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Indoor Recess Ideas: Activities all students will love!

Are you ready for two words that can make a teacher shudder?? Indoor recess! Oof. We all know our students need the brain break, a chance to socialize freely, and hopefully time to burn off that extra energy too. We try to get outside as much as possible, but when the weather just refuses to cooperate, here are some indoor recess ideas and tips to rock your next indoor recess time.

Indoor recess ideas that your upper elementary students will love. Includes whole class, small group, and independent activity ideas.

Indoor Recess Tips

Tip #1: Have a Plan

It’s important to have a plan for indoor recess, otherwise, it can be a little (or a lot) chaotic. Don’t wait until the first day of indoor recess to make that plan. It’s a good idea to have a list of activities students can do ready in your teacher tool belt, even if the weather isn't looking bad ahead of time (we once had a stubborn bear that wouldn't leave the playground, and we were stuck inside all day!). I included a list below of fun and easy indoor recess activities for students of all ages.

Tip #2: Set Expectations

Just like you would for any other procedure in your classroom, you need to set expectations for indoor recess. Our students often equate recess with running and noise, which are great for outdoor play but not inside. What will be the acceptable noise level for indoor recess? How much movement is allowed? Do students need to choose one area to play or can they change activities frequently? 

You also need to set expectations for which areas of the room and supplies can be used during indoor recess. Will students be allowed to color on the board? Play with manipulatives? Draw on paper from the writing center? Use the restroom? In our classroom, we have a shelf of “recess” supplies so students easily know what they can and can’t play with each time.

Tip #3: Think Outside the Classroom

With some creative thinking, you might find open places with more flexibility for indoor recess. You might need to adjust your schedule a little, but is the gym available during the PE teacher’s lunch break or planning period? How about the cafeteria? Don’t forget hallways! Our primary hallway was empty during intermediate recess times, so it was a nice place to bowl during indoor recess. 

It may not be possible with social distancing this year, but in the past, we were also able to combine classrooms for indoor recess. With four teachers at our grade level, we designated different rooms for different activities and students could choose which room to play in each day. One room was the game room where students played board games, tic tac toe, etc. One room was the quiet room where students could read or draw quietly since not all students appreciate a rowdy indoor recess. One was a TV room where brain breaks, yoga, or an occasional movie would play. 

Indoor Recess Ideas

We’ve had stretches where it seemed like indoor recess would never end, so having a variety of ideas helps keep things interesting! 

Movement-Based Activities

You don’t have to run to have effective movement-based activities for indoor recess.  Slow-moving activities work well too!  Here are some great movement activities that are perfect for indoor recess.

  • Yoga for Kids (I like Cosmic Kids Yoga , but you can find more on YouTube)
  • Go Noodle Brain Breaks
  • Play Simon Says or Silent Simon Says
  • Go on a silent scavenger hunt around the school
  • Indoor circuit training with these FREE movement posters
  • Have a dance party where students must freeze when the music goes off (kinda like a dance version of musical chairs)
  • Silent Ball: Students silently throw a small ball to each other in no particular order by making eye contact ONLY with the person who should catch the ball. Students are “out” if they make noise, throw the ball wildly, drop the ball on an easy catch, or make eye contact with a player who isn't the catcher. Teacher gets final say!
  • Four Corners: Number four corners of the classroom and choose one student to be “it” and close his eyes. Then he slowly counts down from 10 while the rest of the students silently choose a corner. Then the designated student silently points to a corner. All students in that corner are out. Anyone who isn't in a corner when time is up is out too. Last corner student standing wins.

Whole Class Activities

Indoor recess can be a great time for team building and relationship building in the classroom. Here are some fun activities to do as a class.

  • Would You Rather? questions (add some movement by having students move to different sides of the room to show their answers)
  • Play a game of What If . . . using these prompts
  • Learn a new skill together (checkout YouTube for a variety of things like directed drawing activities or foreign language lessons)
  • Have a Minute To Win It competition
  • Who’s Missing? One student (the “guesser”) goes to the hallway. Another student hides under the teacher’s desk. All students scramble seats. Then the guesser returns and has three QUICK chances to figure out who is missing. If they say the name of a student who is there, that student gives a clue about who is under the desk.
  • Blooket is a highly-recommended trivia website worth checking out!

Small Group Activities

This is a great time for students to work in small groups. The smaller group size helps to minimize the noise during indoor recess activities.

Creative Activities

Kids love being creative, trying new things and making new creations. These creativity-based activities are great for indoor recess.

Learning Activities

Indoor recess activities don’t have to be completely unrelated to academics. In fact sometimes indoor recess can allow you to take a learning activity to another level because of the extra time.

  • Computer games or digital task cards
  • Make a craft that will coordinate with a writing assignment
  • Project based learning
  • Multiplication relay. Draw two large circles on the board with random numbers like a clock. These will be your multiplicands. Have kids divided into 2 teams, one in front of each circle. To start the relay, yell out the multiplier. The first person puts that number in the center and proceeds to multiply each number by that number (answers go on the outside of the circle). You can easily change the inside number for ability.
  • Early Finisher activities are great for indoor recess too

Quiet Activities

Sometimes kids just need some quiet downtime before jumping into the next lesson. Here’s some great quiet activities that are loved by all.

  • Read alouds by the teacher, a guest reader, or an audio book
  • Watch the movie for a book you’ve read together
  • Watch an educational TV show like Magic School Bus, Myth Busters Kids, or Brainchild
  • Read in the dark. Turn off all the lights, equip students with a flashlight or finger lights (Amazon affiliate links) and let them read while sitting or laying under the desk.

Share Your Indoor Recess Ideas

What ideas would YOU add to these lists?? Come share your best indoor recess ideas with us (and see even more suggestions!) in our FREE Inspired in Upper Elementary Facebook group.

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