Indoor Recess Tips

Play is an essential part to child development.  We know that outdoor recess is always the first option.  It allows for students to move their bodies, engage in many different play games, and just get fresh air. 


Indoor recess isn’t always as easy and can lead to chaos for the rest of the day. There are many factors that go into having to have indoor recess.  So it you have to have indoor recess, why not make it as successful as possible?

Tips for Indoor Recess

1. Clearly give expectations

As with all other times of the day, students need to be explicitly taught the expectations.  During indoor recess it is even more crucial because it is more of a down time and can lead to more problem behaviors and peer conflicts.

At the beginning of the year, model with students how to play with each toy.  This is important because students need to know how to appropriately play with the toys.  This does not take away from their creativity, but rather supports it.  For example, if you have blocks in your room.  You want to show students that they can build different structures, but they do not throw them like a ball.

It is also important to set expectations around noise volume, the procedures for peer conflicts, as well as other possible scenarios like needing to use the restroom or if there is a fire drill. 

Once all of these things are clearly taught, recess will run much smoother.

2. Put parameters on toys

Instead of just putting out five toy options and letting the students go to any of them at any time, limit the number of students at each toy.  For example, if you have four different types of toys, have five students at each one. 

This allows for you to be creative with selecting who goes to what toy to either separate specific students or to help harvest new friendships.  This can also prevent peer conflicts when there are not enough toys at one area to go around. You can also decide for students to remain at the toy for a set amount of time before switching.

3. Limit options

It is important not to take out all of your toys every day.  This can create not only chaos in your classroom, but also decision fatigue.  If you have all of your toys out, students may continually jump from one toy to the other for fear of missing out on playing with one of them.

So by the end of recess, instead of feeling calm and conected to their peers, they are more on edge because they never got to truly play and the overwhelm of constantly making decisions may have weighed on them and then can impact their future behaviors.

4. Rotate play options

Consider doing centers just like you during academic times.  You can have four centers of toys and tell students they are going to play at each one for a set amount of time.  You can tailor this to meet the needs of your students.  

For example, you can have a timer and when the timer goes off you can offer students to switch, or you can make everyone move to a new center.  This depends on your students and if they can handle those transitions.  Again, these expectations should be taught at the beginning of recess, and most likely multiple times.

Free Ideas for Movement

Go noodle

This is a great resource that has so many videos from physical activities to calming strategies.  There are even indoor recess videos that get the students up and moving.  Go Noodle is something that can be used for quick movement breaks even throughout the school day!

Cosmic kids yoga

If you have never done Cosmic Kids Yoga, this needs to be on your to do list.  The creators have turned yoga into a kid friendly experience.  It is the perfect indoor recess tool because it does not get the students overly excited but still allows them to move their bodies.

Dance party

I love having a dance party with students.  Just put on some Kids Bop and dance it out! (Be sure to get in on this for some movement and your own serotonin boost).


Get students up and moving with a game of charades. Have one or two students come up at a time. Give them something to act out, I try to think of things that really get their bodies moving like pretending to ice skate or playing baseball. Then have their peers guess it!

Freeze dance

Good ole freeze dance.  Turn those beats on and when the music stops, every body freezes!

Free Ideas for Recess

Write on whiteboard

Let students pretend to be the teacher and  write on your whiteboard.  I can still remember my teacher breaking up the chalkboard into four sections and allowing us to write on it during recess (yes, I am that old that we have chalkboard).

Heads up seven up

Also a game I remember vividly enjoying as a kid.  Choose several kids to be the ones walking around.  Everyone else puts their head down and hold their thumbs up on the desk.  Quietly the several chosen walk around and put thumbs down.  When everyone has done one, you say “heads up, seven up.” Those students whose thumbs were put down stand up and try to guess the person who did it.  If they choose correctly, they get to now be the one to walk around and put thumbs down.  Then keep playing!

Simon says

Play Simon says with your students.  Have them minimc you in different movements.  Try changing up the speed and movements to keep them engaged.  Even let your students be simon!


Doggy doggy wheres your bone

This is such a simple game that kids (especially those young ones) seem to LOVE.  Get everyone on the carpet.  Send one person out into the hall.  This person is the ‘dog’.  Then have an item, which is ‘the bone’. Hand it to one of the students remaining in the room to put behind their back.  When all students then have their hands behind their back, chant “doggie, doggie where’s your bone? Somebody stole it from your home. Guess who? It might be you!” The dog comes in and has three guesses as to who stole the bone. Then continue with a new doggie! (typically the one who just had hid the bone).

And finally, toys.  I know that toys can break the bank. That is why I wanted to give you free, fun ideas first.  But I also wanted to share the toys that have worked wonders in my classroom. 

This post may contain affiliate links. However, I stand by all recommendations.

Building toys

These are so fun to work on fine motor and creativity.  Get kids building together to even work on those team work skills.

Guess Who?

Love this game for questioning, turn taking, and focusing on those details.

Magna Tiles

Another great tool for team building and creativity! It is a spin on your average legos.

Dramatic Play

Dramatic play is so important in the younger grades.  Whether it is a place you have to pretend play or actual dress up, there is something very powerful about trying on new roles your students see in society.


I love dolls for play, but what I love even more is getting dolls that represent all of the different types of people in the world.  Therefore I try to include different skin tones and even some with physical disabilities.

Fine Motor Sorting Tray

This can keep kids busy the entire recess!


I love headbands for language and just a fun activity.

Stacking Cups

Students love the challenge of building up a tall tower.  It is great to work through disappointment when they fall.

Brain Teaser Puzzle

This is great for your student who love a good puzzle. I love to have kids work together on these!

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