it is easy to identify allies and enemies in the dark. The “flag” is actually a glowing orb and the jail is marked out with glowing beacons. It is a lot more strategic than normal to capture the flag because stealth is more of a factor when playing in the dark. 

To play, you will need:

How to play Capture The Flag Redux:

  1. Divide the playing area into two equal-sized territories (one for each team). Use string or chalk to mark where the territories begin. You can also use landmarks like trees, poles, and sidewalks to signify where territories end. 
  2. Divide the players into two equal teams
  3. Each team sets up jail markers in their territory. This is the location where enemy players who are tagged in their territory will go.
  4. Give the teams an orb each, which they will hide somewhere in their territory. Once it is hidden, it cannot be moved by its home team and must always return to this location. Once placed, players cannot stand within 10 feet of their own orb unless an enemy player is touching the orb. This makes it easier for an enemy to grab the orb.
  5. At the start of the game, the players will stand in a neutral area outside of the play area. When you say “Go” the game starts.
  6. Players must attempt to locate and steal the enemy’s orb and take it to their own orb. If they are tagged while carrying the orb, they will go to jail. Any player tagged in enemy territory (with or without the orb) will also go to the enemy’s jail.
  7. Players can be freed from the enemy’s jail by being tagged out of it. Players cannot stand within 10 feet of their team’s jail (which gives the enemy a better chance of freeing teammates).
  8. Players who are in their own territory are safe and cannot be tagged.
  9. When a team manages to steal the enemy’s orb and get it back to their own orb, they win a point. The orb is then returned to the enemy, who has 30 seconds to hide it before play resumes. The first to three points wins.

Various strategies can be used when playing. Some teams will designate players to be seekers (looking for the enemy orb) and guards (guarding the team’s orb). You can also have some players working as guards for the jail, who will attempt to stop jailbreaks.

7. Last Runner Out

If you are looking for a more competitive running game, try Last Runner Out. It was developed by Jim Stintzi as a training tool for cross-country runners. Last Runner Out is great for teaching kids how much fun competitive events can be.  

To play Last Runner Out, you will need:

  • At least 3 participants
  • A running track or large outdoor area with a start/finish line

How to play Last Runner Out:

  1. Have the participants line up at the start line. 
  2. When you say “Go” they will start running laps.
  3. After a lap or two, yell out “Last Runner Out Next Lap!”
  4. When the next lap is completed, the person who is last will be eliminated. The eliminated person must start running around the route in the opposite direction while the rest of the group keeps running.
  5. At the end of each lap, the runner who is last will be eliminated, with the winner being the last person running.

8. Where To Run Next

This is a simplified version of Scavenger Hunt, which works well for groups of young children. It’s a great game for encouraging kids to run around like a pack and work as a team. 

To play Last Runner Out, you will need:

  • A large open area with various landmarks (statues, seats, trees, fountains, etc)
  • Some paper for writing clues 
  • A bag to hold the clues

How to play Where To Run Next:

  1. Start by writing clues onto several pieces of paper. These clues should be very simple, like “Run to the place where you drink water”, which would be a water fountain.
  2. Have one of the players draw a clue from the bag. The entire group will  then run to this location together.
  3. Once everyone has arrived, a different child draws the next clue.
  4. Play continues until all of the clues have been used.

9. Suitcase Relay

This is one of the more unusual kid’s running games I’ve ever come across, but it is actually a TON of fun. In addition to testing a child’s running ability, it tests how quickly they can get dressed!

To play Suitcase Relay, you will need:

  • A small suitcase or bag for each team
  • Some random clothes to go into each suitcase (the weirder and more colorful the better)

How to play Suitcase Relay:

  1. Divide the kids into teams of 2 to 4 players each.
  2. For each team, pack a suitcase that contains an equal number of clothes of similar types.
  3. Designate a start and finish line. Half of the players from each team stand at the start line and the other half at the finish line. A suitcase containing clothes is placed at the start line for each team.
  4. When you say go, the first child in each team at the start line will open their suitcase and put on the clothes that it contains, on top of their current clothes. They will then run to the finish line.
  5. When they reach the finish line, they take off the clothes and give them to their teammate, who puts them on and runs back to the start line. 
  6. This continues until everyone in the team has had a chance to run.
  7. The team that finished first is the winner.

10. Multiple Choice

This game requires clever thinking and great fitness levels. It is a useful running game because it can easily be customized to match the age and fitness levels of the children who are playing.

To play Last Runner Out, you will need:

  • A large open area to play on
  • Some paper for writing clues 

How to play Multiple Choice:

  1. Start by writing a number of multiple-choice questions on separate pieces of paper. These questions can be relating to a subject that the children are currently studying or some trivia that the kids would find interesting.
  2. Place the pieces of paper in several locations around the playing area.
  3. The players must then run as a group to find each of the questions. When they find a question, one person will read it aloud and the group will decide on the correct answer.
  4. The players will run back to your location and tell you their answers. If they are correct, they will move onto the next question. If not, they must perform some exercise or something unpleasant, like having a bucket of water thrown on them or licking a lemon! You could also make the kids do an embarrassing or funny dare for wrong answers.

You can also play this game with several smaller teams, awarding a prize to the team that answers the most questions correctly. Check out our article on fun paper games as well.

11. Laser Tag

Laser tag is a fun running game that most kids will happily play for many hours. The objective of the game is to shoot opposition players with a toy gun that shoots infrared beams. All players wear infrared-sensitive targets which track if they have been shot or not. 

There are many ways to play laser tag, including team vs team, capture the flag, domination matches, and Battle Royale. You can choose the mode based on how many players are available and their ages.

To play Laser Tag, you will need:

  • A laser tag set< (one gun and vest for each player)
  • An open area for the children to run around as they shoot each other

How to play Laser Tag:

  1. Start by helping the kids into their laser tag vest and explaining how the laser tag gun works. Some guns have different firing modes, reloading mechanisms, and ammunition counts.
  2. Explain the rules of the current mode you are playing.
  3. Give the children some time to take a position, then start your chosen game mode.

12. Egg and Spoon Race

This classic kids running game is action-packed, hilarious, and a lot of fun. While this game is usually played with real eggs, you can also use an egg and spoon race kit, which makes the game much less messy as you won’t be dealing with broken eggs. The rules for this game are extremely simple, which means children of all ages can play it. 

To play, you will need:

  • A spoon and an egg for each player (or an egg and spoon playset)

How to play The Egg and Spoon Race:

  1. Define start and finish lines for the race.
  2. Give each player a spoon and an egg. 
  3. When you are ready to start, tell the children to place the egg onto their spoon and to put their other hand behind their back.
  4. As soon as you say go, the children must race to the finish line, moving as fast as they can without dropping their egg.
  5. If a child drops their egg, they must pick it up and start the race again from the start line.
  6. The first child across the finish line without dropping their egg is the winner.

13. Tag 

Every list of fun running games has to include Tag! It is the world’s most popular running game amongst children and played by millions of children each day. There are also some fantastic variations of Tag which make the game even more fun.

To play Tag, you will need:

  • A large, open space to run around in

How to play Tag:

  1. At the start of the game, one player is nominated to be “It”. One of the best ways to choose it is to draw straws.
  2. The “It” player will count to 10 while the other players move away.
  3. After the count is up, the “It” player will attempt to tag another player. When they do so, the player they tagged will become the new “It”.

There is usually a rule of “no tag backs” which means the new “It” can’t tag the person who just tagged him or her. The game ends when all players are exhausted or when a truce has been called. A truce is usually something like “No more tags until tomorrow at lunchtime”.

The game will continue the next day, with the last person who was “It” retaining the title the next day. It’s also common to have safe zones where tags cannot occur, like the classroom or lunch area.

There are many variations of tag, including:

  • Chain Tag
    Each person who is tagged will join hands with the person who tagged them. They then run together to tag other people. You end up with a huge group of people holding hands and attempting to surround other players to tag them.
  • Freeze Tag
    When the “It” player tags a person, they become frozen and cannot move. However, they are re-tagged by a non-It person to be unfrozen. The final person tagged becomes “It” for the next round.
  • Cops and Robbers
    The group splits into two teams, one being cops, the other being robbers. The cops must tag the robbers and send them to jail. The robbers must evade the cops and can also free their teammates from jail by tagging them one at a time. The game ends when the cops have placed all of the robbers in jails. Afterward, the teams will be swapped.
  • Zombie Tag
    This is a type of survival tag. The game starts with one or two zombies who are attempting to “eat” the humans by tagging them. When they successfully tag a human, they become a zombie. Humans can defend themselves by hitting the zombies with soft objects (rolled-up socks or nerf bullets). After being hit by an object, the zombies must freeze for 10 to 15 seconds. 

14. Water Balloon Relay

Another fun running game that is ideal for warm and sunny days. Young children find this game particularly fun and laugh their heads off when splashed with water.

To play Water Balloon Relay, you will need:

  • Some water balloons, filled with water
  • At least 4 children

How to play Water Balloon Relay:

  1. Start by dividing the players into teams of between 2 to 4 players.
  2. Mark out a start line. Make the distance short for young kids and longer for older ones.
  3. Have a player from each team stand on the starting line with a water balloon. When you say “Go” they must run from the start line to the other side of the yard and return again without popping their water balloon. If they drop or burst their balloon, they must grab another one and run from the start line again.
  4. If they make it back to the start line with balloon intact, they will hand it to the next player in their team, who will perform the same run.
  5. The first team to finish wins.

Check out more fun relay race activities.

15. Fill the bucket

This simple game will test the children’s athleticism and ability to balance. It’s very easy to set up and a lot of fun. This game is very similar to the water balloon relay, but with the objective of filling a bucket with water.

To play Fill The Bucket, you will need:

  • Access to water
  • Cups and a bucket for each team
  • A large bucket to hold water

How to play Fill the Bucket:

  1. Divide the players into teams of 2 to 4 players.
  2. Designate a start line and place an empty bucket (of identical size) about 15 to 20 feet in front of each team. Have another bucket under a hose that is full of water next to the start line. 
  3. Instruct the first runner in each team to fill their cup from the bucket.
  4. When you say go, the team’s first runner will run to their empty bucket and pour their cup of water in, they will then run back to the starting point and hand the cup to their teammate. 
  5. The teammate will fill the empty cup from the bucket of water at the starting line. They will run to the team’s bucket and pour it in. 
  6. This process continues until one team has filled their bucket. They are declared the winner.

Make sure you check out our tag games and our how to play ghost in the graveyard instructional post.

A collection of running games for kids to play.