The perfect pool party doesn't come together automatically. As any experienced parent or older child knows, a really great pool party is shaped by three things: the food, the pool toys, and the games everyone plays together. The truly legendary pool parties always come with stories of playing a rousing game of Shark or a water battle of epic proportions.
Whether you're planning a birthday party or just an excuse to go swimming with friends, here are 15 fantastic games for pool parties.
Marco Polo is the most well-known pool game in the world. In part, because it's appeared on TV and movies so many times. You can play it with as little as two people with one blindfold. One person stands in the middle of the pool (or shallow end) wearing a blindfold while others are spread out around them in the water. Growing up it wasn't uncommon for kids to have a pair of "blacked out" googles specifically for Marco Polo to help keep anyone from being tempted to sneak a peek.
The blindfolded person in the center calls "Marco" and others must answer "Polo." Marco finds the Polos by sound, while the Polos try to dodge away quietly.
VARIATIONS OF MARCO POLO:
Colors / Shark / Dolphin
The first variation of Marco polo is incredibly popular. Therefore, it has many names and rule variations. One person stands in the center wearing a blindfold, the "Shark." Everyone else is separated into named teams. The person in the center calls the name of a team, and everyone on the named team tries to swim quietly across the pool. If the shark hears and tags someone, they become the new shark and the shark joins their team. You can play this with a dolphin being the main person as well as each player being assigned colors but a couple colors are left unassigned and the shark doesn't know which is or isn't assigned.
Octopus is a lot like shark, but with slightly different rules. The person in the center -- the octopus -- still calls team names, and the teams try to swim across. The octopus isn't blindfolded, however, they also don't have full motion, and can't leave the center stripe of the pool.
What Time Is It?
One for the younger kids is "What Time is It, Mister Fox?" which is a counting game to play in the shallow end. Mr. Fox stands at one end of the pool while the kids line up at the other. Kids ask Mr. Fox what time it is, and Mr. Fox says a time like 3 o' clock or 9 o' clock. The kids take an equal number of steps forward. At some point, Mr. Fox answers "Lunchtime!". All the kids scream and scramble and Mr. Fox tries to tag them. Whoever gets tagged is the new Mr. Fox. While this one sounds like something out of the old creepy Grimm's fairy tale stories it is a big hit for most kids.
Treasure Hunts are also a time-honored pool tradition called by many different names and played with many different props. The basic idea is the host throws a handful or bucket-full of items into the pool and everyone dives for them. This can be played with pool toys, diving sticks, pocket change, garden rocks, or fresh fruit. And it can also be played with floating items and nets to practice cleaning the pool, for savvy parenting or days when it's not safe to swim.
VARIATIONS OF TREASURE HUNT:
Treasure hunt has a million different minor variations, like what you throw into the pool. But there are also some fun changes in how you tally up the winner. One way is to challenge two teams to fill a bucket. Whoever's bucket is the most full at the end, wins.
The most educational variation of treasure hunt is the math dive. You can do this by assigning values to the pieces you drop or actually writing numbers on them. Then assign points based on fun math rules, which should be age appropriate for the party-goers. At the most basic, you add up the various pieces to determine your score. More complex versions might include multipliers and combo bonuses.
Invisible Bottle Hunt
Then there's the test of underwater eyesight. Take a clear plastic water bottle and fill it completely with pool water. It helps to screw the cap on underwater. Have everyone turn their backs while you throw the bottle into the pool, then challenge the swimmers to be the first to find the invisible treasure which will be a lot harder than most suspect. For even more of a challenge, leave the cap off.
Whirlpool is a fun game with only one version because it's actually a neat physics trick. The key is to have 3 - 8 people walk and swim in a circle as fast as they can, creating an artificial whirlpool in the middle of your shallow end. Get the whirlpool swirling fast enough and you can actually float and spin in it for a few seconds each.
Jump quiz is another great one-off pool game any group of people can play and you only need two or more people to play it. The trick is to answer questions in mid-air.
To play jump quiz, have one person act as the quiz-master, possibly with cards or making up questions on the fly. You can also have a team take turns asking questions. Then, taking turns, each party-goer stands at the edge of the pool. They are asked a question and then immediately have to jump off the edge. Anyone who gets their answer out before hitting the water gets a point.
SWIMMING THROUGH HOOPS
If you have hula hoops, then another great pool game suggests itself. Swimming through hoops is a great way to practice one's swimming skills and compare relative agility. You can make the hoops stand up straight at various levels underwater using string and weighted toys. Then make your obstacle course and go!
CARDBOARD BOAT CONTEST
If you have a bunch of old cardboard boxes and duct tape on hand, you can challenge your guests to another totally awesome pool party game. Cardboard boat contests challenge the creativity and practical construction skills of your guests and create a fun activity for pool games.
Split your party up into teams and issue them each the same number of cardboard boxes and rolls of tape. If you have additional supplies available you may let them source other expendable materials like a trash bag, paper towel rolls, and broom handles with permission and approval, but make sure to keep it fair or make earning these extra items a game in and of itself!
The goal is for each team to craft a boat that can A) float and B) hold a person for a few minutes while you paddle around. Possibly even long enough to have a boat race. Oh yeah, we're talking FULL size people boats. This is for serious fun only!
Breath holding contests are another classic and you certainly don't need any supplies. Swimmers of all ages have engaged in breath holding competitions just to find out who's the best. Organizing a party contest with a shiny plastic crown is a fun way to acknowledge, once and for all, who can hold their breath the longest.
VARIATION OF BREATH HOLDING:
There are many games which involve holding one's breath. But the safest and most fun variation is submarine. Essentially, it turns breath holding into a race instead of just a timed contest. Compete to see who can swim the furthest on a single breath.
Finally, there's a game you can play in and out of the pool. As long as you have a giant inflatable pool monster. Turtles, crocodiles, dragons, anything will do. Even flamingos and unicorns if that's all you have. The goal is to use hula hoops, noodles, and other pool toys to somehow capture and conquer the great floating beast. May the odds be ever in your favor.
Pool party games come in all shapes and sizes. Some require toys, some don't. Some are great for little kids, some are more appealing to teenagers and kids at heart. But you never really grow out of the joy of splashing, sneaking, diving, and tagging each other at a pool party. If you know some fun pool games we haven't listed, share them in the comments so everyone can play!
For more great party tips see our listed articles below: