50 Sanity-Saving Indoor Recess Ideas for Teachers
50 Sanity-Saving Indoor Recess Ideas for Teachers
The seasons have changed, and once again it’s time to plan indoor recess activities. Indoor recess may not be everyone’s favorite—after all, it throws off the regular rhythm of the day and deprives kids of much-needed running-around time. But the good news is indoor recess actually has benefits. Playing in the classroom can help kids build social skills like teamwork, cooperation, and sharing. It can give them time for creative play and free choice (which, in the course of a regular school day, may not happen very often). And it can also teach kids to choose appropriate activities and use their time wisely.
So to get you started, here are 50 fun indoor recess ideas, some new and some tried and true.
(Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!)
Arts and Crafts Indoor Recess Ideas
1. Paint, color, draw
No instructions necessary—most kids know exactly what to do with free art time. All they need is lots of paper (you can even retrieve some from the recycling bin), colored pencils, crayons, markers, and/or paint.
Learn more: 16 Art Projects That Only Require Basic Supplies
2. Bust out the Play-Doh
Who doesn’t love that squishy, funky-smelling stuff? Add fun, easy-to-find accessories like cookie cutters, letter stamps, and shape molds and watch students get busy.
Learn more: 20 Genius Ways To Use Play-Doh in the Classroom
3. Set up a makerspace
The popularity of makerspaces has introduced kids to the possibilities of using a variety of everyday supplies, such as pasta, yarn, wire, paper tubes, plastic lids, and pom-poms, to create original works.
Learn more: What Is a Makerspace?
4. Fold origami
There are numerous books and videos that teach students the ancient art of folding paper into whimsical shapes. Have a few resources available, along with a supply of fresh paper.
Learn more: Educational Benefits of Origami
5. Learn to weave
Weaving is a simple pleasure and results in really beautiful pieces of art. Here is a simple tutorial video for weaving with yarn or string. And here is a video that teaches paper-strip weaving. Once students are introduced to the process, they can do it independently, whenever they have time.
Learn more: Yarn weaving at Elementary Art
6. Make button jewelry
One craft supply that’s fun to stockpile is buttons. Buttons come in so many interesting sizes, shapes, and colors. Kids can string them into necklaces or bracelets or glue them onto paper to create colorful mosaics.
Learn more: 26 Bright Ways To Use Buttons
7. Try directed drawing
Give kids who like to draw a step-by-step tutorial, and you’ll be amazed at how focused they become. Visit your school library for learn-to-draw books—usually some of the most popular check-outs in their inventory.
Learn more: 25 Free Directed Drawing Activities Anyone Can Do
8. Make collages
Keep a collection of old magazines that kids can use to find and cut out images to piece together into colorful collages. Or use construction paper scraps to create a Picassoesque collage.
Learn more: Collage Activities at Artful Parent
9. Get focused with Mandala coloring pages
One of our favorite indoor recess ideas for kids of all ages! Coloring mandalas is a super-relaxing activity. It can be the perfect way to reset your students’ energy levels before getting back to work.
Learn more: Free mandala coloring pages at Coloring Home
10. Layer sand art
Have on hand a number of containers with different-colored sand, empty mason jars, and small funnels. Teach kids how to layer different colors of sand into the jars, using toothpicks to create striations, for a gorgeous take-home project.
Learn more: How To Make a Layered Sand Terrarium by Dalla Vita
11. Create tissue paper mosaics
Have a healthy supply of colored tissue paper and a bottle of Elmer’s glue available. Give students a piece of heavy card stock. Cut or tear small squares or random shapes from the colored tissue paper. Overlap pieces so that no white shows underneath. Designs can be random, or you can sketch out a design ahead of time and fill it in with tissue.
Learn more: Tissue Paper Mosaics With Ellen
Physical Activity and Movement Indoor Recess Ideas
12. Create music with Boomwhackers
Boomwhackers are colorful plastic tubes that are designed to make gentle musical tones when tapped against hard surfaces. Let students tap into their inner Mozart and compose their own musical arrangements.
Buy it: Boomwhackers on Amazon
13. Try GoNoodle
So many teachers count on GoNoodle, specifically the indoor-recess channel, as their go-to for indoor recess. The videos are fun and engaging and get kids up and moving.
Learn more: GoNoodle
14. Practice a little yoga
This online yoga station is a great source for 10- to 15-minute videos made just for kids. They use stories, music, and characters to make yoga fun.
Learn more: Cosmic Kids Yoga
15. Have a dance party
Put on Dance Dance Revolution, Just Dance Kids, or any kids music channel and boogie away your recess.
16. Express yourself with ribbon dancing
Use cardboard paper towel tubes and crepe paper to create ribbon sticks. Put on a little music and let kids dance to their own beat.
17. Toss around scarves
Silky scarves are a great tool for encouraging creative movement. Kids love to dance, twirl, and juggle with them. (They’re also great for creating impromptu costumes and forts.)
Buy it: Silky Scarves on Amazon
18. Stack cups
Cup stacking helps develop dexterity and speed. Kids can set goals independently, work as teams, or have a little friendly competition as they practice their skills.
Buy it: Stacking Cups on Amazon
19. Play indoor hopscotch
Use painter’s tape to create a hopscotch grid on the carpet or tile. Substitute stones with crumpled-up paper.
Learn more: Indoor hopscotch on Playdates to Parties
20. Follow the Wellness Way
Check out our free set of printable posters that’ll get your kids up and moving. Kids can follow any of the three color-coded paths, move, recharge, and mood.
Learn more: Free Wellness Way Printables
21. Play Simon Says
Clear a corner of the classroom and play a good old-fashioned game of Simon Says. Let students take turns being the leader and encourage them to include lots of physical movement in the game.
Learn more: Simon Says for Physical Literacy on TNRL
Indoor Recess Ideas—STEM Exploration and Challenges
22. Create with colorful pipe cleaners
For some reason, most kids are fascinated by these fuzzy, flexible art supplies! The possibilities for creating bendy sculptures are limitless—from jewelry to accessories, like hats and purses, animals shapes, and more.
Learn more: 40 Clever and Colorful Pipe Cleaner Crafts and Learning Activities
23. Build Popsicle-stick contraptions
Keep a supply of large and small Popsicle sticks and let kids build creative contraptions, using Play-Doh as joints.
Learn more: 2D Shape Activity at Laughing Kids Learn
24. Devise tower challenges
There are so many easy-to-find materials kids can use for building towers and structures. Think straws, spaghetti, painter’s tape, toothpicks, marshmallows, and Wikki Stix, to name just a few.
Learn more: Spaghetti Marshmallow Tower Challenge on Tinkerlab
25. Construct with egg cartons
The possibilities are endless for creating out of recycled egg cartons. Houses, towns, cars, critters, 3D art, and more. Before using egg cartons, make sure none of your students has an egg allergy.
Learn more: Egg Carton Art on Red Ted Art
There is no end to the creative play kids can engage in with building sets like K’NEX, Magna-Tile, LEGO, and many more. True, store-bought building supplies can be pricey. Some suggestions? Shop secondhand stores or garage sales, ask families that may have outgrown their supplies for donations, or ask for money on DonorsChoose. Check out this blog for some popular options.
Learn more: 25+ Awesome STEM Toys for Building from Hands On Learning With Life Over C’s
27. Put together puzzles
Puzzles help kids develop spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, memory, and recall. They also encourage teamwork, cooperation, and sharing.
Learn more: Why Every Classroom Needs Jigsaw Puzzles
28. Create a kinesthetic sand town
Kinesthetic sand is a favorite with kids of all ages. Challenge a small group of students to create a small town, perhaps incorporating action figures and using paper to add in roads and signs.
Learn more: What Is Kinesthetic Sand by Kinesthetic Sand
Indoor Recess Game Ideas
29. Play board games
Board games are the old standby in most classrooms. Kids can’t seem to get enough of them. And playing games helps kids build logic and social skills. Teacher tip: Keep your eye out for board games at garage sales and thrift stores.
Learn more: 28 of the Best Board Games for Elementary Kids
30. Play card games
Quick and easy to set up, card games are a great opportunity for kids to learn about taking turns, strategy, and following rules. Some perennial favorites: Uno, War, and Go Fish. You can also sneak in some language arts and math card games that teach kids skills while they play.
Learn more: 28 Math Card Games That Turn Students Into Aces
31. Have a checkers or chess challenge
Funny how these two games have stood the test of time. Here’s a good video about getting to know the game of chess by Kids Academy.
Learn more: Chess for Kids by Kids Academy
32. Play a mini version of cornhole
Kids playing toss with bean bags could easily get out of hand in the classroom. So why not try a miniature version? The skills required are the same (on a smaller scale), but the amount of fun they’ll have is just the same.
Buy it: Desktop Version of Corn Hole from Amazon
33. Try a mini version of Jenga
This fun game combines logic skills and cooperation. This mini version is a perfect fit for the classroom (and doesn’t make as big of a racket when the tower falls).
Buy it: Desktop Jenga Game on Amazon
34. Create your own mancala game
Mancala is one of the world’s oldest games. It’s easy to learn, fun to play, and super easy to make on your own. Simply use egg cartons and marbles, shells, or dried beans.
Learn more: DIY Mancala game from Be a Fun Mum
35. Challenge your students to a Minute To Win It game
Create a mock-up of the popular game show right in your classroom. Pinterest is a great source—there are tons of pins for fun Minute To Win It challenges.
Learn more: Minute To Win It games on Pinterest
36. Play Heads Up, Seven Up
Generations of students have loved this whole-class guessing game. It’s not only great for indoor recess, it’s also a great time filler when you have 5 to 10 minutes between activities.
Learn more: Heads Up, Seven Up from The Game Gal
37. Toss around a Silent Ball
Students form a circle and toss a squishy ball to other students, one at a time, around the room. The number-one rule is to remain silent. If a student isn’t silent, they are out and must sit on their chair or on the floor. They are out if they don’t catch the ball. If they fall off the desk, they are out. You can throw in fun variations, like clap once or clap twice between tosses. You can also set rules, like no toss-backs.
Learn more: How To Play Silent Ball from Playworks
38. Play Four Corners
Another fun whole-class game! You might have to cluster desks or tables together to make space. One player is chosen as “it” and stands in the middle with their eyes closed. The rest of the class is given a few seconds to choose a corner to stand in, then the person who is it calls out a number from one to four. The players in that corner have to step out of the game. Kids are encouraged to move quietly and cooperatively, as they know the student who is it is listening carefully. Play continues until there is only one student left in the game.
Learn more: How To Play Four Corners from Wikihow
Indoor Recess Ideas Using Technology
39. Play online games
Whether we love it or not, kids love free time on their devices! Luckily, allowing them time to explore vetted and approved sites can actually be educational. In addition, online games help build problem-solving, strategizing, and concentration skills and more.
Learn more: Favorite Online Games That Are Fun and Educational Too
40. Listen to and watch read-alouds
Let your students explore different authors and genres with online read-alouds. There are many different resources that provide top-quality graphics and narrators that make stories fun and interesting.
Learn more: The Best Read-Alouds on YouTube
41. Go on a virtual field trip
Take a field trip in the comfort of your own classroom! Learn about how a recycling center works, or how to make slime in space. Explore the Louvre or the Great Wall of China. Virtual field trips are a wonderful tool to expand students’ horizons.
Learn more: 40 Amazing Educational Virtual Field Trips
42. Practice math skills
Nothing makes math learning easier than playing math games. From foundational skills like counting and addition to more complex topics like coordinate planes and quadratic equations, math games help kids practice the skills they need to build a solid math foundation.
Learn more: 25 Fun Online Interactive Math Games for Every Grade Level
43. Work on brainteasers and puzzles
From connect the dots and word searches to jigsaw puzzles and more, online games are just as fun as the paper versions.
Learn more: Puzzle Games from Safe Kid Games
Old-School Indoor Recess Ideas
44. Play Twister
Silly, funny, and challenging, Twister is a favorite for everyone.
Buy it: Twister on Amazon
45. Stitch up a sewing project
Put out scraps of fabric and needles and thread and let kids explore the lost art of sewing.
Learn more: 7 Golden Rules for Teaching Kids to Sew
46. Introduce them to Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs
More building, this time with an old-school feel.
Buy it: Tinkertoys on Amazon
47. Spin some beautiful art with a Spirograph
Remember those wildly colorful circles you created with the different-sized discs on your Spirograph? Your students will love them as much as you did.
Buy it: Spirograph on Amazon
48. Introduce your students to jacks
Once a playground obsession, Jacks is a simple game that kids can play independently or with a partner. And if your students really get into it, they can even play tournament style.
Buy it: Jacks on Amazon
49. String up a game of Cat’s Cradle
Another simple hands-on activity that’s easy to teach and easy to play. All you need is a string, maybe a few YouTube tutorials, and your imagination.
Learn more: How To Play Cat’s Cradle by Moms Minivan
50. Try Your Hand at Knitting
First, teach your students how to make simple yarn chains. Once they have developed those fine motor skills, introduce them to knitting with thick needles. Knitting is such a meditative practice; it can transform a chaotic free-for-all into a calm, cozy break.
Learn more: Knitting – Teaching Young Kids by Samantha MacLeod