The raindrops beat against the window as if they were almost taunting me…another day of indoor recess. Would I survive? It was, quite honestly, questionable.
We hadn't been outside in over a week, and today was not going to be our day. Days upon days of wiggly students nearly bouncing off the walls from staying inside had my nerves almost fried.
Free time was no longer an option. After days of doing art, talking to friends, and playing around, the volume had reached epic proportions. At that moment, I decided to try something different. Out of that frustrating rainy season, my toolbox of indoor recess strategies grew and expanded
Today I am going to share my favorite indoor recess activities that will keep your students engaged and let them burn off some steam when the weather is just too nasty to go outside. If you've ever barely survived the chaos that is indoor recess, I hope you’ll find some great ideas to try.
12 Indoor Recess Activities to Engage Your Students
I know we all have our own preferences when it comes to how much movement and freedom we prefer during indoor recess. There are also space and student considerations to take into account. To help you find the perfect activities for your class, I’ve divided these activities into four categories: active, creative, whole-class, and partner games.
Active Indoor Recess Activities for Students who Need Lots of Movement
If you’ve got a group that needs consistent wiggle breaks, indoor recess can be a nightmare. However, these activities are perfect for allowing students to move and burn some energy without destroying the classroom or ending up in unsafe situations.
Go Noodle Indoor Recess Videos
Go Noodle is great for keeping your students active during indoor recess. With options to dance, do yoga, and be silly, you're sure to find something that's a good fit for your kiddos. These days Go Noodle has curated collections of indoor recess activities so you don't even have to go digging, and you can find them on their site or on their YouTube channel.
Here's one of our favorites:
I love using it for brain breaks, but it took me way too long to consider using Go Noodle for indoor recess. My students love that they earn credits toward upgrades on their character. After doing a certain number of activities, their little dude grows and changes until he maxes out, and they get to pick a new one.
Cosmic Kids Yoga
Cosmic Kids Yoga is a great way to get kids up and moving without overstimulating them. These yoga-based stories where students act out the plot through a series of yoga moves. There are many great kid-friendly story options including popular movies and toys, like Pokemon and Frozen, seasonal videos, and so many other great options.
Here’s our favorite:
You can find these videos on YouTube. The guide is named Jaime, and her calm demeanor and the encouragement she gives throughout the story are great for keeping your students engaged.
Try out Adventures in Fitness with Mr. Marc
While I haven’t had a chance to use this one myself, it comes highly recommended by my friend Jeff from Behavior Matters Education and looks like a blast.
The only downside of their site, Adventures2Learning, is that their videos aren’t all free, so you’ll have limited options if you only look at the no-cost options. The good news is there are trial videos and samples you can access by signing up. Many of these are quite good and well worth the time it takes to register.
These 20-minute adventures are awesome because they focus on learning while still offering opportunities to get up and move. You might even find some of your kiddos break a sweat.
Play Freeze Dance
Looking for a super simple indoor recess activity? Freeze dance is just what you’re looking for. You can quickly and easily collaborate with your class to make a request list and get those tunes going. When you stop the music, everyone should freeze.
Just be sure to set out any specific dancing parameters and space kids out BEFORE you start. Otherwise, you might have some issues with personal space.
If you’ve got a balloon handy, you’ve got everything you need for this fun, active game. Push the desks out of the way, split the class into two teams & let the fun begin. If you want to have a “net”, you can add a row of desks to split the room.
If things get too out of control with everyone standing, you can have students sit or kneel. This keeps students who might try to take over from being able to cut in front of their classmates.
Creative Indoor Recess Activities for Brain-Based Fun
If you've got a group that can go crazy with the art supplies, sometimes it is nice to reign them in during indoor recess before things get out of control and the room is covered in glitter and glue.
These suggestions are fun ways to bring some creativity into indoor recess.
STEM Challenges during Indoor Recess.
STEM Challenges make a great indoor recess activity. Not only are they fun and offer some hands-on learning, but they also promote 21st Century skills.
There are lots of great options you can do with items you probably already have in your classroom. One of my favorites is the Index Card Tower Challenge, where students work in groups to create the tallest structure using a set number of index cards. Typically, I give them five minutes to create a plan and 15 minutes to build.
Then we walk around and reflect on the similarities and differences between the structures. We also spent some time talking about the challenges they faced and how they worked to overcome them.
The kids love this because they have a great time building their towers. You’ll love it because it’s an easy, active way to keep kids on track during indoor recess.
Want an extra little secret for making the most of STEM Challenges?
If I’m looking for a science or social studies grade, I give kids a reflection prompt after recess and have them write a short reflection. It might be something related to the design process or working together, but it gives me an easy way to credit students for their experience.
Do some directed drawing activities.
If you’ve got a group of budding artists, directed drawing is a great option for indoor recess. There are a ton of awesome videos on YouTube that are designed to be kid-friendly. You can find step-by-step directed drawing videos to guide your students through the steps to draw anything from Olaf from Frozen to favorite book characters, like Pete the Cat.
Here’s an example of one of these videos:
The videos average 10 minutes each, and your students will love adding details and color to their drawings. I try to find season options or ones that align with what we’re teaching so that I can add them to our monthly bulletin board.
These are great because they don’t take much space or materials, but they are a fun way to spend an indoor recess.
Learn Origami or try making other papercrafts.
Origami is a great way to help students work on their fine motor skills, and they love creating fun creations out of the scraps of paper you’ve just had sitting around the classroom.
There are lots of amazing origami videos for kids out there, ranging from super easy to REALLY, REALLY hard. My favorite videos are from the Art for Kids Hub because they are really well laid out to help students work through the process step-by-step. However, if they’re not for you, there are lots of options available out there.
In winter, I switch out an origami video for a paper snowflake tutorial and we attach strings and hang them from the ceiling to create our own indoor blizzard. If you’ve got a group that struggles with fine motor or who might need a bit of extra direction, you can grab some paper snowflake templates to help them get started.
My favorite whole-class games for indoor recess
Sometimes you need a game for the whole class to keep everyone on track and having fun. Whole class games can be a perfect way to ensure everyone is included and keep indoor recess from getting too loud or out of control. The best part is these games are really, truly fun!
Here are my favorite indoor recess games that you can do with your entire class.
Heads Up, Seven Up
This was a favorite indoor recess or sponge activity in my school when I was a kid, and I’ve discovered that kids still love this game.
If you’ve never played Heads Up, Seven Up, here’s a quick overview. Seven kids are selected to be “it”. They start standing in the front of the room, while the rest of the students put their heads down and thumbs up. Each of the kids in the front of the room then gets to sneak around and push down the thumb of one of their classmates before sneaking quietly back to their spot in the front.
Once all the kids have picked someone, everyone can pick their heads up and open their eyes. Those that were chosen get to try to guess who picked them. If they’re right, the pair change spots, and that student becomes “it” in their place. If the guesser is wrong, the original kiddo gets to stay “it.” The students love playing multiple rounds to see who can keep their spot as “it” for the most rounds.
Heads Up, Seven Up is a fun and easy game that requires no prep or supplies, which makes it a definite indoor recess winner.
Charades or Pictionary
Charades is an easy whole-class indoor recess game because it doesn't require any prep, but the students often enjoy doing Pictionary on the whiteboard more so you really cannot go wrong either way.
No matter which you select, split the class into 2-3 groups. Then you can have the groups compete to be the fastest or earn the most points for their guesses. Either way, it is sure to be hilarious fun.
Partner or Small Group Games to keep kids engaged
Sometimes whole-class games aren't a good fit. This is especially true if you've got a large class or students who need significant one-on-one support to be successful.
If you've got a class that can't handle large-group games, partner games can be a great alternative.
Whether you have a game closet with Checkers, Connect 4, and other favorites or pick some of the ideas below, partner games can be a fun way to control the chaos of indoor recess.
Host a Tic-Tac-Toe or Rock, Paper Scissors Tournament
Okay, so this one is really a blend between a whole-group and partner game situation. However, it's a little less chaotic and more hands-on for students than some of the whole-group games.
Partner students up to play a round of tic-tac-toe or Rock, Paper, Scissors. Have the game winners go to one side of the room, and those who lost go to the other. Have your Round 1 winners partner up with another Round 1 Winner. Those who didn't win can keep playing by partnering up against other kids who've lost their game.
Play another round, and have those who were Round 1 and Round 2 winners stay where they are. Have Round 1 Winners that lose in Round 2 join the group on the other side of the room.
Continue the process until you're down to two kids who have won all their matches. Then have the entire class watch their final face-off to cheer for the grand champion.
Bring out some learning games.
Make the most of indoor recess without making it more classwork by bringing out your favorite learning games. I loved to use my Addition Gotcha or Multiplication Gotcha because they have rules similar to Uno. This meant many of my students knew how to play, so I didn't waste their recess giving directions. It was also a great way to get them to practice math facts.
You can also get a great set of partner games for reading or math. I got my set many years ago from Lakeshore Learning, and they've held up for the better part of a decade. While they don't seem to carry the exact set anymore, there are lots of great new options available.
Need more classroom management tips and ideas? Check out these articles.