Visit a school playground or local park these days, and there’s a good chance you’ll find gaga ball pits. (They were even featured on an episode of Bob’s Burgers!) Kids love it because just about anyone can play, and the rules are extremely simple. Educators like Deb B. say gagaball is a recess game changer because “the games are so fast, the kids get out in groups of 3, 4, 5 rather than one, and then as soon as it’s over BOOM it starts again.” Wondering “what is a gaga ball pit?” or “how do we play gaga ball?” Read on for the answers.
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What Is Gaga Ball?
Source: The Newport Daily News
Gaga ball is a variant of dodgeball, the classic playground sport. But instead of running around throwing balls that can smack kids in the face, head, and other sensitive body parts, gaga ball limits the impact. Players slap or hit the ball, aiming to hit other players at or below the knees. If you’re hit, you’re out. The last player in the pit is the winner. The game is relatively inclusive, since kids don’t need to be able to run fast, and smaller kids may even have an advantage over taller ones.
Though it’s been around since at least the mid-20th century, the game has only gained popularity in the United States recently. No one is completely sure where it was invented, but most think it originated in Israel (“ga-ga” means “touch-touch” in Hebrew) and spread throughout the world via Jewish summer camps. About 10 years ago, the game spread from camps to schools, with kids passing it along to parents and teachers. Today, schools and communities everywhere are adding gaga ball pits to get in on the trend.
Gaga Ball Rules
Gaga ball rules vary a little bit depending on who you ask, but these are the basics of play:
- Any number of players can join, as long as everyone can fit in the pit and stand touching the wall at the beginning. (Some schools limit the number of kids and ask them to line up outside, first-come, first-served.)
- To start, a referee or any player tosses a ball into the middle. On the first and second bounces, everyone yells, “Ga!” On the third bounce, they yell, “Go!”
- Once the ball is in play, any player can hit or slap the ball with an open or closed hand. Everyone may move around the pit as they play.
- Players cannot hold, throw, or scoop the ball, only bounce or roll it off the ground or wall.
- A player can only hit the ball once, unless it first bounces off the wall or another player.
- If someone catches the ball before it bounces, the person who hit the ball is out and must leave the pit.
- When a player is hit by the ball on or below the knee, they’re out. This includes getting hit by a ball after it bounces off a wall or another person, even if you bounced it yourself.
- If the ball hits above the knee, the player stays in.
- If a player hits the ball out of the pit, they’re out of the game.
- Using the wall: Some rules allow players to use the wall to jump higher, while others state that if you do, you’re out. Decide in advance which you prefer (it may depend on how sturdy your pit is).
How To Make a Gaga Ball Pit
Gaga ball pits are generally octagonal (though some are hexagonal), with eight walls of the same size except that one is usually lower in height to make it easier to enter. There is no standard size, so you can alter your gaga ball pit dimensions to suit your space. They usually range from 15 to 30 feet in diameter, with wall heights from 24 to 36 inches.
If you’re building a gaga ball pit for schools, you may want to make one large one or several smaller ones. Larger pits tend to lead to longer games, although that can vary. Smaller ones mean faster turnaround time, which is great when you have limited recess minutes available. Whichever you choose, opt for sturdy materials to stand up to lots of active use.
Gaga Ball Pit Kits
The easiest way to bring gaga ball to your space is to invest in a kit. Here are some models to consider.
Coach Cliff’s Gaga Ball Pits
Coach Cliff’s Gaga Ball Pit Kits come in a variety of sizes, so you’ll find something to fit any space. This is a favorite brand of educators. You can customize your kit to include just the gaga ball pit brackets, templates, and instructions, then buy the lumber locally. Or you can buy a complete kit that includes composite lumber. Deon D. shares, “We selected the hexagon kit with the 30″ sides and ‘synthetic lumber’ for long-lasting, sprinkler and weatherproof, splinter-free and maintenance-free fun. We also purchased the rubber matting to go underneath and around the perimeter to protect the grass and avoid mud. I would do the exact same thing again.” Check out all their options here.
Buy it: Coach Cliff’s Gaga Ball Pits
Playground Outfitters Gaga Ball Pits
Playground Outfitters offers ready-to-go gaga ball pit kits, with both outdoor and indoor versions available. The outdoor versions can be staked into the ground for extra stability, while the indoor option breaks down quickly for easy storage. Find all their options on their website.
Buy it: Playground Outfitters
Inflatable Gaga Ball Pit
Inflatable models are another terrific option if you’re looking for a portable gaga ball pit. You’ll need access to an electrical outlet, since they work via a blower fan (similar to those holiday inflatables for people’s yards). This might not be as good for kids who like to use the wall to jump higher, but an inflatable pit sets up and tears down in no time flat.
Mamba GaGa Ball Pits
Mamba GaGa’s kits are lightweight and made of nylon mesh panels with steel frames. You can use them indoors or out, and they’re easy to set up and tear down. They offer a variety of sizes, including peewee versions for younger kids. See all their offerings here.
Buy it: Mamba GaGa
DIY Gaga Ball Pits
It’s fairly easy to build your own gaga ball pit, and you can save big bucks that way. Try these DIY ideas.
DIY Wooden Gaga Ball Pits
These DIY wooden gaga ball pit plans are simple and don’t require any fancy parts. You can get everything you need at the home improvement store and build it in just a few hours. Many educators share that their local scouting groups built gaga ball pits at school as a community service project. Alternatively, you can make it a PBL math project for older students. Sarah H. said the students at her school were given a budget and then had to research costs, as well as calculate perimeter and area. Then parents and high school students who were taking a construction class helped build the pit. Get Kaboom’s wooden gaga ball pit plans here.
Learn more: Kaboom!
DIY Collapsible Plywood Gaga Ball Pits
This DIY gaga ball pit is even easier to make, with a few sheets of plywood. This wooden pit is easy to set up and take down, so you can store it out of the way when you need to use the space for other things. Get the how-to from The Creative Mom here.
Learn more: The Creative Mom
DIY Pool Raft Gaga Ball Pits
On a tight budget? Try this clever idea! Some Cub Scout leaders used inflatable pool rafts and duct tape to make their own pit, and it turned out to be a hit. This is a terrific way to try out gaga ball to see if you like it, without a major commitment. Try these inexpensive inflatable rafts on Amazon for your own DIY build.
Learn more: On Scouting
DIY Fence Panel Gaga Ball Pits
Here’s another way to save time and money: fence panels. Keep an eye out for used fence panels, or buy them new. Then use the plans from Instructables to turn them into a ball pit.
Learn more: Instructables