Running Games for Kids to Encourage Exercise

Most kids like to run, but many get bored running in place or running laps around a track or a gymnasium. So why not get creative to keep them active? Planning organized games that involve running is a great way to get kids to exercise while still having fun.

Whether you’re looking for running games for a sports practice, physical education class, a birthday party or just to play in the backyard, here are some games that are always a big hit with kids.


Pony Express

kids relay race

Christopher Futcher / Getty Images


A marked circle either on a field or in a gym, two relay batons (optional)

How to Play

  • Divide kids into two even teams.
  • Each team forms a line on opposite sides of the circle.
  • On your command, one kid from each team starts running around the circle (in the same direction). The goal is to get back to their line and tag (or pass the baton to) the next person on their team without getting caught by the runner on the other team.
  • Once the runner reaches their team’s line, they tag their teammate’s hand and then that kid starts running around the circle, while trying to avoid being caught by the other team’s runner. Kids can also use a baton to pass to the next runner.
  • The first team to get all of their runners around the circle once wins.

This exciting game encourages teamwork, builds coordination, and brings out the kids’ competitive spirit.


Scavenger Hunt


A list of items to find

How to Play

  • Write out a list of items that can be found in the area where the kids will be running. Try to make some of the items specific (i.e., a water fountain) and others vague (i.e., something that starts with the letter G). This allows the kids to get creative with their answers.
  • Start with the first item on the list and run to that destination
  • Once you get there, move on to the next item on the list

This is a great game for younger kids. The game encourages both curiosity and creativity and kids forget that they are even running.


Capture the Flag


Cones or other markers to mark the field, two flags or bandanas (can be placed in a cone)

How to Play:

  • Divide kids into two even teams.
  • Mark the middle of the field or gym with several cones or markers. Place each team’s flag about 50 feet from the middle of the field or gym.
  • When you blow or whistle or say “go”, each team runs to the other side of the field and tries to grab the other team’s flag.
  • If a player is tagged on the opponent’s side of the field, they go to jail (a designated area on the side of the field). You can only be rescued from jail if a teammate frees you.
  • You can play for a designated amount of time and say that the team who captures their flags the most times wins the game. Or, play until one team reaches a certain number of points (scoring one point each time they capture the flag).

This classic game can be played indoors or out. In addition, since most adults know how to play, you can involve parents if they attend the birthday party.


Where to Run Next?


Small pieces of paper with different landmarks or locations written on them.

How to Play

  • This game is best played outdoors, in an open area with different landmarks or locations that the kids can run to.
  • On small pieces of paper, a coach or other adult writes down the names of different landmarks in the vicinity, i.e., bleachers, goal post, backstop, equipment shed, long jump pit.
  • Put the pieces of paper in a small bag, such as a brown paper bag or a running belt.
  • One kid pulls out a piece of paper and reads the location. Then they all have to run to that location.
  • Once everyone reaches the destination, a different child pulls out another piece of paper.

This fun game is a variation of interval training designed just for kids. In adults, interval training has been shown to provide health and fitness benefits.


Sharks and Minnows

This game for younger kids is similar to capture the flag, except you’re trying to avoid getting tagged and not trying to get a flag.


A rectangular open play area (field or gym) with boundaries marked with lines or cones.

How to Play

  • Identify 1-4 kids (depending on the size of the group) as sharks. Everyone else will be minnows.
  • The sharks stand in the middle of the field and shout, “Fishy, fishy, fishy, come swim in my sea!”
  • The minnows line up on one end of the rectangle and respond by saying, “Sharky, sharky, sharky, you can’t catch me!” Then the minnows start running across the field to the opposite boundary line and try to avoid being tagged by a shark.
  • If a minnow is tagged, they become a shark and will try to tag other minnows.
  • When there are only one or two minnows left, they become the sharks in the next round.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is running good for kids?

    Running—just like any physical activity—promotes physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids age 6 and older get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week.

  • Is it good for kids to run every day?

    It is important to encourage your kids to participate in sports and activities that involve running. But you also need to be aware of overuse injuries—especially with young, developing bones. Try to find a balance between being physically active most days and having rest and recovery days, especially as your child's sports' participation increases. Talk to your child's pediatrician to confirm how much running is right for your child.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ito S. High-intensity interval training for health benefits and care of cardiac diseases - The key to an efficient exercise protocolWorld J Cardiol. 2019;11(7):171-188. doi:10.4330/wjc.v11.i7.171

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Making physical activity a way of life: AAP policy explained.

Additional Reading

By Christine Luff
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.