My friend Ben’s kid’s school is throwing a carnival this October, and he contacted me to help him brainstorm some simple but engaging carnival games. Fall-themed carnivals, especially when in October, have such great imagery to play with: falling leaves, apples, pumpkins, gourds, and Halloween, of course! With this in mind, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Fall Carnival game ideas! Remember, there are a few basics that carnival games should cover: knock something down, make something go through something else, match something, or line something up...
Swing the ghostie
For this game, you'll need a clothing rack or other self-standing rod, like a tension rod. (You can also use two large cardboard boxes with a broomstick or piece of PVC pipe secured across the tops.) From your rod you'll hang your ghosts, and here's how to make them! You'll need a wiffle ball, string or monofilament (fishing line), lightweight white fabric, scissors, and if you like, you can decorate them with markers, googly eyes, and pipe cleaners. Take your wiffle ball and tie your string or yarn through the top two holes in the ball, so that it dangles from your length of string. Cut a square of your white fabric and snip a tiny hole in the center; slip the string up through the hole so that the fabric drapes over the ball. You can tie some string (or even a pipe cleaner) around the fabric beneath the ball, to bunch it up and create a distinct "head." Add eyes and a mouth if you like! Once you've made several ghosts, tie them at different heights from your rack. You can use bean bags (like the one made of balloons, below), small balls, Nerf guns, or anything else you like to try and hit your ghosts and set them swinging!
Paint a tree on a large piece of flat cardboard. You can purchase pre-made paper or fabric leaves, or cut your own out of construction paper; you'll want about 20 to 30. On the back of most of the leaves, write a number (say, 1 - 20) or a symbol (a heart, a square, etc.). You'll want to make some of your leaves match and have the same number or symbol. If you want your game to be hard, only have one pair that matches! For a medium-difficulty game, make five pairs match, or for an easy game, have all your leaves match another one. Use Velcro tabs to affix the leaves to the tree. When your players are ready, have them go one at a time and select two leaves off the tree. If the numbers of symbols match, that person wins a prize! You can also make a special symbol that gets one extra-special prize!
For this you’ll need a pool noodle, a 4-inch dowel or piece of PVC that is the basic diameter of the pool noodle hole, some duct tape, and a piece of 4 foot PVC, and a few small footballs. Take the 4-inch dowel and insert it halfway into the pool noodle hole. Bend the pool noodle over and slip the other end over the remaining dowel to make a circle. Secure with duct tape. Next, hammer your 4 foot piece of PVC into the ground (or place it in a large bucket of sand if you are indoors). Using a screwdriver or pencil, make a hole in one side of the circle, slide the circle onto the PVC, secure with duct tape. Have the players throw the football through the hoop.
Set up a bunch of apple picking baskets in a variety of sizes. You can cluster them together in a mish-mosh, random arrangement. Have players throw orange balls into the baskets; the smaller the basket, the higher the points. Or, gather a bunch of baskets that are the same size, and set them up one behind the other in a staircase-like pattern (one on the ground, one on a thick book, one on a milk crate, one on a chair, one on a stool, etc.) Players get more points for baskets that are farther away.
Muffin Tin Tic-Tac-Toe
You’ll need a box, a muffin tin, and some small, golf ball-sized balls. Cut off one entire side of the box so that the muffin tin can sit in the box with three walls surrounding it. Players stand back from the box and throw three balls. The object is to get three in a row.
Soccer Ball Knock Down
You’ll need a soccer net (or large box that can be used as a “goal”), a soccer ball, and three empty 2-liter soda bottles. If you’ve got the time and inclination, spray paint the soda bottles and turn them into ghosts, skulls, monsters, witches, or any other fun creature! Fill the soda bottles halfway with sand, rice, or beans (you can also use water, but it’s not suggested as the bottle might leak or break during play) and set up in front of the net in a line two feet apart from each other. Set up a kick line about 10 to 20 feet away, and give the player two chances. The object is to knock all three bottles down. It's harder than it seems, because the bottles are spaced apart.
Whenever we play carnival games, we like to give out tickets to the winners. Those tickets can then be turned in at a prize station, or used to buy something like popcorn or other treats. Usually, I like to structure the ticket situation in this manner:
- 1 ticket for playing and trying your best
- 1 ticket each for accomplishing something (like 1 ticket for each time you get a ball through a hoop, or hit a ghost)
- 5 tickets total for the big win (meaning all 3 balls through the hoop, knocking down all 3 bottles with 2 soccer balls, etc.)
The main thing about carnival games is to have fun. Whenever we throw a carnival, I make sure that the folks running the games are hooting and whooping it up. Not only does it make the players feel good, but it attracts more attention to the game, ensuring that the lines will stay long and the energy high!