You know it’s going to happen one day. Inclement weather, safety lockdowns, and other reasons cause recess cancellations. What are you going to do? Well, this post outlines easy and effective indoor recess ideas that any teacher can handle! Save your sanity and delight your students with these options.
Plus, you can grab FREE editable indoor recess choice boards to make the unwanted occasion a little sweeter!
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What Can Kids Play Indoors?
If you’ve ever asked this question, chances are you’ve encountered a canceled recess.
Which means you’ve also met chaos in the classroom! (Or you’re about to meet chaos.) 😳
In my experience as a veteran teacher, we’ve had indoor recess days for a host of reasons. And honestly, some of those days gave me a migraine headache.
Want to know why? Because I wasn’t prepared!
Before digging into more of the nitty-gritty details I’ve learnedd, here are general tips about things kids can play indoors:
- board games
- card games
- whole class trivia
- SCOOT games
- watch a movie
- STEM and/ or STEAM activities
- educational video games
- putting together puzzles
- art or directed drawings
- free time drawing
- brain teaser activities
I’ve used all of these categories and more as activities when we have to play inside.
Now, to help you prepare so that you don’t end up with headaches like I had, here are several detailed indoor recess ideas for your classroom.
Indoor Recess Ideas Using Technology
To kick off our list of saving grace activities, let’s focus on technology.
It’s quick, easy to use (most of the time), and fun for kids.
These are some of my go-to’s when using tech gadgets, websites, and technology-based games for indoor recess:
- GoNoodle–I absolutely LOVE ❤️ this site! In fact, I use it for brain breaks even when recess hasn’t been canceled. My favorite videos have the character Coach Terry in the series “Indoor Recess.”
You can find these videos under the main category “Pop and Bop.”
- Kahoot–there are already over 1,000 Kahoots created specifically for indoor recess on the basic free account. I recommend finding about 10 of them that are appropriate for your students, then create a playlist in advance.
That way, when outside fun time has been nipped-in-the-bud, you will already have alternative indoor fun options ready.
- FREE Literacy and ELA Game Apps–this link takes you to a blog post with my top recommendations
- Plickers–I’ve been using Plickers for years as a teacher. They work as a fun way to review learning, AND for really fun and free trivia games during indoor recess.
And since they are so easy to use, I let my 4th graders take the lead with this during indoors fun time. Just be sure to have your Plickers lessons ready in advance; like I mentioned with Kahoot.
- Virtual Escape Rooms–trust me, these never get old!
Completing Mystery Picture Activities Using Google Slides
In addition to the other technology options above, you can also have some fun with Google Slides.
Mystery Pictures also never get old for my kiddos, because they are so curious to see the pictures.
Here’s how they work:
- Students read nonfiction passages OR answer math questions.
- Then they match the correct answers to sections of a picture that’s been divided like a puzzle.
- In order to see the full completed pictures, students must answer all the questions correctly.
Even though I use mystery pictures for learning, they also work for indoor recess because of how fun they are.
Give them a try the next time you are all cooped up inside the classroom during a thunderstorm!
Indoor Recess Ideas That Get The Wiggles Out
The hardest part about playing inside is that it makes it a challenge for kids to get their energy out.
And trust me, kids of all ages NEED to get their energy out!
Using the GoNoodle option mentioned above is a great way to solve this issue. They have several exercise videos that are kid-friendly and easy to follow. But GoNoodle isn’t the only movement or exercise-based activity you can use.
Here are other fun options:
- YouTube exercise and yoga videos for kids–I Googled this one day and tons of recommendations popped up. My favorite ones have kids in them exercising, like this one:
- Play Balloon Tennis–you may have to go to a bigger space in your school if you have a tiny classroom, but this game is ridiculously fun! Yes, I play it with my students to get some exercise as well. 😁
I get the supplies from The Dollar Tree and keep them on hand in the classroom.
- Enjoy a few rounds of Musical Chairs–this is an oldie that is also still a goodie. It’s super simple to play BUT you must have chairs that aren’t attached to desks in order to do this without anyone getting hurt.
- Play “The Floor is Lava” Game–buying the game board saves your time, but honestly you can also play this game using large pieces of construction paper or large throw pillows.
Just place them around the classroom–tape the paper to the floor so that they don’t tear apart as students jump or walk on them.
Space them far enough apart so that it feels like a stretch for students to get from one paper to the other.
The goal is to move around the room with your “team” without touching the floor.
- Have a blast with the game Catch the Cup–this is another cheap game that keeps kids engaged for a LONG time and helps them move around
Your students will work as partners and they will need two cups. The hard plastic cups work better than the styrofoam cups.
- You can also play Catch the Ball–tape the cups to students’ desks and allow them to work with partners. Be prepared for balls to start rolling all around the floor. It’s messy, but so much fun!
Get Movement with This Social-Emotional Indoor Recess Activity
One year, I was having an especially hard time with the lack of kindness among my students. So, I came up with several social-emotional learning activities to cultivate a culture of kindness.
I created “Compliment Buffet” as a mini-game to give students a chance to move around the room while being nice to one another.
Each student had a paper plate taped to their backs. Either I helped them do this or they helped each other.
Then we all walked around the room and wrote a compliment on every student’s plate. The “gaming” aspect was to write a full-sentence compliment on everyone’s plate before the timer buzzes.
Of course, I did prior lessons, read-alouds, and examples of sincere compliments before trying this activity.
Doing this prep work ensured that students’ plates were filled with kind comments only.
At the end of the activity, it brought tears to my eyes when students finally got the plates off their backs and read the nice things others wrote about them.
This activity helped shift the attitudes in my class that year, while also giving them an engaged way to move around the room.
Whole Class Indoor Recess Ideas
“Compliment Buffet” isn’t the only way to pass the recess block of time as a whole-class.
I recommend having a handful of whole group activities ready because sometimes students get too rowdy with unstructured partner or small group time.
So, if you’ve ever asked the question, “How do I keep my kids entertained indoors?” then this category might be your jam.
These goodies work for different grade levels and require very little time to prep:
- Two Truths and a Lie
- Heads Up 7 Up
- Watch Educational videos like Liberty Kids or movies–I especially like movies based on books
- Virtually broadcast a celebrity reading books to your students–many celebrities have written books OR they have recorded themselves reading books out loud. It can be a cool experience for your kiddos to watch a movie star or singer read a good book!
School Tube has this channel dedicated to celebrities reading books to kids for FREE.
Complete “Would You Rather…?” Videos as a Whole Class
This idea doesn’t involve any movement, but it does offer a fun whole-group way to get through indoor recess time.
I really like Would You rather activities because it gives students a chance to get to know each other better. Once they finish answering a question, call on students to explain WHY they picked a certain choice.
The video-based options are my favorite because all I have to do is press play and go.
For these videos, I ask students to take out a yellow and red marker or crayon. All of the answer choices on each video are in these two colors.
Then when students answer, they can hold up either the yellow or red writing utensil to signal their answer.
Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. 🍋
Partner and Small Group Ideas
While whole group can be fun, partner games and small group activities also work wonders during indoor recess days.
Students get to talk to their friends while doing something fun.
And depending on how you set these up around your classroom, you can let students enjoy this time while you get some teacher work done.
These are some of my tried-and-true options:
- Scrabble Junior
- Chutes and Ladders
- Candy Land–the oversized version
- Card Games
- Build with Legos
- Build towers and other structures with Jenga blocks
- Paint or color by number sets from The Dollar Tree
- Connect 4
- Partner Reading
- UNO Emoji Cards
- Beyblades with the stadium (I brought my son’s set from home one time with the stadium and my students were over-the-moon excited!)
- Synonym and Antonym Goldfish–from my 4th grade literacy centers set
- Emoji-Code Spelling–“crack the code” (I actually let students use all of our “crack the code” spelling sets for fun to write any words they want, as long they aren’t inappropriate or mean.)
Most of these options are board games or toys, which are easy to use as partners or in a small group of 3 or 4 students. I have this dedicated list of my favorite recess toys or resources in my Amazon storefront.
Complete Magazine Scavenger Hunts with a Partner
Since I use magazines to teach informational text reading, I have stacks of different subscriptions.
One of the fun partner activities that I also incorporate into recess or free time is a good magazine scavenger hunt.
With this they can use any magazine they want. Plus, they can work with a partner to complete the scavenger hunt together.
Indoor Recess Choice Boards
Whew! This post shares tons of ideas: which should you choose? And if you choose several of them, how are you going to keep them and your students organized?
Since I use choice boards to manage my literacy centers, my students are used to them.
So, I also use them to manage indoor recess options.
Because honestly, most of the time, my kiddos want the independence, free-time, and the flexibility that recess offers.
These editable choice boards allow me to manage all the different indoor recess options without feeling overwhelmed.
Just make sure to teach the procedures for how to use these in your class. Like everything else, our kiddos need new routines to be demonstrated so they can perform them with confidence!
Enjoying recess inside with your kiddos take preparation and LOTS of patience. But you got this teacher friend!
Let me know in the comments if you’ve already tried any of these ideas.
Happy Indoor Recess to you 🤗
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