Recess is crucial for students. Everyone needs a break sometimes and a chance to play. 

Much of our lives are spent indoors, whether that’s in school, an office, or our homes. But humans were meant to be outside! At least some of the time. Time spent outdoors helps relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. We also need to absorb Vitamin D for healthy bones and immune systems via sunlight. Being outside boosts concentration, creativity, and mental clarity. Air is often cleaner outdoors than indoors. And it just makes sense to let kids outdoors to cut loose, where they can’t damage interior spaces or disturb classes that may be in session.

That being said, the weather doesn’t always welcome us outside. Inclement weather like rain, snow, tornados and extreme heat or cold can rule out normal outdoor recess time. Depending on your locale, you may even have to share playground equipment with bears! Whether it’s inclement weather, or lions and tigers and bears, sometimes outdoor recess is just not meant to be. 

That does not mean recess should be skipped! There are so many benefits to recess for both teachers and students, even when recess must be held inside.

Table of Contents

Benefits of Recess

Recess allows students and teachers a break

A brain break is necessary from all the hard work students must do at school. But recess provides teachers with a chance to unplug from the job for a bit, too. Go for it, you all deserve it! 

Recess is an opportunity for students to socialize

We are not born with social skills; we must be taught how to interact with others, either directly or through observation, and then we must practice these social skills. Playtime is a good chance for kids to step out independently from teachers and parents and interact with one another. Not to mention, the relationships formed in school can last a lifetime. Social play also helps students improve their teamwork skills and problem-solving abilities.

Kids need a chance to exercise

Bottling up excess energy makes it incredibly hard to sit still and focus in class. Taking part in physical activity at recess helps balance students’ excess energy. Exercise is also of critical importance to both physical and mental health.

Behaviour improves from recess

Many teachers report that recess has a net positive effect on students who might otherwise be inclined to misbehave. Not to mention, bullying subsides with recess time.

Recess can be used to motivate students

Perhaps an extra special recess activity can be used to bring about some added motivation for your students! If they are on their best behavior for the sub, maybe they get to use your spikeball set. If they clean up really well after art class, maybe you take them to that special playground instead. 

Recess can teach responsibility

Since indoor recess is not a frequent occurrence, you can emphasize to students that items used for indoor recess deserve particular care. After all, they might’ve been purchased by you, and you don’t need to keep providing special purchases if they aren’t treated with respect and care.

50+ Indoor Recess Ideas

So what do you do to make recess happen when outside time is a no go? Here is a list of 49 ideas you can try out with your students.

Arts & Craft

Supply students with watercolors, acrylic paint, crayons, colored pencils, or charcoal. Let them come up with their own works of art, or give them a subject to interpret. 

2. Fold Origami

1. Paint or Draw

Origami, the Japanese art of folding paper, can be a fun indoor activity with projects ranging from simple to highly intricate.

3. Weave

Weaving is the practice of interlacing materials and can cover a wide scope of projects, including friendship bracelets, gods’ eyes, baskets, placemats, and so much more.

4. Create a Mixed Media Mosaic or Collage

Use items you already have in the classroom, like tissue paper, buttons, glitter, or magazine clippings.

5. Build a Medieval Art Castle

Let your students create a medieval castle during indoor recess. If you’re stuck inside, why not imagine the coolest building to be in?

6. Color in a Coloring Book

Coloring books are perfect for unwinding and relaxing indoors for any age group… that includes adults.

Coloring for your Kindergartener Volume 1
On The Go Dot-to-Dots: Volume 2 Activity Book

7. Create Layered Sand Art

Gather some old bottles or jars with the labels removed, and have students layer different colored sand inside to create a beautiful art project. 

Physical Activity

8. Enjoy Boomwhackers

Get musical! Boomwhackers are colorful tubes that each make a different pitch when you hit them. It’s a good way to express musical creativity as well as expend some energy.

9. Try GoNoodle

Indoor Recess Go Noodles are short videos designed specifically to guide students through exactly this occasion. They are fun, high energy, and movement based. How great is that?

10. Practice Yoga

Yoga is a great exercise and relaxation technique for kids. If you aren’t a yogi yourself, check out Creative Yoga for Children to get some ideas. 

Why not? Dancing is fun and it’s a great workout. Put on some jams your kids will love and let them rock out, or join in on the fun!

11. Ribbon Dance

See if a gym teacher already has dance ribbons your class can borrow. If not, do you have old scarves or long swatches of fabric lying around? That could work just as well.

12. Try Simon Says

This is a classic you and your students already know. And if you really need them to burn off some steam, this can get as active and silly as you need it to.

13. Play Red Light Green Light

Another classic that won’t involve any explanation before diving in, Red Light Green Light can also burn off a lot of energy and satisfy your students’ need to get moving.

14. Walk Along a Sensory Path

A sensory path is something a lot of schools already have located indoors that revolves around physical movement. They’re perfect for an indoor recess. Learn more about how to create a sensory path. (link to other blog post)

15. Kick Around a Hackeysack

Hackeysacks are cheap, small, fabric balls. They are great to have on hand for many creative uses like for tossing back and forth with students as you ask them questions in class. But you can also let students play the classic game of keeping the ball in the air using only their feet. Very fun and lots of exercise included.

16. Go for Hallway Bowling

If you know of a hallway that will not be getting used during your class’ recess, consider setting up a hallway bowling alley. You can get creative finding classroom objects such as markers for the pins, and you could use any type of ball you have for the bowling ball.

17. Do Some Indoor Circuit Training

Fitness Circuit Task Cards: Cardiovascular Endurance

Strength training is excellent for good health… why not start kids young? Body weight resistance exercises like pushups, lunges, squats, burpees, jumping jacks, planks, and sit ups are all safe and easy for kids to learn, Check out these Fitness Circuit task cards for more ideas.

18. Play Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is a beloved game, and it might really push your students to get big-time creative if there are not a lot of easy hiding spots in the space you have available.

19. Try Up, Down, Stop, Go

In this game, a leader shouts commands for players to follow. The only catch is players must do the exact opposite of the command called. So “up” requires players to crouch down on the floor. “Down” means leap in the air with your arms raised. “Stop” means to run in place, and “go” means to freeze. 

20. Play Twister

This classic game does a good job of creating unexpected physical challenges as well as being a good amount silly for cooped up students.

Brain Activities

21. Ask Would You Rather?

The game of Would You Rather? Requires posing two hypothetical scenarios that students must choose from. Movement can be incorporated by having students go stand in different corners of the room according to each answer they choose. Here’s a Would You Rather Music Game to try with you students.

22. Compete in Trivia

It could be trivia from something students are learning about, or something completely unrelated and fun.

23. Tell a Story

Read students a brand new book, or their go-to favorite. 

24. Do a Word Search

There are word searches for every theme imaginable. Create your own, or try any of the fun word searches from our teachers.

25. Try Tic Tac Toe Books

Tic Tac Toe is an easy game to play any time, anywhere. Consider spicing it up, too. Such as with this End of Year Math Project | 5th Grade Tic-Tac-Toe

26. Challenge Students to Sudoku

Sudoku is another game that’s easy and fun to play indoors. Check out these  French Christmas Vocabulary – Noël – Sudoku Puzzles

27. Solve Mazes

You can create a maze on the floor of your classroom with painter’s tape. If a sudden storm leaves you short on time for an indoor recess activity, you can always rely on drawing mazes. The Amazing Earth Mazes: Volume 4 Activity Book

STEM Exploration and Challenges

28. Do STEM with Pipe Cleaners

There is so much you can do with pipe cleaners. Use them to create bubble wands, constellations, and 3D shapes. You can also teach your students how to create pipe cleaner circuits.

29. Construct with Popsicle Sticks

Let students become mini architects with only some popsicle sticks and some glue.

30. Build Lego Masterpieces

Playing with legos is an indoor activity kids love, whether it’s a crummy day outside or not.

31. Solve Puzzles

Try setting up different puzzles at different stations and let students work together to complete them and clean up when recess is over.

32. Play Computer Lab Games

If you have access to a computer lab, there are many computer games to keep your students entertained. Oregon Trail is still very popular with students!

33. Hold a Paper Airplane Contest

Try introducing your students to some basic designs, or let the creativity flow. See whose can fly the furthest!

34. Build Birdhouses

The results are great for students to take home or to decorate the school grounds and hopefully attract some feathered friends.

35. Visit the Makerspace

A makerspace is an area for creating, designing, and experimenting. If your school doesn’t have a makerspace yet, your city or local library may have one. Better yet, look into creating one for your school.

36. Play Charades

Charades are fun and can easily involve the whole class. Break into even more teams for bigger class sizes so give more playing opportunities.

Back-To-School Themed Charades

Indoor Recess Games for the Gymnasium

If you’re lucky enough to have access to your school’s gymnasium during your students’ recess, there are a number of great recess games to be played:

37. Play Basketball

If nothing else, most gyms are extremely equipped for basketball: a fun game the whole class can enjoy. 

38. Enjoy Some Volleyball

If you have a few nets ready to go, volleyball is a great team-building sport for students to play. 

39. Try Four Square

This is the classic recess game where four players each stand in a quadrant, passing a ball back and forth to get other players out. While there are four active players, this game relies on having more than four players available to cycle in and out of the game, so this one’s great for small to medium-sized groups on each court. A temporary four square court can easily be created with painter’s tape on a gymnasium floor.

40. Make a Hopscotch Game

Like four square, a temporary hopscotch court for indoor recess can be created on a gym floor with the use of painter’s tape. 

41. Dodge a Dodgeball

This game is even more fun if you have those little gym class scooters for students to maneuver around on.

42. Pass the Soccer Ball

Easily involve the whole class with a sport many of them already know. 

43. Have Fun with a Parachute

Ah, the beloved parachute in gym class. You know this one, right? All the students grab hold of the parachute and create a giant air bubble. Your students will not be disappointed they couldn’t go outside instead!

44. Compete in a Relay Race

If you don’t have any race batons, come up with something fun and creative from your classroom to have students pass off as they race against each other.

Games That Don’t Need a Ton of Extra Space

If going to the gym, a hallway, or other classrooms isn’t an option, here are some ideas that will be easy to do in the space you already have available. 

45. Play Pass the Pigs

This is an addictive and simple little dice game for ages 7 and up. You could also let your students come up with their own version, letting them get creative with what you’ll use for dice and what the rules will be.

46. Enjoy a Classic Board Game

Monopoly, Chess, Checkers, Connect 4, Mousetrap, Sorry!, Mancala, Hungry, Hungry Hippos, Candyland… these are all fun options when space is limited!

47. Play Cards

Similarly, card games work well when you can’t leave the classroom. Try UNO, Old Maid, Go Fish, Tace vs. Burrito, War, or Crazy 8s.

48. Try Bingo

Another game everyone will already know, but that doesn’t require any additional space. Include some exciting prizes, and your students will be pleased with the rainy day.

49. Play Four Corners

This game involves one player closing their eyes while the other players move silently and cooperatively to gather in any of the room’s four corners. The player, with their eyes closed, says a number one through four. Anyone in the corner called is now out. The game continues till no one is left. 

50. Bricks Breaker Puzzle

This game’s gameplay scenarios are quite enjoyable, making it a great addition to our collection of low-space games. Bricks are stacked to resemble walls, while flaming balls below them smash the bricks. Each brick has a certain level of durability that must be passed in order to be broken.

Indoor Recess Tips

Plan ahead

Indoor recess is a fact of life. Don’t wait for a stormy day to come up with your indoor recess plan. 

Get Ideas from Your Students

No doubt they’ll have plenty of their own ideas for indoor recess that they’d love to do.

Make sure you don’t disrupt other classes. It’s tricky because being in the open air allows sound to dissipate much better than in an echoey, linoleum school. But take care to plan your activities with other classrooms in mind.

Take care of the space you’re in. If indoor recess is limited to your classroom, pick activities that won’t damage anything in the space. You might have to rule out tossing heavy balls (or replace with something lighter like a beach ball), or doing any activity that’s too messy.

Leave activities open-ended. It’s important for students to have unstructured playtime. Try giving them a variety of toys, materials, and manipulatives to let them come up with their own entertainment. 

Give a variety of indoor recess options. If multiple classrooms are having recess at the same time, work with the other teachers to create different activities in each room for students to go between. One room can show a movie, one can be a quiet reading and drawing space, one can have a lively game for students to play, etc.

Supervise. Even though indoor recess may be physically tamer than outdoor recess, make sure each room or activity with students is still well-supervised. 

Whatever the weather, make sure your students still receive their daily needed recess time. It’s critical for their focus and well-being. Teachers and students alike often groan at an indoor recess day, but there’s no need. Indoor recess can be just as fun and reinvigorating as the usual recess. It can even provide an opportunity for playtime to become a little more creative. 

Indoor Recess FAQs

What are some indoor recess games for social distancing?

Hula hoops
Simon Says
Teach students a line dance
Sensory Path
Zip Zap Zop
Red Light Green Light

Is withholding recess a good motivational strategy?

Teachers may be tempted to keep students from recess as punishment or to get them to catch up on work they didn’t finish in class. It’s not worth it. The benefits kids get from taking recess are too valuable to deprive them of. The demoralizing effect of missing recess will likely have the opposite effect of what you wish to achieve with your students.

Is it still worth it to have indoor recess?

There are so many activities you can do indoors to help students blow off steam and take a brain break. Breaks and physical activity are crucial for optimizing focus, mental clarity, health, and overall well-being. Indoor recess can still provide all these benefits to students.