Best Recess Games For All Grades
The best indoor and outdoor recess games allow kids to relieve stress and get out any pent up energy. In this article, you will find the best indoor and outdoor recess games for elementary-aged kids.
When to Plan Recess Games
Not every recess activity in elementary school needs to be planned. As long as you provide ideas and recess equipment, most young children should use their imagination and create their own games. However, in some cases, planning out the recess games may be important.
When children are young, they learn by mimicking the people around them. This can either teach them good or bad habits. As an elementary school teacher, you have the unique role of being one of the main influencers in the children's’ lives. Because most elementary schools lack gym class, teachers are expected to show young kids how to have a healthy lifestyle. Teaching kids how to have fun while exercising in kindergarten can create a baseline for a healthy adult life (many years in the future).
Teachers should plan recess games in two instances:
- Unfavorable Weather
If the weather outside is dreadful, the kids will be confined to the indoors for their recess. In states where schools are outdoor (such as California), the kids are confined to the classroom. In states where the entirety of the school is indoor, rain outside won’t impact the children as much. If the kids are stuck having indoor recess, the teacher may need to provide structure to their recess. Providing structure when the kids are playing indoors teaches them that they can still have fun and exercise while inside--showing that they don’t have to be outside to stretch or participate in active activities.
- Lull of Physical Activity
Depending on the children's home life, some of your elementary school students may have never learned to play classic recess games such as Tag or four square. In this circumstance, the children might sit around outside rather than play games together. If the teachers begin noticing a lull of physical activity during recess, it’s time to step in and provide a new structure. When the teachers provide structure to recess, it’s not meant to confine or restrict the kids’ imagination. Instead, proving structure helps give the children a scaffolding to build from. This ensures that the kids are constantly learning and growing.
Teachers can learn a lot about their class by watching them during recess. Some kids may engage solely in imagination-based games, while others may create rules even when they’re outside of the class. By paying attention to these cues, teachers can learn to adapt their class and teaching style to the students, thus helping the kids to learn better and more efficiently.
Indoor Recess Games
When it’s raining, snowing, or unsafe outside, it’s important to have a variety of fun indoor games that will help relax and entertain all of the kids in the classroom. Indoor games can be just as fun and entertaining as outdoor games. Here are the ten best indoor recess games for elementary-aged kids.
1. Heads Up Seven Up
Heads Up Seven Up is an incredibly simple game to play. Start by selecting five students and bring them to the top of the class. Then, tell all of the other students to close their eyes, put their heads on their desks, and put their thumb out, resting like a thumbs-up on their desks. The five chosen students will quietly walk around the room while each person chooses one classmate and presses down their thumb. When five thumbs are pressed, the five students return to the front of the class, and everyone raises their heads. Those who had their thumbs touched have to guess which student pressed their thumb.
This game is fun and entertaining because the kids can play it for hours without realizing that the time is slipping by. The kids will eagerly await their turn, hoping that someone will press their thumb down. It stretches their mind while also encouraging them to laugh and bond with one another.
2. Simon Says
Simon Says is another classic, simple game to play when you’re stuck inside. To play Simon Says, stand at the front of the classroom and instruct all of the students to stand at their desks. When the kids are ready, say, “Simon says, ‘Turn in a circle.’” All of the kids should follow the direction and turn in a circle. Keep going by giving short commands beginning with, “Simon says.” At some point, say a command without saying, “Simon says.” If one of the students responds to the command, they’re out and have to sit down.
This game is great because it helps the kids learn how to listen intently to the words you’re saying. Playing Simon Says can help improve listening skills. It is also a great way to get the kids exercising by saying things like, “Simon says, ‘Do five jumping jacks.”
3. Hey Judge
The game Hey Judge is a great game to play when you want the kids to think but give them a physical break. For this game, select one student and have them walk to a corner of the room, placing their face against the corner. This should block them from seeing any of the other students, with no peeking possible. Then, have one of the other kids in the room shout, “Hello, Judge!” If the judge guesses wrong, they have to turn back around, and the student shouts again. If the students are good at the game, have more students shout, making the judge guess three or four people all at once.
Playing Hey Judge helps the kids learn to memorize voices and encourages them to learn to distinguish between voices, a milestone that kids should learn early on. Playing this game is funny and a great way to spend recess.
4. Dance in Place
Dance in Place helps the kids to get moving during their recess break. There are few rules to Dance in Place. To play, turn on some music and have all of the kids stand up and dance at their desks. After a little while, turn off the music. Anyone still dancing when the music stops has to sit down. When one person is standing, start the game over.
Having the kids dance will get their energy out while also encouraging them to have a good time. Extroverted kids will love their activity because it gives them a chance to stand out from the rest of the students. Introverted kids won’t mind the activity because they can easily shuffle their feet without being pushed from their comfort zone.
Charades will make sure that the whole room is laughing and screaming. To play, separate the room into two teams. Have a list of charades ready. Select one person from one of the teams and whisper what their charade is. They have to try and act out what the charade is without speaking or saying a word. Their team has to try and guess what they’re acting out. When the team guesses, the person can sit down, and the turn passes to the other team.
Charades is a fun game to play with young kids because they are extremely imaginative. They are more likely to think of crazy ideas and connect abstract thoughts together. Playing charades also helps to stretch the children's’ imagination and encourage them to think outside the box.
Outdoor Recess Games
When playing outside, the kids have more options to have fun and create their own games. Adults may need to step in a create structure if it seems like the kids are struggling to think of ways to entertain themselves. In this section, you’ll find five games and activities that help kids create a scaffolding for their imagination.
1. Chalk Drawing
Children will easily entertain themselves as long as they have the right tools and equipment. Supplying sidewalk chalk is the perfect way to encourage the kids to be outside in the sun while also using their imagination. Children can begin exploring their artistic skills with sidewalk chalk. Some children could also create a game by using the chalk on the sidewalk. They might draw stores with flowers in the window and swap for other items that other children draw for them, creating an entire web of imagination.
Giving the children access to chalk is one of the best recess ideas for a partially structured activity. With chalk, the children won’t think of it as a structured activity because they have full reign on where and how they draw. Chalk is also convenient because older kids and younger kids love drawing with chalk, meaning that this is a great brain break for elementary school students.
2. Duck Duck Goose
Duck Duck Goose is an easy group game for younger students. To play, have the kids sit in a circle with one kid standing outside the circle. That student will walk around the circle, tapping each sitting child on the head and saying, “Duck.” The student will continue to walk around, saying “Duck” until they reach someone they want to tag. Then, they say, “Goose.” The student who was tagged with Goose has to stand and try to tag the player who was It. The player has to run all the way around the circle and take a seat where Goose was sitting without being tagged by Goose. If It successfully takes a seat without being tagged, Goose becomes the new It.
Duck Duck Goose is a great game to introduce to young students because it encourages them to get up and to run without overwhelming them with activity. Instead, they only have to sprint for a short period of time before they can sit down and relax again. This game is the perfect recess game that includes active play.
Parachute should be played with adult supervision. To do this activity, you will need a large children’s parachute, which is a large circular cut of material with a hole in the center. The fabric has handles placed all around so that young children can hold onto the fabric to create interesting interactions. Some of the best things to do with a parachute include:
- Air Conditioner. The kids stand around the parachute, waving it up and down to create airflow both above and below the parachute. The teacher calls out a number, and the kids who were assigned that number run under the parachute and lay down while the other kids fan them with the parachute.
- Storytime. To play storytime, tell the kids a story that involves weather. For example, tell a story about a stormy night. As the weather becomes more extreme in the story, have the kids shake the parachute with more intensity. As the storm calms, have the shaking show to match the story.
- Number Switch. Give the kids numbers between one and then. Wave the parachute up and down and call out a number. The kids who were assigned that number have to run under the parachute and find another empty spot, switching places.
- Popcorn. Place cotton balls on the parachute and bounce the parachute up and down, trying to make the cotton balls fly as high as possible like popcorn.
Playing parachute is a great idea because it sparks children’s imagination. It encourages them to think of the parachute as a living thing and to work together with their fellow classmates. It can also be a great arm workout.
4. Traffic Cop
Traffic Cop is a great game to play on the asphalt of a playground. To play, you will need scooters, bikes, and other moving equipment. One student will be the traffic cop and will help the kids navigate where to drive without crashing into one another. Make sure that all the kids ride slowly to avoid any unnecessary collisions. While playing this classic game, the kids should rotate the traffic cop, allowing the game to change and grow.
Traffic Cop is a great game that encourages imagination while also encouraging unstructured play. Additionally, because the kids are riding scooters or bikes, they will be getting constant exercise during their recess. While the kids are playing, remind them to listen to the student acting as the traffic cop, ensuring that the game stays safe and free of contention.
6. Nine Square
Nine Square is a fun game for all age groups and skill levels. It is a cross between volleyball and four square, but what exactly is the game, and how do you play?
CastleSquares’ Nine Square takes the old four square game and adds a volleyball-like element by putting the squares 6-8 feet in the air. Nine players protect their own square by bouncing a ball up and out of their own square and into the other players’ squares.
The goal of the game is to take the King/Queen square and stay there as long as possible. You do that by getting the players in front of you out so you can move towards the coveted King/Queen square.
5. Jump Rope
Jump rope is a classic game for elementary school students during recess. It’s easy to set up, and there are few rules. Many young kids create their own rhymes to pair with the rhythm of jumping rope. These rhymes encourage the kids to jump for longer because the rhyme often has a goal or answer. Here are some of the most common jump rope rhymes for elementary school students.
Jump rope rhymes are simple, silly tunes that encourage the jumper to keep the beat. For some of the rhymes, such as Honey Bunch, the jumper jumps as long as they can. When they stop jumping, they land on a letter of the alphabet. The letter becomes the first letter of the name of their “honey bunch.”
Old-School Recess Games
There’s a reason why children play the same games that their grandparents played. Some recess games are classics because they’re easy to play, require little to no equipment, and they’re not complicated. Additionally, parents teach their kids the same games they grew up playing, passing down a tradition of easy recess games for kids.
1. Classic Tag
Tag is the type of game that never gets old. It’s incredibly simple and has hundreds of different variations. The classic game of tag has one tagger who is called “It.” Everyone else runs away from It and tries not to be tagged. If It tags someone, the person who was tagged becomes the new It. Tag is an exciting game that is constantly changing. Here are some common tag variations:
- Freeze Tag. When It tags someone, that person has to freeze and stay frozen until another person can tag them and unfreeze them. In this game, It stays It until the group decides to switch up the game.
- Bandaid Tag. Everyone is It. When a person is tagged, they have to take one hand and cover the spot where they were tagged. When they are tagged a second time, they use their second hand to cover the newly tagged place. If they’re tagged a third time, they have to leave the area to visit the hospital and perform a simple task (like five jumping jacks) to heal and get back in the game.
- Sharks and Minnows. This tag variation is a classic game that can also be played in the pool. To play, one person starts as It (the shark), and everyone else is a minnow. They start at one end of the playing field while the shark stands in the middle. At the same time, the minnows run to the other edge of the field. If the shark tags one of the minnows, the minnow becomes a shark in the next round. The game continues until there’s only one minnow left.
Tag has endless variations. In most cases, all the teachers will have to do is introduce several tag variations, and elementary school kids will quickly begin creating their own variations to the rules. Tag also encourages kids to use up their energy while having a fun time.
2. Red Rover
Red Rover is one of the most commonly played games in elementary school playgrounds--and it’s been that way for years. To play Red Rover, split the class into two equal teams. The teams will then link hands and stand facing the opposite team. The starting team calls out, “Red rover, red rover, let [name] come over.” The person who was called from the opposite team has to run into the linked hands of the team who called them. If they can’t break through the link, they have to join the team. However, if they break through the link, the two people whose hands were unlinked have to come with the player back to the opposite team. The team that gets the most players wins.
Red Rover is a great game because it encourages the kids to exercise, learn names, and bond with one another. It has been a classic outdoor game and can be played with a large group of people. Best of all, this game is likely to inspire related games during unstructured play.
3. Kick the Can
Kick the Can is an old game that is perfect for outdoor fun and is a variation of Tag. To play, all you need is a light can (or another substitutable object). Choose one person to be It and set up your can in the center of your playing field. That person will run around trying to tag the other players. When a player is tagged, they have to go to the designated area that is the “jail.” However, if a free player can kick over the can, all of the jailed players become free. The game continues until It catches all of the players in jail.
This Tag variation is a great way for kids to take full advantage of their “brain break” during recess. The game inspires the imagination and is fun because it lets the kids kick over an empty can repeatedly.
Spud is a combination of Tag, HORSE, and Dodgeball, making it an extremely entertaining game to play and watch. To play, a non-participating player has to give all of the players a number. For example, if you’re playing the game with ten people, give everyone a different number between one and twelve, ensuring that there are two numbers that no one has (these will be your ghost numbers). Then, choose one person to be It. This starting player takes a ball and throws it into the air, calling out a number. The player with that number has to catch the ball as quickly as possible while the other players run in different directions. As soon as the player catches the ball, they yell, “SPUD,” and all the players stop moving. The player with the ball can take three giant steps towards any of the running and then throws the ball. If the player is hit with the ball, they earn an “S.” However, if the player catches the ball, the thrower earns an “S.” The person who threw the ball becomes the next It and will throw the ball into the air for the next round, calling out a random number. If It calls out a ghost number, they earn a letter. The first person to spell SPUD loses.
This game is great because it combines so many ideas into one game.
5. Marco Polo / Blind Man’s Bluff
Marco Polo and Blind Man’s Bluff are two very similar games. Marco Polo is a classic game for the pool but can be played on the grass as an outdoor game as well. To play Marco Polo, make sure that the kids are in a safe environment. If they are playing the game on playground equipment, make sure that they have consistent adult supervision. One person starts as It and the other kids run away. However, the kid who’s It is blindfolded. To find the other players, It calls out, “Marco!” The other kids have to respond with “Polo!”
Blind Man’s Bluff is similar to Marco Polo except that It doesn’t get to yell out Marco. Instead, the player is blindfolded and has no idea where the other players are. Blind Man’s Bluff should be played on the grass to make sure that no one gets injured.
Both Marco Polo and Blind Man’s Buff are great games to introduce to young children. They make perfect recess games because the kids are getting out and getting exercise.