Four Kids’ Water Games to Play in Shallow Water

Are your kids itching to play in some nearby water, but you don’t have their swimsuits?

Looking for new ways to cool off in a shallow creek or kids’ fountain?

You and your kids can make a splash in water that’s only knee-deep and have a ball doing it.

In this article, I’ll teach you to play four shallow-water games that will keep you cool when you need to stay relatively dry.

Kids water games without swimsuits: Four shallow-water games that will keep your kids cool when they need to stay dry.

Why Play Shallow Water Games?

Just let them jump in, you say? It’s true, there’s nothing like bombing into a pool, diving under the waves at the beach or launching yourself off a rope swing into a lake.

But sometimes you need to keep the kids clean and dry. Other times the best you’ve got is a couple feet of water to splash around in.

This is the time for shallow-water games.

Clean children, hot weather and nearby water create a dilemma in keeping everyone content and relatively dry. For example, when we visit downtown Chicago (as with most major cities), there are lovely shallow pools for dipping feet and cooling off.

Here’s kids having fun in only a few inches of water.

Other times we cook out at the beach and want to enjoy the surroundings without getting fully immersed in the water. There are even those wading pools that were fun when our kids were tiny, but now they’ve outgrown them.

Creeks pose another problem. We would often like to refresh in the water, but it’s too shallow.

Or is it?

Read on to learn about four games to play in water that’s only knee-deep.

Game #1: Water Hockey

I first played this game on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the birthplace of professional hockey. Some might argue that pro hockey began in Canada, but the U.P. natives have pretty convincing historical documentation. In any case, they’re hockey nuts.

When the weather’s nice and there’s plenty of water nearby, try a game of water hockey. It’s like ice hockey with a warm-weather twist.

players face off

Players face off and squirt the ball toward the opposing goal.

There’s so much about this game that rocks. It’s active, but it’s not likely that kids will get hurt.

You Will Need

  • Open field
  • Water shooter for each player (cheap—I find mine at the dollar store. You can also order them from Amazon)
  • Inflatable beach ball (better to have two in case one pops)
  • Objects to mark two goals and field perimeters
  • Significant supply of water such as a stream, lake or wading pool that can be filled with a hose
  • Referee to do the face-offs and keep the game orderly

Preparation Time

This game comes together quickly if you have a nearby water supply. I once tried to cart water to an inland field, but it makes preparation considerably longer and more tiresome. Play this game near a water hose, beach or stream.

Activity Time

30 minutes (and it could go on for an hour or more)

You’ll want to play with at least 6 and as many as 20 kids (as long as you have the field large enough for 10 kids per team). Ages can vary.

Be sure to get adults in on the fun here. (Stretch those mature muscles first.)

So here’s how water hockey rolls…

Step #1: Mark Your Field

Place heavy objects that won’t easily shift for goal posts on either end of a field. Good-sized rocks work really well. Each goal should be about six to eight feet wide, depending upon the size of the field and age of the players.

mark your goal area

Shoes work well for marking your goal area.

Step #2: Set Up Your Watering Hole

The easiest way to play this game is near a stream, lake or ocean.

If you play in your yard, simply place one or two pools by either goal line, and fill them with water from a hose (two is better, as you won’t need to refill your pool as often). In a pinch, you could use several buckets of water, but you’ll need someone to fill them continually.

Step #3: Gather Your Players

Give each player a water shooter.

Tip: Have the referee hold the water shooters until the rules have been explained or you will be competing against a far superior attention-grabber.

Divide players into two teams.

Step #4: Explain the Rules and Play

Object of the game: Score as many goals as possible in three 10-minute periods. The referee will need a stopwatch or a phone to time (just be careful not to let it get wet).

Alternately, you could agree upon a set number of goals and whoever scores that number first wins.

Face-off: At the beginning and after each goal, place the ball dead center in the middle of the field. The referee drops the ball to start play.

Players from opposing teams squirt their shooters to move the ball toward their opponent’s goals.

running and squirting

This game scores with a lot of running and squirting.

Nothing can touch or move the ball toward the goal except water from the water shooter.

The ball can make contact with a defensive player as it is moving. But an offensive player cannot make contact with the ball to manipulate it toward the goal.

If an offensive player manipulates the movement of the ball with his/her body, the ball must be placed two-thirds of the way down the field by the opposing team’s goal for a face-off.

Optional: If necessary, players who are excessively rough or wild can be put in the “penalty box” for two minutes. The penalized player will leave the field during that time, and the penalized team will play short one player until the time is up.

Game #2: Juice Box Regatta

Like kids need a reason to guzzle their juice! This game will make drinking it even more fun.

duct tape sail box

A stylish duct tape sail box ready for the regatta.

Let your kids know that their juice boxes will become ships once they’re empty. Explain that the box shouldn’t be crushed. You’ll need the straw too, so be gentle with it.

You Will Need

  • Juice box
  • Pointed knife or corkscrew (for adults only)
  • Duct tape—one roll for the whole group (optional but recommended)
  • Scissors (to use with the duct tape)
  • Leaf (if you don’t have duct tape)

Preparation Time

20-30 minutes including time to drink the juice

Activity Time

10 minutes per race

Step #1: Refresh your Palate

Rehydrate. Drink the juice. Be sure to keep the box and straw intact.

Step #2: Craft Your Ship

Once empty, find the hole where the straw originally fit. Make sure this hole is furthest away from the bottom of the “ship” where it will float on water.

Then an adult should poke a hole in the largest side of the juice box using a corkscrew or a knife with a sharp point.

The hole needs to be big enough for the plastic straw to fit in snugly, but not so big that the straw moves around. Stick the straw in to make your ship’s mast.

knife to cut holes

Carefully cut a small hole in the center of the box to hold the mast.

Optional: Want to make your ship an artistic creation? Cover the box with duct tape. This is an extra aesthetic step you can do if you don’t mind carting the duct tape and scissors on your adventure.

It’s best to first cover the sides of the box in duct tape. Cleanly fold down the extra width so there is a “hem” on the top of the ship. Then cut a piece of duct tape to fit the top of the box, covering that “hem.” It should fit nicely.

Make a sail from the duct tape. Cut two isosceles triangles from duct tape. These pieces need to fit together back-to-back, so cut one with a left angle, and the other with a right angle. Cut one of the triangles just a bit wider than the other so you can stick it onto the mast easily.

duct tape sail

Cut two mirrored triangles from duct tape to make a sail. Note how the right sail is slightly wider so it will stick on the straw mast.

No duct tape? Find a big leaf or paper to make your sail. Gently tear two small holes with your thumb, and thread it onto the straw to become the sail.

Step #3: Let the Regatta Begin!

By this point, all the kids will be in the water, sailing their creations. Here is how to make it a race.

Create start and finish points. Use rocks, shoes or another heavy object to set your race lines at water’s edge. Help kids visualize the invisible line that shoots out from the marked objects.

Set the length of the racecourse according to the space available and the age of the racers.

Have an adult act as the line judge.

mark start and finish lines

Shoes mark the invisible start and finish lines for the race.

Gather your skippers at the starting line and explain the rules.

If there are older and younger children, you may want to have them race in teams, with each ship having a Skipper (the person in charge) and First Mate (the Skipper’s go-to person). This helps the game to move along, and everyone will be able to get in on the action more quickly.

Object of the Race: “Sail” your boat to the finish line first.

regatta start line

Sailors, take your marks, get set, GO!

All boats start parallel to the starting line.

You may not touch your boat to propel it. You must use your hands and feet to manipulate the water to move your boat forward, eventually crossing the finish line.

ship sails

The heeling ship sails in turbulent water.

You may not intentionally discourage, stop or touch a competing boat. If such an event occurs, the penalized boat must move back five paces from the point where the penalty happened.

It’s okay if your boat falls on one side. In sailing terms, this is called “heeling.” Usually a boat heels when high winds catch the sail. Consequently, the weight of the boat goes heavy to one side. In sailing, it’s all part of the experience.

Ships ahoy!

Game #3: Ringer

Sometimes kids start grinding on each other’s nerves during a day of exploring or even free-playing (or maybe it’s just my kids?).

A structured game like Ringer brings a new focus and helps everyone forget about sibling or personality struggles.

playing ringer

This game is good for those times when you need a distraction.

You Will Need

  • Pool noodle (or inflatable water ring)
  • Duct tape (to make pool noodle into a ring)
  • Small balls or objects that will fit through the ring
  • String, yarn, jump rope or even shoelaces tied together (optional but recommended)
  • Small, dense object like a stone

Preparation Time

5-10 minutes to make the ring

Activity Time

15-20 minutes

Step #1: Make the Ring

This is easy to do with duct tape. Put the two round ends of the pool noodle together and tape it securely.

If you use an inflatable water ring, simply blow it up.

noodle ring

This game sets up quickly with a pool noodle and duct tape.

Ask the kids to find several objects that will fit through the hole of the ring. You may have packed small balls. If not, search for plastic bottle caps; small, smooth stones; acorns; small toys; etc.

ringer objects

Use your imagination when finding throwing objects.

Step #2: Set Up the Game

Place your water ring at one end of the water, about 15 feet from your standing line. Put a marker for your ring on the ground so you can easily identify where to replace the water ring if it moves.

Optional but preferred: Tie a stone around the end of a piece of string. Tie the other end of the string to the ring, so that the remaining string is just a bit longer than the water level. This will act as an anchor and help the ring to stay in place.

ring with stone

This makeshift anchor will help keep your “hoop” in place.

Walk 12 paces from the water ring and place another marker on the ground, adjacent to the place where the thrower will stand in the water.

Step #3: Explain the Rules

Gather your group so everyone understands how to play.

Object of the game: Score the most points after five sets of throws.

You can play individually, in pairs or in groups of three.

Form teams, combine ages and skill levels so they are as even as possible. Add up each team’s ages.

The youngest team goes first, followed by the next youngest, until each team has played.

Throw objects toward the ring.

The throwing team must stay behind the marked line while tossing objects.

Each team must throw 3-4 objects, taking turns if there is more than one player.

Each team throws, totals their score and collects the objects in the water. Then the next team goes and so on until every team has played.

After each team has thrown five times, add up points. The team with the highest total wins the game.


  • Hit anywhere on the ring: 50 points
  • Toss inside the ring: 100 points
  • Optional: Toss inside the ring without touching any part of it: 150 points

(This option makes for an even more exciting game, and one that older kids especially enjoy. However, you must have a spotter carefully watching the ring. If you’re throwing hard objects like stones, it’s best to disregard this alternative to prevent the spotter from getting hit.)

Game #4: Sand Bucket Basketball

This game has the action of half-court basketball without the sweat. Instead of competing on scorching blacktop, players get to stand in ankle- to knee-deep water.

play ball

A wet way to play buckets.

The “hoop” takes height out of the equation too, because it’s a bucket dug into the seashore. That said, you likely won’t curb the trash talk. When friends or siblings are matched up against each other, the fun begins, and so does the teasing.

You Will Need

  • Natural water (relatively calm) with sandy shore such as an ocean, lake or river
  • Sand bucket
  • Tennis (or similar-sized) ball
  • Shoes or objects to mark boundary lines

Preparation Time

5 minutes

Activity Time

30 minutes

So if you’re up for a game of sand bucket, pick your team—and like basketball legend Larry Bird once said, look around and “see who’s gonna finish second.”

Step #1: Mark Your Court

Place shoes or rocks on the sand to create two invisible lines for your boundaries, about 15 feet wide.

The depth boundary is the bottom of the shortest person’s shorts. So if your five-year-old is playing with adults, nobody can go deeper than your child can go without getting his clothes soaked. (Trust me, they’ll get wet anyway.)

Step #2: Plant Your Sand Bucket

Ask your shortest player to lie stretched out on the shore, with feet barely immersed in the water and arms over head.

mark the spot

Mark the spot of your bucket with the help of the shortest (or in this case the most cooperative) player.

Place the bucket at the tip of his/her fingers, in the middle of the boundary lines. Wiggle your bucket so it is firm in the sand, with the opening up, and tilted slightly toward the water.

sand bucket

Sand bucket ready for action.

Step #3: Take a Few Shots

Not trash talk here—get your tennis ball and let players practice shooting in the bucket. It’s a different feel with feet on a sandy bottom.

Object of the game: Score as many baskets as possible in two 15-minute periods. Alternately, you could play until one team reaches an agreed-upon number of baskets.

Players must keep feet immersed in water. When the ball is on the sand, players can reach to shore as long as their feet stay wet.

feet in water

Remember that feet need to stay immersed in water!

When the ball goes out of bounds, a player from the opposite team takes it just outside of the boundary line and throws it in bounds.

No pushing, shoving or splashing. Diving to intercept a pass is allowed.

Some Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoy these ideas for making the most of shallow water. Sporting games like these make for memorable family time. And (even better, in this writer’s mind) they are a great way to tire out my rascals before they tire me out!

I can say with confidence that after splashing and playing in the water all day, your family will drift off to sleep with silly grins from the day’s events and slumber well all night.

What do you think? Have you tried any knee-deep water games with your family? Are there other games that your family likes to play? Leave a comment or a picture in the box below.

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About the Author, Robin Bermel

Robin Bermel socially markets small businesses and serves in various children’s ministries. She especially enjoys feeding and goofing off with her husband and three, school-age children. Other posts by »


  1. Thanks, Robin! I’m hoping we can get another beach day in this summer and these games will be perfect.

  2. Robin Bermel says:

    Chicago reports warm with a mix of sun & clouds. Great weather for shallow water games! Hope you can get out too!

  3. Freelance Sarah says:

    There really are so many great tips here. I have 2 kids under the age of 6 and we’re currently in the middle of the summer holidays in the UK. I am running out of ideas to keep them happy and busy during the day so they are exhausted enough to allow me to work at night. These outdoor activities are perfect. Thank you.

  4. Jill VanDerveer says:

    What great ideas! Thanks for sharing! I loved the “Make a Ring” game. So clever. I also just loved the pictures of the kids having a good time!

  5. Robin Bermel says:

    Hi Sarah, glad you find the ideas inspiring. Hopefully they will wear out your children and leave you time to work!

  6. Robin Bermel says:

    Thanks Jill! Who knew that a pool noodle could double as a ring? It works and is fun. Enjoy your last days of summer. Luci is looking forward to seeing you in the hallways, 😉

  7. Alison Caputo says:

    You are so creative, Robin! Wow! I love the noodle game too- how simple! Even I can remember to do that…and my kids are older but they would still have fun with that one. Great job! And love to see your kids too…

  8. KJ Ammerman says:

    Robin – Great ideas for the end-of-summer lake trips! Always nice to have some variations this time of year when kids are getting bored :)

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