20 simple activities involving 1 item or less

I know it’s very un-Canadian of me to complain about hockey. But as we enter the hockey season I can’t help but be reminded of the loads of expensive equipment that’s required to play the sport and how that makes it an unrealistic option for many kids. In an age of iPads, Xboxes and $200 shoes, our sources of entertainment and activity require increasingly sophisticated technology, equipment and infrastructure.

But there’s something to be said for the simpler activities.  Activities that nurture creativity, ingenuity and imagination.

In 2005 the cardboard box was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York. The stick made the cut in 2008. “[T]here aren’t any rules or instructions for its use,” said Christopher Bensch, the museum’s curator of collections. “It can be a Wild West horse, a medieval knight’s sword, a boat on a stream or a slingshot with a rubber band.” In a time when it seems that every toy requires 17 triple-A batteries and every activity requires mountains of gear, it’s nice to see the simple stick and cardboard box be recognized for the limitless entertainment potential that can be unlocked through imagination.

Here are twenty activity ideas for children and adults alike that require one item or less to do. Feel free to whip out this list if you ever hear a kid whining that they’re bored.

  1. Tag. I don’t mean tagging your friend puking on a cop on Facebook. I can’t count how many hours I’ve spent chasing friends around the schoolyard yelling “You’re it!”
  2. Soccer. It’s no surprise soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Whether you’re from Richmond Hill or Rwanda, all you need is a soccer ball and some open space.
  3. Ultimate Frisbee. Like soccer, but for hippies, the only thing you need for Ultimate is a disc (and perhaps granola).
  4. Cards. There are hundreds of games you can squeeze out of a single deck of playing cards. Perfect for games night or a rainy day. My family is huge card players. Euchre, Bugger your Neighbour, Hearts, Pork Chop—we grew up playing them often.
  5. Hopscotch. Any sidewalk or blacktop can be transformed into a playground with a bit of chalk and imagination.
  6. Yoga. Although many people go to yoga studios and gyms for this activity, all you really need is a yoga mat and a familiarity with the bizarrely-named poses.
  7. Red Rover. Oh man. No other game has been responsible for more clotheslines, bruised wrists and sprained fingers than Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, we call the paramedic over!” A personal favourite.
  8. Hide and Seek. Another favourite. All you need is a group of people and a good place to hide. Just don’t hide next to a bee hive like I did as a kid. That hurts.
  9. Charades. Great party game that doesn’t require anything fancy. Giving an easily embarrassed guest something x-rated to act out is always hilarious.
  10. Arm wrestling/thumb wrestling. Requires nothing but your own bodies. Think this is a lame activity? Watch Sylvester Stallone’s “Over the Top” and think again, buddy.
  11. Duck Duck Goose. Thrilling suspense. High speed chases. Patting people on the head. This classic has got it all.
  12. Bloody Knuckles. Taking turns rapping each other’s knuckles until they bleed is admittedly a bit violent and juvenile. But I wanted to mention this because it was a pretty common activity I did with my schoolmates. 
  13. Touch football. If you remove the contact element from football you remove the need for all the pads, helmets and mouth guards. And the need for medical attention in most cases.
  14. What time is it Mr. Wolf? I’m not sure how familiar people are with this game. It involves players calling out “what time is it Mr. Wolf?” to the “wolf” who has her back turned to them. The wolf calls out a time, like “7 o’clock!” and the players take seven steps toward her. This continues until the wolf thinks the players are close enough to catch and the next time they ask “what time is it Mr. Wolf?” she replies “LUNCH TIME!” and chases the squealing players around the playground.
  15. P.I.G. All you need is any sort of projectile – a ball, Frisbee, hard-boiled egg – that gets tossed back and forth between players. Drop the item and get a letter. When you spell P-I-G, you’re out.
  16. Rock Paper Scissors. I’m pretty sure more decisions have been made amongst my friends using Rock, Paper, Scissors than by thoughtful discussion.
  17. Tai Chi. A great activity I’ve wanted to try since my days in Taiwan. All you need is some instruction (and a cool paper fan if you want to look extra awesome).
  18. Tabletop football. Two players on opposite ends of a table. Object is to move a coin across the table in 4 or less pushes/flicks (downs) and have the coin partially hanging over the edge of the opponent’s end of the table (end zone) without it falling over. Harder than it sounds.
  19. I went on a camping trip/other car games. Before the days of DVD players in cars, iPods and PSPs, families going on a road trip had to occupy the long hours with driving games like “I went on a camping trip” and “would you rather”.
  20. Debating. Probably the easiest way to pass the time of all these ideas is to open a controversial topic up for discussion.

These are just some of the ideas that came to my mind. What are your favourite simple activities?

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Funny stories. Good advice. Josh Martin is the author of the book “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.

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4 Responses to 20 simple activities involving 1 item or less

  1. Marie McCrudden says:

    One of my favourite games is Robin Hood. All you need is a forest and coloured construction paper. Split into teams – Robin and his merry (wo)men; Sherrif of Nottingham and his cronies. One person from each team hides their respective jewels throughout the parameters of the forest. Each team has a base. Sherrif’s team hides pieces of the construction paper – these are priceless jewels. Robin and his merry (wo)men have to go through the forest and try to steal the jewels and bring back to their base without getting captured. If they get caught, they are held captive at the Sherrif’s jail until someone comes and breaks them out. If they had jewels on them when they were caught, the jewels are re-hidden.
    Once Robin’s team has all the jewels the game is won…or when Mom yells that dinner is ready 🙂

  2. Jody says:

    spoons didn’t make this list!

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