Gaga Ball and Other New-to-You Playground Games

Are your kids goo-goo for gaga, but you've never heard of it?

Gaga ball pit at school playground
Clicspics | Dreamstime.com

Many of the games kids play today are tried-and-true classics, but others, like gaga ball and grounders, could have parents wondering what is going on. Here's the scoop on some unusual and unfamiliar—yet still fun and active—playground games. Ask your children if they're playing these at school. They're ideal for kids in upper elementary school and middle school who may be outgrowing other playground activities, but still really need active play before, during, and after the school day.

Gaga Ball

Gaga (or ga-ga) ball is a variation on dodgeball that was first played in Israel, but has now become popular at camps and schools in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere. It's fun, fast-paced, and easy for kids to play.

To play, you need a "gaga pit," which is an octagon-shaped playing area with waist-high walls. Many summer camps and schools now have their own pits, as do some trampoline parks and indoor play spaces. You can buy brackets and lumber and build your own gaga pit, but it's not cheap. Instead, approximate a gaga pit by playing in an enclosed space like a racquetball court or an empty garage or basement (you need to be able to bounce the ball off the walls). Your child's school might seek donations to purchase an indoor or outdoor gaga pit. Now you know why that could be a great use of funds: It will encourage physical exercise and a shared social activity.

How it's played: Just as in dodgeball, gaga ball is played with a rubber playground ball, and the object is to hit other players with the ball to eliminate them from the game.

To start, a player tosses the ball up in the air, letting it bounce on the ground inside the pit. With each bounce, players shout "Ga!" After the second or third bounce (depending on what the group is accustomed to or has agreed to), the ball is in play and the game begins. It continues until only one player remains.

Unlike dodgeball, gaga is not a team sport. All players face the center of the pit and play as individuals. Even with the tight quarters, it is harder to be eliminated in gaga ball. You're out of the game (and the pit) if you're hit by the ball—but only below the knee, or in some versions below the waist. Players can also be eliminated if they don't follow gaga ball rules, including:

  • Hit the ball with one hand only—no catching, throwing, or kicking it.
  • No double touches: After a player hits the ball, she can't hit it again until it touches the wall or another player.
  • No hitting the ball out of the pit.

Safety: As with any active game, there's some risk of injury. Kids could be hit with the ball in the face (which is against the rules) or bump into one another. Ideally, they should be supervised while in the gaga pit, which will also cut down on arguments over rule violations. But playing without grown-up oversight also helps kids learn important social skills.

Grounders

This is a game you might literally be hearing, because kids repeatedly call out "Grounders" as they play.

A large play set, with climbing areas, slides, and so on, is a must for this one, a type of tag which shares similarities with the swimming pool game "Marco Polo."

How it's played: One player is It. With eyes closed, he gives a starting count of 10 or 15 while the other players get into position somewhere on the play structure. After the count, It starts searching the play area for the other players—but he must keep his eyes closed. If he hears anyone stepping on or touching the ground, he shouts "Grounders!" and that person becomes It. It must wait at least 5 seconds in between "Grounders" calls. A new It must give a starting count of 10 or 15 just like at the beginning of the game. This one is all about stealth!

Safety: Yes, this one carries some risk, as the child who is It is wandering the playground with eyes closed. If the thought freaks you out, teach kids another kind of tag called Up/Down. In this game, whoever is It starts the game by calling "Up" or "Down." If she chooses "down," that means the ground is not safe and any player on the ground can be tagged. To be safe, players will have to go Up, onto a tree stump, park bench, playground structure, etc. Or if the game starts with "Up," then the ground is safe and everything else is not. And everyone's eyes stay open!

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