Carnival Games (for school, church, or community carnivals)

Every year our local elementary school hosts a fall carnival, the purpose of which is to bring families to the school, have fun, and maybe earn a little money.  I faithfully attended every annual carnival as a little one, volunteered to help run the games as a teen, and later, as an adult, ran the thing on behalf of the PTA.  (It's like a little microcosm of my life!) 

The trick is to make the games accessible for a range of ages, easy to set up and store (few parts), and easy for the adult volunteers to run.  Following is a list of some of some student favorites over the years, all of which (more or less) fit the above criteria.

NOTE: There are actually 2 lists here: one for games/activities in general, and one just for games that involve tossing things.  Otherwise, tossing games would overwhelm the other sort!

  1. Pet parade and contest.  Start your carnival off with a pet parade and contest.  Our school has categories for real animals and stuffed pets, and a special award for best pet-owner look-alike.  Start with parade (judges can watch animals as they parade by), then rendezvous somewhere (preferably outside) for judging.  3 judges assign 1-10pts in four categories: personality, health, fuzziness, and uniqueness.  Points added, then prizes given to top three pets in each category.  (Some tinkering with scores recommended to recognize maximum number of pets.)
  2. Fishing. Find an ocean-themed shower curtain or paint your own.  Suspend it so that it extends from the floor to approx 4ft in the air. (We typically drape ours over a hockey goal frame.)  Create fishing poles by tying lengths of string to poles or sticks.  Instead of hooks, affix wooden clothespins.  Kids drop the fishing poles over the screen, wait for a "yank" on their string (supplied by a handy volunteer sitting behind the screen), and pull in their "catch" - a plastic fish, fish tattoo, or other nautically-themed prize.
  3. Frog jump.  Using a kit from any craft store, build a catapult.  Cut lillypads out of construction paper and tape them to the ground. Decorate a beanbag to resemble a frog (or, use a small, light beanie-baby frog).  Students launch the frog, with the object of having him land on one of the lilipads.  (VARIATION: If you can lay your hands on a rubber frog, you can do this game with plates floating in a kiddie pool - just be prepared for a lot of water on the floor!)
  4. Cake decorating contest.  A week before the carnival, announce a cake decorating contest.  Collect cakes the day before the carnival.  Announce winners at the beginning of the carnival and display the winning entries on tables.  (Be prepared to do several different awards per grade.)  Cakes will be used as prizes for the cake walk (see below).
  5. Cake walk.  Array laminated construction paper squares (each with a number) in a circle on the floor.  A la "musical chairs", music plays and folks walk around the circle until the music stops, whereupon they stand on the nearest floormat.  A number is drawn from a hat.  The person standing on that number is out.  Continue until only one person is left standing. That person gets to pick a cake (or cupcake, or other baked good.)
  6. putt-putt golf.  Using lengths of fake patio rug, create three holes.  Purchase an inexpensive kids golf set and use the holes, balls & clubs that come with it.  Note: You WILL need to put up some sort of barrier around each hole so that balls don't go rolling everywhere.  You can be as creative (or as uncreative) as you want: the one we use is actually pretty cool, with one hole that requires turning a corner, one hole that requires bypassing obstacles, and one hole that requires jumping over a water trench!
  7. Obstacle Course.  Using PE equipment (mats, tunnels, hula hoops, etc.) create an obstacle course.  Time the kids as they go through.  Post their times on a chart on the wall so they can see how they did.
  8. RC car obstacle course.  As above, set up the obstacle course using cones, ramps, stuffed animals, and any other (preferably funny) obstacles you can think up.  Then time the kids as they maneuver through the course and post their times on a chart on the wall so they can see how they did. 
  9. Hot Wheels Racing.  This requires a lot of track, but if you have it, also a lot of fun!  First, establish a surface with a fairly steep slope. (Gymnastic mats that fold work well for this.)  Then, set up as many gravity-powered parallel lanes as possible.  Let the kids choose which car they would like to use. (Provide as wide a variety as possible!)  At "go!", everyone releases their cars and the one to cross the finish line first wins.  (NOTE: If one car consistently wins, you may want to surruptitiously withdraw it so the kids don't fight over it.)
  10. Hay/Lawn Maze.  You can create a simple maze with bales of hay or one of those lime-liners used to paint the lines on baseball fields.  To make it more fun, post a sign at the entrance with a riddle, then post another sign with the answer to the riddle in the center of the maze.
  11. Lucky Duck/Duck Pond.  Buy 20-30 plastic rubber ducks (they are available cheap from online party suppliers like Oriental Trading Co.) and underneath 5-10 of them, mark an "X" in indelible marker.  Float them in a kiddie swimming pool.  Students pick a duck, turn it over, and if it is one of the ducks marked with an "X", they get a prize.  Be sure to have plenty of towels handy to keep the area dry and slip-free.
  12. Duck Racing.  You'll need a couple more rubber ducks, two squirt guns, and two narrow trenches filled with water. (Long window boxes or lengths of guttering work well.)  Object is to squirt water at your duck, propelling him forward.  The first duck to cross the finish line wins.  This *will* be messy - definitely an outdoor game!
  13. Book Swap.  This works best if you start collecting donations a few weeks in advance.  (This is also a good opportunity for the library to get rid of books that aren't circulating well.)  Then, kids bring in books on the day of the event to swap.  
  14. Guess how many ... jellybeans, pennies, m&ms, beanie babies, etc.  People place their guesses in a jar.  Person with the best guess at the end of the event wins.
  15. Haunted House.  This takes some set-up, but the kids love it.  "Scary" features can include a black-light tunnel with ghosts painted on the walls, skeletons wearing silly clothes, a table set for a scary feast, lit pumpkins "floating" in the air (actually, suspended by fishing wire), and a spooky soundtrack.  (If you want to get more gruesome, consider setting an age limit.)
  16. Bingo.  Almost all party supply stores sell the necessary supplies.  The kids love it when their teachers act as callers.  If you want to be more inclusive, use m&ms as markers and at the end of each game, everyone gets to eat their markers!
  17. Face Painting.  A perennial favorite.  To placate parents worried about their lack of artistic ability, consider offering a few (10-12) simple, "pre-approved" designs (ex: flower, butterfly, pirate mustache & scar) for the kids to choose from.
  18. Sillhouette Cutting.  You'll need a wall, white construction paper, black construction paper, and a projector.  Have kids sit in profile in front of the wall and have an adult trace the shadow of their sillhouette on a piece of white paper taped to the wall behind them.  Then, allow them to cut out the sillhouette and glue it to a piece of black construction paper. 
  19. Dinosaur Dig.  Fill a kiddie swimming pool with packing peanuts or sand.  Underneath, "bury" a variety of plastic dinosaurs.  Kids get to dig until they find a dinosaur.  (NOTE: Sand can be messy, but packing peanuts equally so as they tend to build up static electricity and start sticking to everything!)
  20. Lollipop Tree.  You can buy these from party catalogs or make your own by drilling hopes into any standing pole or surface.  You'll also need LOTS of inexpensive lollipops.  Idea is to ink the tips of approx 15% of the lollypops, then insert them into the tree so that only their tops are showing.  Kids draw a lollipop and, if it has a colored tip, they win a prize.  (If it doesn't have a colored tip, they still get to eat the lollipop!)
  21. Black Light Booth.  Close off a small room and fill it with black lights.  Kids get to go inside and watch their clothes glow!  You can add to the fun by letting them paint on the walls with flourescent paint.
  22. Garden Game (aka cup and pea game).  Create a smooth, flat surface.  Place a "pea" under one of three upside-down flower pots.  (To make our pots more attractive, we afix silk flowers "sprouting" from the holes in the bottom.)  Scramble the flower pots.  The student has to guess which pot the pea is under. 
  23. Temporary Tattoos.  Enough said!
  24. Horse Racing.  Rustle up a couple of toy horses.  Using masking tape, set up a "racetrack" on a tabletop, dividing each track (as many tracks as you have horses) into 10 squares.  Have kids flip a coin.  If heads, they move their horse one space.  If tails, they move their horse two spaces.  First horse to cross the finish line wins.  (If you want to use dice, you may wish to create more squares.  Advantage of coin is that the race stays close until the end.)
  25. Archery Booth.  Purchase/borrow a non-lethal bow and arrow set (ex: nerf).  To make the game more fun, design targets that will be fun to shoot at: cartoon characters, celebrity pictures, funny "fortunes" (ex: "You will be elected President of the United States")
  26. Spin the Wheel. Design a spinning wheel by borrowing a bicycle tire and mounting it on a dowel projecting from a hole in a wall or pole.  Cover the tire with paper or fabric, divided into 8 pie slices.  Paint a "pointer" on the pole, just above the tire.  Once you have your spinner, you can create any number of games.  We typically use a version of "Simon Says."  7 slices are labelled with funny activities (ex: "Pat your head while rubbing your stomach), the 8th labelled "WINNER!" 4 contestants play at a time, taking turns spinning and performing the required action until someone finally hits "winner" and gets a prize.  
  27. Pin the Tie/Bow on the Principal.  Have someone with artistic ability draw a large sketch of the principal (shoulders up) and hang it over a sheet of metal.  Meanwhile, attach paper in gaudy patterns to cardboard and create cutouts in the shape of ties/bows.  Attach flat magnets to the reverse side.  Allow student to pick their favorite tie/bow. Blindfold them. (NOTE: Knit winter hat pulled down over eyes is quicker/easier than traditional blindfold.) Object is to affix tie/bow at principal's neck.  (NOTE: craft stores have good selection of gaudy paper + flat magnets.) 
  28. Grandmom's Closet.  Assemble mix of old clothes, halloween costumes, hats, wigs, sunglasses, etc. and place them in large box/trunk. Kids dress themselves then have their picture taken as souvenir.  (Use Polaroid or digital camera attached to printer.)
  29. Bake Sale.  Self-explanatory.
  30. Fortune Telling.  Options: crystal ball, playing cards, palm reading.  To assist parent volunteers, provide bullet list of fun/interesting fortunes that they can surreptitiously refer to.
  31. Kissing Booth.  Works best if set up in closed-off area so no one can see what's happening.  Kids enter booth: leave with wrapped Hershey kiss and "lipstick mark" (appropriate stamp available at most craft stores) stamped on cheek.  (NOTE: Child protection tip-make sure booth manned by two people at all times.)
  32. Craft Booth.  Options: coloring contest, paper dolls, colored sand project, beading project.
  33. Beauty Salon.  Options: fingernail painting, hair braiding, hair painting (using spray-on color or sparkle hair spray)
  34. White Elephant Sale.  The indoors version of a garage sale.  Have folks bring their old items.  All proceeds profit the school.
  35. Karaoke.  Rig up machine and allow kids to perform.  (To speed things up, post list of songs available and require kids to have chosen a song before their turn.)  If you're feeling ambitious, arrange for a camera to feed the performances in real-time over the school's CCTV.
  36. Dance Dance Revolution.  Set up the game and allow students to post their best scores on a chart on the wall.
  37. Human Bowling. Set up toy pins. Have student sit on flat board on wheels. (Think double-wide skateboard - PE depts usually have them, or you can make your own very easily with a board, four wheels, and some screws.) Have friend push them into pins. Object is to knock down all the pins.
  38. Cup Stacking.  Acquire 10 plastic cups: 5 of one color, 5 of another (or, 3 each in 3 colors).  In advance, create 10 charts (eisle format) showing cups stacked in various patterns.  Students have 15 secs to replicate  with cups the exact pattern shown.  (Vary pattern cards so new one used each turn.)
  39. Hula-Hoop Idol.  Give kids hula hoops and time them.  Allow them to post their best times on a chart on the wall. 
  40. Blackjack.  Just like Vegas; whoever wins each round gets a prize.  (NOTE: So kids don't get confused, hang sign that explains that face cards are worth 10pts and aces worth 1pt.)
  41. Line Dance Classes.  If you have a willing parent, kids love learning line dances. Options: Electric Slide, Macarena, Chicken Dance
  42. Movie Theater.  Set up a classroom theater-style and show cartoons.  Sell popcorn.
TOSSING GAMES.  To accomodate students of various ages/abilities, consider using 3 different "start" lines - closest for grades K-1, further away for grades 2-5, furthest for grades 6 and up.
  1. Baseball Throwing Games.  OPTION #1: Throw baseball at target. OPTION #2: Throw baseball through a hole in a board (painted to resemble a baseball diamond).  OPTION #3 (if you have a pitch velocity meter): throw for speed.
  2. Football Throwing Games.  OPTION #1: Throw football at target. OPTION #2: Throw football through a hole in a board (painted to resemble a football field).  OPTION #3: Throw for distance. 
  3. Basketball Throwing Games.  OPTION #1: Throw basketballs through a hoop.  OPTION #2: Make as many baskets as possible in 30 secs. 
  4. Tennis Ball Throwing Games.  The bounciness of the balls makes these games challening/fun.  OPTION #1: Throw baseballs into apple baskets/boxes/beach buckets.  OPTION #2: Bounce baseballs off a solid surface and try to get them to land in a basket/box/bucket.
  5. Ring Throwing Games.  OPTION #1: Throw rings over poles. OPTION #2: Throw rings over the tops of glass soda bottles.
  6. Hula-Hoop Throwing Games.  Throw hula hoop over target (ex: cones, decorated boxes, large stuffed animals)
  7. Toilet Paper Throwing Game.  Tape rolls of toilet paper with invisible packing tape (to keep them from unravelling) and throw them into box topped with toilet set/lid. 
  8. Rubber Chicken Throwing Game. Throw rubber chickens into cooking pots.
  9. Beanie Baby Throwing Game.  Create boxes decorated to resemble ocean, woods, prairie, treetops, pond, etc.  Object is to throw each animal into the box that matches their natural environment.
  10. Beanbag Throwing Games.  OPTION #1: Using masking tape, create large tic-tac-toe board on floor.  Each players gets different colored beanbags.  OPTION #2: Use round beanbags dubbed "cannonballs."  Toss them at cutouts of ships and seamonsters.
  11. Ping Pong Ball Throwing Game.  Throw ping pong balls into cups.
  12. Coin Throwing Game.  Toss coins onto platters/plates.
  13. Paper Airplane Throwing Games.  Kids create their own airplanes or pick one from basket full of planes created by other students.  Object is to throw them through a hula hoop suspended from the ceiling.  (To add difficulty, spin the hula hoop!)

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