This is your stop for the best pioneer games for kids and families.
My child’s school had a pioneer day, and they used pioneer games to celebrate what life was like for pioneer children. Whether or not your child has pioneer day, playing Pioneer games is fun and educational. If you need recommendations on the best pioneer day activities, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, you’ll find a collection of simple pioneer games you can play with your children. All of these games require little effort and setup. There’s a good chance you have all you need to play these games without a special trip to the store. You’ll be prepped for some “Little House on the Prairie” fun in no time!
Ready for some old-fashioned fun? Keep reading to get started.
Games Pioneer Children Played
What You Need: Rope or Jump Rope
Tug-o-War goes back a long time. Versions of the game have been played all over the world for centuries. Tug-o-War was even an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920. The Tug of War International Federation (TWIF) is an international body that governs the sport, with over 70 participating countries.
While there are official rules for sporting matches, you can play this simple game in your own backyard. All you need is a rope and at least two players.
How to Play: Divide into 2 teams and designate a center line. Choose one person to act as the referee. On the start signal (“Go” or a whistle), each team tries to pull the other team across the center line. The team that successfully does so wins the match.
Potato Sack Races
What You Need: Potato sacks or pillowcases
Potato sack races were fun for pioneer children who needed games with little to no equipment required. These races are still popular among children.
How to Play: Each player steps inside a potato sack or pillowcase. Players line up and hop toward the finish line, holding up their sacks. The first player to cross the finish line wins.
Jacks Pioneer Toys
What You Need: Rubber ball and jacks
Jacks, also called Knucklebones, is a game that has been played across cultures for hundreds of years. The name “Knucklebones” is derived from the ancient Greek version of the game which used the talus bones of a sheep. The modern day game requires a ball and a set of jacks, usually in a set of 10. Jacks can be played indoors or outdoors.
How to Play: The object of the game is to bounce a ball, pick up a certain amount of jacks, and catch the ball before it drops. To play, spread the jacks on a hard playing surface. In the first round, each player must pick up one jack with the bounce of the ball. Players keep going until they have a failed attempt.
If a player picks up all 10 jacks one by one, that player moves to the next round. In the second round, players must pick up two jacks with each bounce of the ball. If the player successfully picks up all 10 jacks (two jacks, five times), they move to round three.
This continues for 10 rounds, until a player must pick up all 10 jacks with the bounce of a ball. The first player to complete all 10 rounds is the winner.
What You Need: Jump Rope
How to Play: For a single player, hold the rope on each end and jump over it as you move your wrists in circular motions.
For three players, have two players hold each end of the rope. They move the rope in circular motion while the third player jumps over it.
If you have an extra rope, you could even do double dutch, in which one or more players jump over two long jump ropes turning in opposite directions. This is an extra challenging version of the simple jump rope game.
What You Need: Area to run (preferably grassy), six or more players
Red Rover started out as a regular tag and running game with several players on one side and one person placed in the center of the playing field. That person, called the “Red Rover” calls out “Red Rover, Red Rover, let [player name] come over!” to challenge and catch one of the players who tries to reach the other side of the playing area.
Over time, the game morphed into a team game, where opposing teams would attempt to catch players by calling out their name and absorbing them into the chain if they failed to break through.
Red Rover is thought to have started in England, although no one can say for sure. It was a popular game in Great Britain, Australia, the U.S., and Canada. The origin of the name is also unknown, although it has been suggested that the name refers to famous author James Fenimore Cooper.
How to Play: Players divide into two teams and form lines. Team members hold arms and spread apart. One team chooses one player from the other team and calls out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, Send [name of player on the other team] right over.”
That player then must run from their team through the arms of the team that called them. If they break through, they get to return to their team. If they don’t, they join the team that caught them.
Repeat until there is only one team left.
What You Need: Sidewalk or driveway, chalk
The known history of Hopscotch goes all the way back to Roman times, where it was used as a training exercise. The earliest written reference to Hopscotch is in Poor Robin’s Almanac of 1677, where the game was called “Scotch Hoppers.”
How to Play: Players must each have a marker to toss onto the hopscotch pattern. Markers can be plastic chips, pennies, bean bags, or other items. One player tosses the marker into the first square without touching a line or bouncing out. If the marker lands in the wrong square, the player loses their turn.
When the marker lands in the proper square, the player hops over the square with the marker and proceeds through the course without touching any lines or missing any squares. When the player reaches the end of the court, they turn around and hop back in reverse order, picking up the marker when reaching the marked square.
If successful, the player will repeat the course, tossing the marker into the next numbered square on the ground. The first player to complete the entire course wins the game.
Blind Man’s Bluff
What You Need: Blindfold
Blind Man’s Bluff is a variant of tag, in which the “it” child is blindfolded. This is one of those games that pioneer children could play with just a scarf or some other fabric to blindfold, and that’s it.
How to Play: One person is blindfolded, while the other people are in a circle around them. Someone turns the blindfolded player around several times and lets them go to try and tag someone in the circle. Whoever gets tagged becomes the next blindfolded player (a.k.a. “it”).
What You Need: At least four people, grassy area
Wheelbarrow races are great for children and adults alike. This competitive game requires at least two teams of partners.
How to Play: Team up with a partner. One partner will be the driver, while the other will be the wheelbarrow. The driver holds the wheelbarrow by their ankles, while the wheelbarrow walks on their hands. Teams race to the finish line.
What You Need: Rope to tie legs together
A three-legged race is a running event with participants running in pairs. The objective is to be the first pair to cross the finish line. This one is a great game for the outdoors.
How to Play: A pair of players stand next to one another. They tie their middle legs together at the ankle with a rope. This creates “three legs” between the two players. Each team does this. At the signal, teams race to the finish line, hoping to beat the other teams. The first team that crosses wins.
Kick the Can
What You Need: Metal can, open space
Kick the Can has elements of hide and seek, tag, and capture the flag in the game play. The rules are simple, and the game can be played outdoors in a variety of settings. Even though the name of the game is Kick the Can, it’s possible to use any type of object that can be kicked.
This game was a popular pastime for children during the Great Depression because it didn’t require any special equipment or playing field. Obviously, pioneer children played games like this for the same reason.
How to Play: One person is “it.” That person looks for the other players who are hiding. The “it” person sets up the can on the ground in the middle of the playing area. That player counts to a predetermined number with their eyes closed, to allow the other players time to hide. When the time is up, the “it” player begins to look for the hiding children.
When the “it” player spies another player, they call out their name and hiding place. Then both players race to see who can kick the can first. If the hider kicks the can first, the round starts again. However, if the “it” player kicks the can first, the other player is placed in “jail” until rescued.
Any hidden player can attempt to rescue the jailed friends by racing to the can and kicking it before the “it” player can kick it. If successful, all the players in jail are released and the round starts over.
The game is over when the “it” person has successfully jailed all the players or a set designated time has expired.
Duck, Duck, Goose (Drop the Handkerchief)
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Devon Dow, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
What You Need: Open space
Duck, Duck, Goose is the modern version of a game called Drop the Handkerchief. Pioneer children played tagging games, which were ideal for pioneers who didn’t have many toys to play with.
How to Play: In Duck, Duck, Goose, players sit on the ground in a circle. The “goose” goes around the outside of the circle, touching each player on the head and saying, “Duck” until they choose another child and say, “Goose!” That person then gets up and chases the Goose to tag them. Whoever reaches the empty space first sits down. The person left standing is now the Goose.
In the older version, a child would be “it” and drop a handkerchief behind someone in the circle, who would then pick it up and race to beat them to the empty space.
What You Need: Marbles, smooth playing surface
Marbles was a great game children could play indoors. It did require marbles, but it was fun for children to play in the winter when outside games might have been more difficult.
How to Play: Make a circle inside the playing area where players each put a marble or more. Each player takes turns flicking a larger marble (a.k.a. “shooter”) at one of the smaller marbles. If the smaller marble goes outside the circle, the person who shot it gets to keep the marble and repeat their turn. The person with the most marbles at the end wins the game.
Pioneer Kid Games: Conclusion
Looking for some old-fashioned fun? Play pioneer games! There are hundreds of pioneer games and activities you could try with your own kids. Looking for other low-prep games for kids? Check out my list of family-friendly games you can play with practically nothing.