How to Play Gaga Ball (and Other Games We Never Played as Kids)

By Heather from

My son is an active grade-schooler and embraces each new P.E. game to which he is exposed with gusto. Nearly every day, he tells me about another “sport” that I’ve never heard of; gaga ball, ant hospital, and toilet tag are a few that had me puzzled. I suspected he was just making these names up.

When I was a kid, we played games like freeze tag and kickball. Need more cooperation? What about red rover or tug-of-war? While I know that these games still exist, there are a bunch of new games that are played on the school yards today. So if any of you parents are, like me, from the dark ages of last century and need a little primer, I’ve got a cheat sheet for you.

Gaga ball is like fast-paced dodge ball played in a mini-arena, called a pit. Players can hit the ball but not catch or throw. Originally played in Isreal and popularized in the US by Jewish daycamps, here is a review of the rules thanks to Wikipedia:

  1. You can hit the ball with your hands, but picking up the ball and throwing it at a player is not allowed.
  2. If the ball touches a player anywhere on or below the waist (in some versions, below the knee), that player is eliminated from the game.
  3. A player cannot touch the ball two times sequentially; the ball must hit another player or wall before that player can touch the ball again. If the player violates this rule, it is called a double touch and that player is out. Some versions of the game allow double or even triple touches.
  4. If a player pops the ball up into the air, another player may catch it and ground it. Some variations do not allow catching at all.
  5. The player cannot kick the ball. (As this is touching the ball below the waist.)
  6. If a player hits the ball out of the arena without touching the wall, ground, or another player, the player who hit it is out.

Gaga ball has become such a global phenomenon that the New York Times even published an article about the Gaga ball sensation on American school playgrounds.

Ant Hospital is a silly version of tag that requires children to team up and work together by saving each other from the anteaters. Recommended for grades K through 4. Here are the instructions and rules from John Rasmussen:

  1. Place hula hoops (or even blankets) throughout your play area to be the ant hospitals.
  2. Pick 1-3 players to be “ant eaters” (depending on speed of game) and have the rest be “ants.”
  3. The ants run around the play area trying to stay un-tagged, while the ant eaters must tag as many ants as they can.  Ant-eaters can carry something to signify their being it (gator ball or a soft noodle).
  4. When an ant is tagged, they must lie on their backs with arms and legs flailing in the air.
  5. To cure an ant, four other ants must each grab a wrist or ankle and carry the hurt ant GENTLY to one of the “ant hospitals.”
  6. Once the ant is GENTLY laid on the Hospital they are back in the game

Toilet Tag combines the hilarity of bathroom humor with a chasing game. In this modification of standard freeze tag, kids assume the position of a toilet once they’ve been tagged (by taking a knee and putting an arm out as the flusher). Frozen toilet kids can be freed by another child sitting on the…umm…throne and simulating the flushing complete with sound effects. You can’t make this stuff up, people!

Since my son likes playing these games much more than explaining them, I had to do some digging. You can find helpful video instructions to popular PE games from the PhysEdGames channel.

Now you tell me: what new-fangled games do your kids play?

6 thoughts on “How to Play Gaga Ball (and Other Games We Never Played as Kids)

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