Red Light, Green Light Is a Fun Outdoor Game

Players need quick reactions to win this childhood game

family running in a field
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Red Light, Green Light is a great game because children of different ages can play. This is also one of those traditional games that many adults will remember playing as children. It can be considered a multigenerational game if the members of the older generation are fairly fit! No equipment is needed. Traditionally the game is played on a driveway, but any good-sized open area can accommodate a game.

Preschoolers can play this game on a basic level. School-age children should be able to handle the basic game and its variations, too. 

How to Play

One person is designated as “it” and plays the part of the stop light. The other players line up about 20 feet away from “it.” Facing away from the other players, “it" calls out “Green light!” The others move toward “it.” “It” then calls out “Red light!” and turns around quickly. Anyone who is caught moving must go back to the starting line. Play continues until someone reaches and tags “it.” That person then becomes “it.” The trick to winning this game is to move smoothly so that you can freeze instantly until you are within reach of “it.” 

In the traditional game, commands are given verbally. You can, however, make or buy red, green and yellow paddles and use those to relay the commands. When three colors are used, players are expected to go full out during green light, start to slow down during yellow light and be at a complete stop for red light.

Using paddles adds a little more interest to the game as players must keep their eyes on "it." The cheapest way to make paddles is to buy three of the inexpensive paddle balls, the kind that have a ball attached with a rubber band, and paint them. 


In one variation, "it" stands facing the other players and calls out "Green light." The other players begin running toward "it." When "it" calls out "Red light," the players have to be able to stop within two seconds. Those who are unable to stop moving are out. The round ends when all players are out, or when a player is able to reach "it." The trick to winning this game is not to run too fast, or you won't be able to stop in time.

In another variation, a different action is substituted for running. Players may be instructed to hop, skip or jump toward "it." They may be asked to walk backward, walk sideways or even crawl. In another variation, "it" may call out "yellow light" at any time, which means that the players can continue to move but must move slowly. It's great fun to watch the kids move in slow motion.

If you have purchased or made colored paddles for the game, more variations are possible. Instead of stopping on red light, require that players switch to a different gait -- crawling, hopping or heel-to-toe walking, for example. Those who do not make the switch in a timely manner get sent back to the starting line. 

For Younger Children

When playing with children of different ages, you may want to designate two start lines, the closer one being for the smaller kids. 

Why We Like It

Besides being a good way to get the grandchildren moving, playing this game also helps children pay attention to verbal or visual cues. It's an excellent way of getting kids to practice focusing while having fun.

In addition, this game requires a certain amount of self-policing. Players who miss the cues and continue moving are expected to acknowledge their failure and return to the starting line willingly. (They usually do.) As in most other classic outdoor games for kids, players must interpret the rules and negotiate disagreements.

Also, consider Red Rover.