35 Best Swimming Pool Games for Kids (Fun & Easy Ways to Play)
Beating the heat poolside is an iconic summertime activity. It is also a ton of work! Not only are there a ton of things us parents must remember to bring (towels, snacks, water, sunscreen, endless ideas for pool fun, etc.), but kids are notorious for wanting the one thing we forgot or getting bored long before it is time to leave. Today Wendy Cox, San Diego photographer, gardener, and mom of four, shares 35 pool games for kids that are sure to help make your pool day run smoothly and increase your family’s pool day fun! Save this list for the next time you’re spending the day at the pool, hosting a pool party or hosting a crew at the pool.
35 pool games for kids
For most of us, summertime means a lot of time playing at the pool. But have you ever spent hours gathering the floaties, swimsuits, sunscreen, towels, goggles, etc. just to have your kids complain of being cold a few minutes after getting to the pool and ask to leave? Or maybe you are one of the lucky ones that have a pool at home, but the novelty of it has worn off. Maybe your kids are in the pool all the time asking you to join them but you don’t appreciate getting splashed, kicked, and pushed around while you’re swimming with them.
Well, I have a solution. Today I’m sharing the best pool games for swimmers of all ages and abilities. These pool games will keep both you and your kids occupied for hours of pool time fun. Just don’t forget that sunscreen!
(Adult supervision is always recommended when kids are in/around water)
The best pool games for kids
- Secret message
- Pool tea party
- Obstacle course
- Follow the leader
- Human raft
- Synchronized swimming
- Timed dives
- Relay races
- Diving Olympics
- One push across the pool
- Sharks and minnows
- Pool fishing
- Pool noodle surfing
- Scuba divers
- Marco polo
- Raft races
- Noodle joust
- Number crunch
- Chicken fight
- Invisible bottle
- Tread challenge
- Atomic whirlpool
- Belly flop contest
- Catch it
- Duck push
- Pool basketball
- Freeze tag
- Water polo
- Simon says
- Water gun battle
- Mr. Shark
- Earn your allowance
1. Secret messages
This game can be played with anyone that can talk. So, even if you have a non-swimmer (or a weak swimmer) who likes to hang out on the stairs, they can still participate.
To play: Start by choosing someone to say the message (usually one or two words) and someone to be the guesser. Go underwater at the same time. The messenger says a word loudly underwater. When you get back up the guesser has to say what word they think the person said. Consider choosing a theme, like animals or fruits, to make it a little easier to guess the word.
2. Pool tea party
You’ll need goggles and a shallow end for this pool game. Tea party is played at the bottom of the pool with your eyes open. Sometimes we like to hold hands, other times we need our hands to help propel us down to the bottom.
To play: Take a deep breath and wriggle your body into a crisscross applesauce position at the bottom of the pool. This is the hardest part of the game! Once you get down there, blow bubbles out of your mouth and pretend to sip from your imaginary teacup. The best part is seeing how silly everyone looks as they flail about trying to stay down at the bottom of the pool! After that, repeat until you’re laughing so hard that you can’t hold your breath anymore.
3. Obstacle course: pool version
This pool game is perfect for all ages because you can customize the obstacle course to meet the abilities of the players. You can make the course as simple or as complicated as you like, depending on who is playing. Feel free to add in pool floats, pool noodles, hula hoops, or other props as part of this pool game.
To play: The hardest part is making up the course, after that, it is all fun! An example of a pool obstacle course looks like this: Slide down the slide. Swim across the pool and touch the number 3. Float on your back for 5 seconds. Do a handstand. Touch the side of the pool with your big toe. Climb up the ladder. Do a cannonball in the deep end. Swim backwards to the shallow end. Spin around 3 times. Do 3 jumping jacks.
4. Follow the leader
Everyone loves following the leader, especially when they get a chance to be the leader! This classic game is perfect for pool-time fun!
To play: This pool game is similar to the obstacle course described above, but instead of saying what the course will be out loud, the leader does the actions in sequence. The rest of the players try to repeat the same course in the same order. Switch leaders each round and, of course, make sure to let the kids make a course for you!
5. Human raft
I used to do this with my sisters as a kid and we had so much fun trying to make this work! You will need at least 4 people to make this happen.
To play: One person holds the “raft’s” feet. One person holds the “raft” under both armpits. One person is the raft, and this person will be on their back supported by the two others. The fourth person is the passenger and is usually the smallest person. The passenger sits on the stomach of the “raft.” Once you get all the feet and arms in the right place, the two people carrying the “raft” walk in unison to ferry the passenger around the pool.
While we’re on the topic of games I played with my sisters, these next two were our favorites.
6. Synchronized swimming
We spent hours making up elaborate synchronized swimming routines, practicing, and then performing them for our parents or grandparents. This is the perfect game for your little performers.
To play: The players all work together to create and learn a swimming routine. You could even put the routine to music. We love this waterproof portable speaker and always have it with us around the pool. Let the kids pick the song. Jump, dance, swim, twirl, and don’t forget to end with a grand finale move. Maybe this will be the jumpstart to your child’s 2028 summer Olympics debut!
Since I have all sisters, one of our favorite pool games to play as kids was mermaids. To be all-inclusive we could call it mer-people. This game is best for strong swimmers because you have to swim with your feet together the whole time. Back when I was a kid they didn’t have all the fancy mermaid tails, like they do now, so we had to use our imagination. If you do have a mermaid tail, awesome, use it! If not, imaginations work just fine and are needed for this game anyway.
To play: Start with a made-up scenario (“Let’s pretend that we’re mermaids and we have to save the treasure chest from a ship before it sinks to the depths of the ocean.”) and run with it. The only rule is that you have to keep your feet together, like how you would swim if you were a real mermaid.
8. Timed dives
Diving toys are one of our favorite things to play games with at the pool because they are easy to carry and fit in a small bag. My kids love to dive for any diving toy and they make for some fun pool games.
To play: This simple pool game is played by throwing all the dive toys into the water and waiting for them to get to the bottom of the pool, then timing how long it takes your child to gather them all up. If you have a competitive bunch like I do, they will constantly try to beat each other’s time. Sometimes they’ll throw all the dive toys into the deep end of the pool and then work together as a team to see how long it takes (and how many times they have to dive down) to collect everything.
9. Relay races
This pool game is best played with a large group of kids because you will want three or more people per team. This game is perfect for pool parties, family get-togethers or times when the entire baseball team is swimming together!
To play: All teams start at one side of the pool and have to get to the other side and back in different ways. Swimming underwater, swimming only with your left arm, swimming the backstroke, etc. The first team to complete the relay wins.
10. Diving Olympics
If your group is up for a challenge, this pool game is for you! First, you must be in a pool that’s safe for diving. Next, teach some diving basics. You can learn the basics of diving here.
To play: After some practice dives, choose judges. Go fancy and have individually laminated pieces of paper with numbers 1 -10 on them for the judges to hold up. This could be done in a big group, if the diver is a good sport and won’t mind being scored, or with a single diver. My oldest son LOVES to play this and asks for tips after each dive. “Mom, did I make a big splash?” “Did I keep my feet together?” “Wow, did you see how good that dive was!” If you have a kid like this that craves feedback and perfection, get out your camera or phone and take some video.
11. One push across the pool
All credit for this pool game goes to my Uncle Don. I still do this when I go to his pool! This game requires strong legs and strong lungs. My uncle would usually offer a prize to anyone who could make it all the way across, so a little something for anyone who could make it all the way across might be fun.
To play: The point is to make it all the way across the pool with one push off the side and one breath. In the pool, extend your arms and take a deep breath. Put your face in the water and push off the side of the pool with all your might! Hold your breath until you touch the opposite side or until you have to come up for air. The next person can either try to beat the first player’s effort or beat their last attempt. If you’re in a long pool, bring some sidewalk chalk to mark how far everyone went.
12. Sharks and minnows
Did you ever play this game when you were a kid? It was played a lot at school and was a pool party game staple. It works best with a large group.
To play: Start with one person, the shark, in the middle of the pool. Give the shark boundaries that they cannot cross to get the minnows. The rest of the swimmers, the minnows, line up along one side of the pool. When the shark says “GO” all of the minnows have to try to make it to the other side of the pool without getting tagged by the shark. Anyone who is tagged becomes a shark. The last minnow standing becomes the shark for the next game. This classic never gets old!
13. Pool fishing
Even the littlest of hands can get into pool games. Little kids love playing this pool fishing game, but the older kids enjoy it as well. Put a net in a kid’s hand, and you’ve got instant entertainment! Add some fun treasures, and it’s a game your kiddos will ask for over and over.
To play: All you’ll need is at least one net and this fun treasure box of dive toys. Drop or throw the toys/treasures into the water and see if your kiddos can catch them before they hit the bottom of the pool. Your kids will be building their hand-eye coordination without even knowing it.
14. Raft races
Who doesn’t love a good race? This swimming pool game has the added fun of pretending your pool float/raft is a racecar. Zrroom! Let’s race!
To play: Line all the racers up at one end of the pool and choose one person to be the referee. You can have them already on their floats or all in the pool and they have to mount when the whistle blows. Either way, the objective is to see who can get from the starting line to the other end of the pool riding their float first! Anyone that falls off is disqualified. If you have a bunch of kids, you can do this as a relay with teams!
15. Noodle joust
This game can be a little intense, so reserve it for your more rough-and-tumble kids. You’ll need 2 players, 2 rafts/floats, and 2 pool noodles for this game. (Or, check out this log raft game with canes.)
To play: Each player rides their raft (like a horse) in the middle of the pool. They each have a pool noodle and on the count of 3, they joust to see who can knock the other player off their raft first.
16. Number crunch
If you want to add a little math practice to your summer fun, this is the perfect game. It takes a little bit of prep work but can be used all summer long in a variety of ways for kids of all math abilities. Start by using a permanent marker and numbering 25 (or more!) ping pong balls (1-25) and grabbing 2 buckets (or bowls). Then head to the pool!
To play: Start by dividing the kids into 2 teams and place them (with a bucket) on opposite sides of the pool. Throw all the balls in the pool. Ready, set, go! Everyone jumps in and collects balls to put in their bucket. However, you can only collect one ball at a time. When all the balls are collected, each side adds up their total (older kids can help the younger kids with math) and the highest-scoring team wins! Another way to play this is the put the bucket/bowl on a float in the pool and let each team take a turn trying to shoot the ping pong balls into the floating bucket. The team with the highest score wins.
17. Pool noodle surfing
Our favorite pool game is to “surf” on a pool noodle without falling off. You might think it sounds simple enough, but when the noodle wants to spring to the surface and you’re trying your best to keep it under your feet, it makes for a pretty good challenge.
To play: The whole point is to try and stand on your pool noodle without falling off. Usually, we try to surf with two feet on the noodle, but if you’re an overachiever you could try it with one foot. Whoever can stay on the noodle the longest wins!
18. Catch it!
There’s something extra fun about combining the thrill of jumping in the pool, with the added excitement of trying to catch something. This game is fun for kids (and adults) of all ages.
To play: All you need is some kind of ball to throw and enough room to jump into the pool. One player is the “pitcher” and the other players take turns catching. The first catcher stands at the edge of the pool and the pitcher throws the ball into the air in front of the catcher, who has to jump in and catch it before plunging into the water. You can get creative with this game by having the catcher do a leap or a trick before catching. The catches can get more difficult, which ups the ante! This can also be done off a diving board, which makes it really fun as you can jump higher and farther!
19. Duck push
If you’ve got some extra rubber duckies around from bath time, bring them outside to the pool! While rubber ducks make this game super adorable, it can also be done with any number of other items that float (like balls).
To play: The players line up and each swimmer starts at one end of the pool with a rubber duck. The object of the game is to get your rubber duck to the other side, without using your hands. Your kids may try blowing on them, pushing them with their forehead or nose, carrying them on their back or head. Let them get creative. Other players can splash water or try to knock another player’s duck off course. The first one to the end of the pool wins!
To play: The first player has to try to make a basket from anywhere in the pool and if they make it, the next player has to repeat the shot exactly how the first person did. If they miss, that person gets a letter (the first letter is H and then you get O, R, S, and E). The game ends when one person spells out the entire word HORSE and loses.
21. Scuba divers
Bring a healthy dose of imagination for this game, but you could also use this as an educational activity to research some marine life. Sometimes my kids use gear like a snorkel, mask, or fins, but those are not necessary.
To play: First, imagine a scuba diving scenario. It could be searching for a sunken ship, looking for manta rays, or scouting out the Great Barrier Reef. Then gather any pool floats you have. My son prefers an inner tube. Next, sit on the edge of the floatie and fall backward into the water. (Make sure to be far away from the edge of the pool.) If you have goggles or a mask, try to communicate with each other using just your eyes or hand signals, like real scuba divers. Be sure to share all of the interesting specimens you found on your dive.
22. Invisible bottle
Did you know that if you fill a clear 2-liter water bottle with pool water, it’ll nearly disappear underwater? Talk about a fun find! Invisible bottle is one of the best swimming pool games for kids.
To play: Find a clear plastic 2-liter bottle with a clear or white cap. Fill it with pool water. Have everyone playing stand on the pool deck, turn their backs to the pool, and close their eyes. Throw the bottle into the water. When the bottle sinks, say “GO” and everyone can turn around, jump in and try to find the bottle. The clear bottle will blend in and become almost invisible at the bottom of the pool. The first person to find it wins!
Airball is lots of fun and a great game to play with a large group of people or the whole family. We use a beach ball when we play this in the pool. In the house, we use a balloon and call this “keepy-uppy.”
To play: The goal of this game is to keep the ball in the air! You can pass it to other players or go around in a circle. You just need to keep it from touching the water. Count out loud how many times the ball is hit. When the beach ball touches the water, the round is over and you start a new game! Try to beat your score from the last round.
24. Atomic whirlpool
As a kid, I was absolutely fascinated by the power of water. One of the things we loved doing was to get the water moving in a whirlpool and then fight the current. My kids love it now and it’s a great way to seriously wear them out! The more kids that can play, the better results. The smaller the pool, the better. Or stay in the shallow end of the pool.
To play: Everyone starts in a large circle. Begin walking slowly in the circle, all in the same direction. Start walking faster and faster until everyone is running in the water. Continue running until a whirlpool is formed! Your kids may notice that they’re being picked up off the ground of the pool by the force of the water and propelled forward. When the water’s really moving, everyone turns around and tries to run in the opposite direction of the whirlpool for an extra challenge. Laughter and chaos are sure to ensue!
25. Belly flop contest
Everyone loves a good belly flop! This game is sure to bring the laughter and a good way to get everyone (big and little) involved in the action.
To play: Let each player take a turn jumping into the pool, showing off their biggest, loudest, most awkward belly flop. The diver who gets the most applause (or laughter) for their belly flop wins! If belly flops aren’t your thing, try cannonballs. Biggest splash wins!
26. Marco polo
Marco Polo is a classic pool game that’s been around forever. It’s still just as much fun today for my kids as it was for me as a kid. You can play with any number of players. The more players, the more fun!
To play: Marco Polo is basically playing a game of tag in the swimming pool, but the person who’s “it” has to keep their eyes closed! This certainly makes things more fun and challenging. The “it” player calls out “Marco,” and everyone else answers back with “Polo.” The “it” person must listen carefully and then move around the pool and try to tag one of the other players. Once he or she successfully tags a player, the tagged player then becomes “it” for the next round.
27. Chicken fight
My kids love playing chicken fight in the pool, but we do have some ground rules to make sure no one gets hurt. They have to stay away from the edge of the pool and keep their hands off hair, heads, and necks. You need at least 4 kids to play this game.
To play: Divide up into teams of 2 players. One person stands in the water and the other person sits on that person’s shoulders. The water must be shallow enough for the standing player to have their shoulders and head out of the water. The two top players basically engage in upright wrestling to try to knock the other player off their teammates’ shoulders. Whoever falls into the pool first, loses.
Bobbers is a bit like “Whack a Mole” and so much fun!
To play: One player is chosen to be “it” and is given a pool noodle and stationed in the center of the pool. Everyone else is a bobber and lines up in a single file line at one end of the pool. The bobbers have to bob up and down as they make their way to the other end of the pool. The kid who is “it” tries to whack the bobbers with the pool noodle as they bob past him/her at the center of the pool. If you make it past without being whacked, you’re safe. The first person to get hit becomes “it” for the next time.
29. Pool basketball
Team sports in the water are always a bit hit with my competitive kids. We love dividing up and challenging each other to a half-court game of pool basketball!
To play: Divide into teams and start shooting some hoops. Point values go up the farther from the basket you can get. See who can get the highest score!
30. Freeze tag
Freeze tag is another absolutely classic summertime pool game. I’ve also heard it called “popsicle tag.” Unless your kids are only playing the shallow end, make sure anyone playing is a stong swimmer and can tread water well.
To play: Someone starts off by being “it.” The rest of the kids take off and swim around the pool trying not to get tagged. If/when they do get tagged, they have to stay in one place and tread water or stand with their legs apart. In order to be “unfrozen” another swimmer has to swim under the other swimmer’s legs.
31. Water polo
Water polo is a favorite sport in our house. You’ll need 2 small goals to play (one placed at each end) and a ball. Small soccer goals work great for this.
To play: Water polo is a lot like ice hockey (or even soccer). The objective is for your team to get the ball into the goal. Divide everyone up into 2 teams and choose a goalie for each team. The goalie guards the net. A few rules to note: (1) players can only hold the ball with one hand and pass above water; (2) you cannot dunk or splash other players; (3) you can’t hold onto the side of the pool to shoot.
32. Simon says
Simon says is another classic childhood game that’s easily adapted for pooltime play. This is one of the simplest games for kids of any age and can easily be adapted for whatever skill level your kids are. Younger kids love this one.
To play: One person is the leader and calls out the actions. Everyone else must follow the leader and do the action, but only when “Simon says.” For example, Simon says, do a handstand (everyone must do a handstand). Then the leader has to try and get everyone to do an action without saying Simon says. If someone does the action and the leader did not say Simon says, that person is out and the game continues. Other fun pool activities are: do jumping jacks, do a flip, spin around 3 times, underwater tea party, etc.
33. Water gun battle
Since you’re already soaking wet, why not have a little fun with water guns!
To play: Get a couple of super soakers or foam water cannons and let the fun begin! Divide up into 2 teams, position yourselves at opposite ends of the pool and put a beach ball in the middle of the pool. Using only the spray from your squirt guns, see which team can get the ball into the other side’s territory.
34. Mr. Shark
This is a fun game for little kids. They love the anticipation of it and it’s great for learning numbers and counting. I’ve also heard this pool game called Mr. Fox or What Time is It, Mr. Fox. We always used to play this after swim team and it brings back so many great memories.
To play: Designate a player to be “Mr. Shark.” Mr. Shark stands facing away from the shallow end of the pool with all the little fishies in it. The fishies yells, “Mr. Shark, what time is it?” The shark can say whatever time he wants (e.g. 7 o’clock, 2 o’clock) and the little fishies have to take that number of steps toward Mr. Shark. When Mr. Shark can turn and glance where everyone is before turning his back again. Play continues until the fishies are very close to him. At that point when asked, “What time is it,” Mr. Shark yells, “Dinner Time!” and jumps into the pool and tags someone. That person becomes Mr. Shark.
35. Earn your allowance
This game is great for kids who want to practice their diving skills and kids that are learning how to count money. Kids can play this alone or take turns.
To play: Simply toss some loose change into the pool and let the coins sink. To make it a bit harder, try spreading the coins out. A child can play alone, simply diving down to collect the change as if hunting for treasure. More than one child can play and compete in this treasure hunt. You can play again and again. Whoever gets the most coins (or the highest value of all the coins added up), wins!
Pool games for kids
Save this post for the next time you’re spending the day at the pool or for your next pool party. You’ll be able to provide endless hours of entertainment and always have a great suggestion for a fun summer pool game the minute someone claims they’re bored!
And, I hope these pool games inspire YOU to get in that water with your kids! Your kids want time with you, not just time in the pool. Use the pool as an excuse to act like a kid again, minus the part where you avoid putting on sunscreen. Playing these simple water games with your kids will create lifelong memories and you’ll all have a great time together (and isn’t that the whole point?). If you need more ideas to keep cool this summer, check out this post. Happy swimming!
What are your favorite pool games?
About the author
Wendy is a married momma living in central San Diego, CA, raising 4 human kids, 2 goat kids, 4 chickens, and one grumpy cat. She enjoys gardening, hiking, camping, backpacking, going to the beach, and generally getting out-of-doors. Wendy is a family photographer and also works at several local elementary schools as garden educator. She dreams of traveling to all 50 states and beyond, and believes that there is great beauty to be found in all parts of the earth, we just have to open our eyes to see it.
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