Finding an outdoor game that all generations can enjoy is a little tricky. Grandparents may pass on fast-paced favorites such as volleyball. Grandchildren may not have the skills — or the proper equipment — for games such as golf. Luckily, however, there's a whole category of outdoor games that are perfect for all generations. Even the parents may get to play! And if one generation or another has a bit of an edge, it's possible to make modifications that will level the playing field.
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The origin of the game of washers is unknown, but one folklorist claims it originated in the oilfields of Texas around 1900, and it seems a logical story. The classic game of washers requires only a few washers from the hardware store and cups dug into the dirt some place not too close to Grandma's zinnias. Today you can buy a much fancier set, but the game is played much the same way.
Washers is played similarly to horseshoes, but the small disks are a little less lethal than a horseshoe... should someone take a hit. There are lots of variations in rules and scoring. It doesn't matter which version you follow as long as everyone is on the same page. If Uncle John has been playing washers for years, let him be the authority and teach the others the fine points of scoring.
One way to adjust for different skill levels is to play in teams, putting one stronger player and one weaker player together.
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Bean Bag Toss
Tailgaters call this game cornhole, because the bags are traditionally filled with dried corn, but we just call it bean bag toss. It's an easy multigenerational game with its own lingo that's fun to learn. This whole game can be made at home by someone with basic woodworking and sewing skills. Some of the readymade sets, however, fold up and fasten together for convenient carrying.
When we play with our grandchildren, they often outplay us. I think it's because they have an advantage... being closer to the ground, but it's also possible that they are just better! The game is simple, but the scoring is rather complicated. You can buy a scoring strip that makes it a little easier, or just use an simpler system with younger grandkids.
Although most kids are good at this game, if very young children are playing, you'll want to reduce the distance to the goal. It's a simple matter to have one foul line for adults and another for children.
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The origins of ladder ball aren't entirely clear. One Robert Reid received the first known patent for the game. He discovered the game packed away in his father's garage and remembered playing it as a child. When a search turned up no known patents, Reid had the game patented. His family believes that his father, an engineer, invented the game.
The game involves bolas that are basically two balls connected with a cord. Players toss the bolas at a ladder, usually made of PVC pipe, and... receive points when the bola wraps around a rung. This game isn't appropriate for grandchildren who are too young to stay out of the "line of fire," as the tossed bolas can deliver a good blow.
To adjust for different skill levels, limit the better players to two bolas instead of three. You can also move the ladder closer for the youngest grandchildren.
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Bocce, or Italian lawn bowling, is a game that was reputedly played in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. I have fond memories of my own dad playing with my husband, my son-in-law and a grandchild or two, for a total of four generations.
Bocce is easy to play. It involves rolling balls in an effort to get close to a smaller ball, called the jack or pallina. Bocce can be played on pavement, asphalt or a lawn, but the surface needs to be as level as possible. If playing on a lawn, fresh-cut is better.... Professional players are very picky about their courts and use expensive resin balls, but the game is great fun even with the occasional bump and bounce that comes with playing at home. You can buy sets like the one pictured that feature balls that are a little softer than the ones used by professionals.
Like washers, the easiest way to adjust for different skills levels is by pairing skilled players with beginners. Like the games featured above, scoring is somewhat complex, but that seems to be part of the fun. You can always simplify the scoring for very young players.