Recess Games for All Grades

Recess is a time for kids of all ages to relax and bond with their friends. Most teachers find that when they ask students what their favorite class is, they respond, "Recess!" Having a break in the middle of the school day is important for students because the break is a "brain break," giving the students time to recuperate. To help teachers better utilize recess, here's how to plan a recess that aids the students. 

Recess and Different Developmental Stages 

There are few games that all grades feel comfortable playing. Some recess activities, such as chalk drawing or playing on a playground, as best for younger grades. On the other hand, more competitive sports such as flag football and volleyball will be easier for older grades to enjoy. Learning what to expect at each age and grade level in terms of developmental milestones can help teachers better plan recess breaks to be rewarding and beneficial to their students.  

Elementary School Milestones  

Kindergarten is a huge step for most five-year-old children. Whether they were previously enrolled in preschool or not, kindergarten itself will feel like a milestone. While enrolled in kindergarten, students will gain important motor skills such as walking on their tiptoes, walking on a balance beam, jumping rope, hopping on each foot at a time, and moving in more coordinated ways (such as swimming, dribbling a basketball, or dancing). These milestones are most noticeable, compared to milestones at other ages. Kindergarteners will also focus on an activity for 15 minutes at a time as well as finish short projects. During recess, teachers will see success when they supply the students with many options for activities, rather than only one.  

During the rest of elementary school, teachers can expect less noticeable, but still important milestones. Second and third graders will play for longer periods of time without feeling tired, run farther and longer, catch a small ball, and coordinate movements to follow a dance routine. Second and third graders can begin learning games like four-square, though they may still have trouble hitting the ball back at a regular speed.  

Fourth and fifth graders will begin experiencing noticeable growth spurts and a need to feel independent. At this age, they may begin feeling self-conscious around their peers and want to feel accepted by them. Because of their growth spurts, they might be clumsy as they get used to their changing bodies. They might also complain of growing pains. Fourth and fifth graders will also coordinate their movements, such as dribbling and shooting a basketball. These are the most popular grades for games like ball wall and four square. 

Middle School Milestones 

Middle school students are often more emotionally stable than elementary school students. They will begin communicating with their body language and micro-expressions. However, they are also more susceptible to peer pressure as their desire to feel accepted increases. Middle schoolers are between the ages of eleven through thirteen. Unlike elementary school students, development in middle school can’t be pinpointed to certain grades. Middle schoolers will develop some milestones in sixth grade that others might not develop until the eighth grade.  

Growth spurts are common in middle school. Because of growth spurts, middle schoolers might be less coordinated as their height and weight quickly change. They will develop more strength and endurance and become better at working in team sports. Middle schoolers might also need more rest because most of their energy is being put towards growing. However, teachers should still encourage the students to participate in after-school sports while simultaneously teaching the importance of stretching and resting after strenuous exercise. 

High School Milestones  

High school milestones transition children into adults. Most highschoolers are between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. They will need more sleep as they fully transition into adulthood and may be sleepy during school classes, especially if school starts early in the morning. High school students will have perfected motor movements and can play competitive sports and complete complex projects. They can also think more abstractly and sort fact from fiction as well as deal with hypothetical situations.  

There are few physical tasks that high schoolers will not be able to perform. However, they want to feel fully accepted into a group of friends and will not do anything that will jeopardize their standing with their group of friends. They may feel embarrassed or self-conscious when participating in group activities. Teachers should be sensitive when working with high school students and help students to feel comfortable rather than put the students in embarrassing situations. Sadly, over 70 percent of high school students report that anxiety and depression take an active role in their lives. Because of overwhelming anxiety and depression, 11 percent of teenage deaths are from suicide, according to the CDC. Teachers should be aware of their students and watch for concerning behavior. High school students should be taught about emotional health and how to keep their bodies and minds healthy and safe.

Kindergarten Through Fifth Grade Recess Activities

Kids attending elementary school are most likely to be the most creative during recess activities. They will enjoy drawing with chalk, creating imaginary games, and playing competitive activities such as four square or wall ball. During a child’s elementary years, teachers can encourage healthy habits by encouraging the students to play with one another during their recess. Initiating a game of Tag or hopscotch can teach children to love physical activity at an early age. Here are the five best recess games for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. 

  1. Jump Rope 

As kindergarten students learn and grow, one of the abilities they develop is to jump with coordination. Introducing jump rope during recess is the perfect way to encourage the students to refine their jumping coordination while also getting exercise during recess. Teachers can also show the students jump rope games and fun rhymes that make jump rope even more fun from the kids. 

jump rope
  1. Chalk Drawing  

Although drawing with chalk isn’t an active activity, it will help students use their imagination. Drawing with chalk is a simple way to get the students to socialize with one another. It hones artistic skills, helps work on fine motor movements, and encourages the students to stretch their imagination. To introduce chalk drawing to the students, simply set out a box of chalk on the sidewalk and start drawing. Pretty soon, more and more students will join in. However, if the students are already invested in a different recess activity, don’t force students to draw with the chalk. Leave the chalk outside as an optional activity. 


chalk drawing
  1. Playground Activities  

Kindergarten students should easily entertain themselves playing on the playground. There are endless activities to play on the playground equipment at the school. The students can play Lava Monster (where the “monster is on the ground and tries to tag the kids on the equipment) or just run up and down the slides. When you’re not sure which games to play, Tag is a great option. 


kids on playground

Sixth Grade Through Eight Grade Break Time Activities

By the time a child has become a middle schooler, they will begin caring more about their social standing with their friends and less likely to play purely imaginative games during their recess. Middle schoolers will enjoy talking and gossiping with their friends and spend less time playing during their school breaks. However, this doesn’t mean that the kids are entirely opposed to playing games during recess. Here are the top five games and activities that middle schoolers are likely to participate in: 

  1. Four Square 

A popular game for middle schoolers is four square. Most schools have four square courts included on the campus and balls available for students to check out. Four square is popular among middle schoolers because middle school students can play without getting overly competitive and without using too much energy. It is a low-energy game that helps the kids to interact with one another. In some middle schoolers, playing four squares at recess encourages the kids to make friends. 

  1. Nine Square 

Nine Square is similar to four square, but it is elevated for older middle schoolers. As four square loses its appeal for seventh and eighth graders, introduce Nine Square as another recess option. Nine Square combines four square and volleyball to create a new, exciting game that’s perfect for all ages. 

9-square on grass

  1. Tag 

Almost all kids know how to play Tag. Tag is an easy game that needs no equipment, plus it can entertain the kids for an entire recess. Most middle schoolers should already be familiar with Tag. If, for some reason, a middle schooler isn't familiar with Tag, take the Tag to teach it. To introduce it to students who don’t know how to play, choose one person to the tagger (preferably someone who already knows how to play the game). Have them walk up to another person and touch them. Tell the students that the tagged person is the new tagger. If one student gets tagged, they become the new tagger. Once explained, let the kids play for as long as they stay invested in the activity.

Ninth Grade Through Twelfth Grade Breaktime Activities 

During high school years, recess activities become less common. Most students will use their lunch break as a time to interact with their classmates rather than exercise. During high school, students are much more social and put less emphasis on games during their breaks. Because of this, students should be encouraged to participate in after-school sports and gym class activities. Students aren’t likely to get much exercise between classes or during their recess breaks. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to encourage students to participate in recess activities. Here are some ideas to get high school students up and moving during their lunch and recess breaks.  

  1. Host Competitions

During lunch, few high schoolers will actively participate in physical activity with prompting. Most assume that their gym time fulfilled their need to participate in any other type of sweaty activity. For the most part, high schoolers will easily entertain themselves during breaks. However, if you want to encourage activities that mix groups, consider hosting mini competitions during lunch. These competitions can include minute-to-win-it games, small challenges, and other short easy games. Games like cornhole are easy because groups will line up to play. Typically, extremely physical games such as capture the flag or soccer aren’t popular lunchtime activities for high schoolers. 


  1. Encourage Club Activities 

High schools are full of clubs. Clubs are considered extracurricular activities that many students join to put on their college applications. Clubs also help students meet with other students who feel passionate about specific topics, helping them make new friends. Teachers and supervisors who watch over the club meetings should encourage the students to participate in club activities. You can encourage students to join club meetings and activities by providing free food and snacks. 

  1. Offer Rewards 

During lunchtime, you can easily encourage students to participate in activities by offering a reward. Have snacks and small prizes ready for anyone who participates in the activity that you want to host. If you offer a prize, it’s more likely that the students will want to participate without embarrassing themselves in front of their friend group (even if the activity doesn’t seem like it should be embarrassing to participate in). Most high school students will gladly join in an activity if they get something in return. 

Indoor Recess Games

In some areas, outdoor recess isn’t always an option. Some states experience extremely cold weather or hot weather. For example, during September in Arizona, temperatures can easily hit above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In North Dakota, winter temperatures in January average around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. These states represent the two extremes in the United States, and many other states experience similar weather patterns during the summer and winter. Because you will likely have at least one school day (no matter where you live) where you can’t go play outdoor games, here are the best indoor recess ideas.  

  1. Simon Says 

An easy indoor recess activity that can be played in the classroom is Simon Says. Simon Says is a fun game to play with younger students, and may not be the best activity for older kids. This classic recess game is played by having one person (starting with the teacher) stand at the front of the classroom. The teacher will say, “Simon Says touch your nose.” Each kid will touch their nose. The teacher will continue to say, “Simon Says…” and have the students do various activities. If the teacher says, “Touch your nose,” without saying, “Simon Says,” the kids who do touch their nose are out and have to sit down. The game continues until only one person is standing. This game is a great indoor recess activity because it encourages the kids to develop listening skills, which aids in social skills.  

simon says

  1. Board Game 

If it’s too hot or cold outside, the kids will be perfectly happy to relax with a board game. Although it’s not active play, most students will still have fun while taking a brain break to play an easy board game. In your classroom, stock a few board games, card games, and a bean bag for students to relax on during the indoor recess activity. If it gets too loud in the classroom, small groups of students can also take the board game out into the hallway and play the game on the floor. Although it’s a simple idea, bringing board games, card games, or puzzles will always be a great indoor recess activity. 

board game

  1. Toss 

Although it’s simple, playing with a beach ball or rubber chicken can easily entertain some classrooms. Pass the item around the room and when someone catches the ball, have them say a random fact about themselves. It's a simple but great way to entertain students during indoor recess. You can also play short games such as Two Truths and a Lie or Mafia. If available, you could also group together ten students and play popular phone games such as Among Us.