The time of year when cold weather can make outdoor activities difficult—or even impossible—is fast approaching. There are times when getting outdoors for recess during the school day isn’t an option. As a result, teachers can sometimes need new and creative ideas for keeping students engaged and out of trouble while having indoor recess.
To make sure we are meeting the objectives of recess, we probably first need to determine the reason we have recess in the first place. From my vantage point, I think we have recess so students can move and get some physical activity. We also value the interaction between the students and want them to learn how to appropriately socialize. There is also the need for students to give their brains a break from the hard tasks of learning and long periods of cognitive load.
Finding the Right Balance
This can be a balancing act for teachers. Because space is limited, there has to be some structure to what is going on. Too much structure though, and it feels like class is still going on an they aren’t really getting a “break.” Teachers must try to balance the ability to choose and socialize with getting them moving and getting energy out.
So if we can’t go outside, how do we meet these needs of our students during indoor recess? Here are some ideas:
- Find a gym and let them move: This isn’t always an option due to schedules and available space, but if it is, getting the kids in the gym and moving is a good thing. However, I have found that any amount of unstructured time in the gym is a bad idea. Injuries and arguing will start to take place with too many students in a confined area. There are some ideas for learning gym activities that align with NGSS found here (see number 8), but any combination of games or play could be organized for students to get some movement and socialization.
- Unplugged coding: By doing this, it may not meet the needs of the students getting a brain break, but it is a different type of learning that can be fun indoors—especially if it feels more like a game than a learning experience. Here are some great resources from Code.org to help you get started.
- GoNoodle: The movement activities from GoNoodle are great for brain breaks, but they can also keep a group busy for 15–20 minutes of indoor recess. The dance portions are great and fun for small groups of students, and you can even participate by using the classroom projector.
- Games on the IWB: Sometimes it is easiest to divide the the students into smaller groups to work together during indoor recess. This creates a little more structure, but still allows for the socialization that we like to have during recess. If this is an option, having a group at the interactive whiteboard is a great idea. Whether it’s PBS kids games or even exploring maps as a group, students can learn, move, socialize, and think during recess using these activities with this great tool.
- Chess: Chess boards are pretty cheap and a great option during indoor recess for students who are little older. The great thing about chess is that once the basic rules are learned, students of all different levels can play against each other. You don't need to be an expert in order to be able to play.
- LEGO: These toys are always a great option for students. Some schools can invest in actual learning systems, but these can be a little expensive for classroom use. If this isn’t a feasible option, even a large bucket of random pieces can be really engaging. If indoor recess rolls into multiple days, a “LEGO competition” can be a fun outlet for students to be creative, too.
- Movie trailers: Because indoor recess lends itself to being pretty quick, the creation of a movie trailer with an iPad is a great option. Students can be silly, engaging, cooperative, and creative during this fun activity.
- Makerspace exploration: If there is a makerspace around the school that is available, students can use indoor recess time to explore and experiment. STEM activities are great, but just letting the kids explore and make on their own can be productive and fun as well.
These are just a few ideas for indoor recess activities to keep students engaged—and hopefully out of trouble. By using a few creative tools and games, teachers can meet the needs of all learners.
Want more lesson and activity ideas? Check out MimioConnect, an interactive educator community with lessons created for teachers by teachers.