How To Have An Effective Indoor Recess

How to Have an Effective Indoor Recess

Indoor recess is an unstructured play that takes place indoors and is the perfect way to get your kids up and moving when the weather turns foul. Indoor recess can take place in a gym, in the library, in the classroom or even in the hallway. It can include high-intensity physical activities like basketball, volleyball or foursquare if taking place in a gymnasium, or low-energy, mentally stimulating activities like board games, puzzles or coloring books if taking place in a library or classroom.

children playing four square during indoor recess

Schools in regions with historically variable weather patterns, like the Northeast or Great Lakes region, where a sunny day can turn into a thunderstorm or blizzard in minutes, should keep an on-hand stash of indoor recess activities like coloring books, board games or playing cards in case of sudden inclement weather.

Those are the basics. In this post, we’ll discuss how to have an effective indoor recess, including specific activities you can add to your indoor recess routine.

Planning Ahead: Tips for Indoor Recess

  1. Always be prepared for indoor recess. The weather can vary depending on your neck of the woods. Some places, like the American West Coast and Southwest, have historically more consistent weather than places like the Northeast or Great Lakes region. A sunny day can turn foul in minutes. To avoid potential problems, always have a space set aside for your students to go in the event of bad weather, be it the gym or the classroom, which means planning ahead.
  2. Keep a bag stored in the classroom or potential play area filled with items for a fun, stress-relieving, high-energy indoor recess. This can include rubber balls or volleyballs for foursquare or basketballs for shooting hoops, in addition to other low-energy recess items like playing cards or board games. That way, you’re not scrambling around for equipment at the last possible moment.
  3. Include PE teachers! At my school, our indoor recess often included our PE teacher, who would supply us with games. PE teachers often know the best ways to keep kids active and engaged, making the most out of indoor recess.
  4. Give the kids options. This requires a bit of planning and coordination between the teacher and the school, but the most effective recesses come when kids get to choose how they spend their unstructured playtime. Do some of your students want to play a game of pick-up basketball? Let them go to the gymnasium, under the supervision of the PE teacher. Do others want to paint or draw? Let them go to the art room, under the supervision of the art teacher. How about reading books? Let those students go to the library to be monitored by the librarian. This ensures the kids are getting the most out of their recess time.

Indoor Recess Games in the Gym

kids playing basketball in the gym
  1. Volleyball. Play with a soft squishy ball instead of rubber to prevent injuries, and no spiking! In elementary school, I got my fair share of spiked volleyballs to the face and that’s not something I’d like anyone else to experience. A neat variation of volleyball, called Nukem, can be played as well. Nukem follows similar rules to volleyball, except players are allowed to catch the ball and throw it to the other team.
  2. Basketball. This game is self-explanatory. Set up two teams on either the long (full) court in your school’s gym if there’s enough room or half-court if limited and have them play for a full 30-minute period. Depending on the number of students who wish to participate in the activity, your kids can play 3v3, 4v4 or full 5v5 basketball. HORSE, a shooting-style variation of traditional basketball, can also be played if space is limited.
  3. Kickball. Yes, kickball can be played indoors! This variation of softball and baseball, played with a rubber ball that is kicked rather than hit and rolled rather than pitched, can be played in either a full or half-court gym. Set four bases and a pitcher’s mound and let the kids loose!
  4. Foursquare. Foursquare (or Four Square, or Box Ball) is an excellent game for developing motor skills and strategic thinking. Foursquare can also be played in a relatively confined space like a classroom or hallway, but the gym is the best place for foursquare to avoid breakable objects.
  5. Hopscotch or Bullseye. Hopscotch and Bullseye are excellent games to be played in the gym, and Fit and Fun Playscapes offers portable Roll-Out Activities


     versions of both these games.

Indoor Recess Games in the Library

  1. Read a book! This might seem contrary to the idea of taking a break from the classroom, but reading can be a great medium to blow off steam. Elementary school libraries have a great assortment of enjoyable fiction and non-fiction perfectly suited for kids. Why not pick up a coloring book, too?
  2. Educational computer games. Not all computer games are made equal. Some games are specifically designed for teaching and learning and might be available in your school’s library. Typing games? No problem! Math games? Sure! Oregon Trail, a game about journeying westward to Oregon in a covered wagon, is a game that was available when I was in elementary school in the early 2000s but still maintains its popularity today. In addition to historical and geographical lessons, Oregon Trail requires intense problem solving and strategic thinking skills to play. Check out this link from Noodle for a list of 8 computer games your kids could play during indoor recess in the library.
boy performing I am calm yoga pose

Indoor Recess Games in the Classroom

  1. Yoga. Yoga is the perfect indoor recess activity for the classroom since it can be done practically anywhere. Set aside a small space in the center of the classroom (which may require moving some desks) and have a student lead others in a series of yoga poses. Or, use a SMARTboard or projector to pull up a YouTube video and follow along.
  2. Playing cards. Push together a couple of desks and play a game of cards. Play an established game like Uno or let the kids invent their own.
  3. Board games. Board games are an excellent way to exercise mental muscle. Candy Land, Monopoly Junior, Snakes and Ladders and Pictionary are great games for younger kids. For older kids (3rd-5th grade), try Risk! or chess.

Indoor recess doesn’t have to be a bummer. With the right planning, indoor recess can be just as fun and stress-relieving as the playground. 

What sorts of indoor recess activities do you use at your school?

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