Remember the days when all the kids in the neighborhood would gather in someone’s yard for massive games of Man Hunt, Kick the Can, and SPUD? This was back before play dates and carpooling soccer moms, before parents decided it was insane to let their kids ride bikes home from school alone, when "game" meant something you played outside, not on a screen, and if you asked your mom for a ride to the mall, she said “walk.” It was true then, and it’s still true now: You don’t have to get all fancy about raising outdoor kids. Especially now that the days are warmer and longer, keeping kids active outside is as easy as shooing them out the backdoor to play.
Giving kids unstructured fresh-air time isn’t just good for the body, it’s good for the brain, too. It’s simple and proven: Creativity flourishes outside. "New research suggests that children are more likely to invent their own games in green play spaces than they are on flat cement or playing fields,” says Richard Louv, bestselling author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. “Kids are healthier, happier and more creative when they spend more time outdoors.”
To inspire kids to dream up their own adventure on their home turf, the sporty folks at CLIF Bar Kids have unveiled their annual Backyard Game of the Year Contest. The rules are easy: Invent a game for two or more kids to play, using basic toys like balls, Hula Hoops, potato sacks, chalk, etc—nothing extravagant. Children 6 to 12 are eligible and must create the games themselves (no helicopter parents!). Six finalists will be flown to San Francisco for final judging in July—and the prizes are nothing to sneeze at. The winner will receive a $10,000 educational scholarship and a new Marin bike and helmet, while the other five runners-up will score $1,000 scholarships and a new ride. One entry per kid; the contest closes June 17.
Download an entry form, check out past finalists (like “Eagle’s Nest,” a rad new game of tag, and “Alligator Tail”), and get the full rundown of rules online. Keep it real, kids.