5 Essential Games and Activities for Outdoor Recess

We are all aware of the need for recess. Not only for our students to receive movement breaks to work their large body muscles, but also for opportunities for students to build and create friendships by communicating with each other freely, and have unstructured play time with their peers. Recess is also an opportunity for classroom teachers to be more productive in their teaching when they have students who are calm after movement.

I have watched recess managed well and recess handled poorly. When recess is done well, students and schools thrive. I truly believe that a well-organized recess time for students can dictate the success of a school. Students need the time to move freely, but like with anything, students still need guidance, support, and some structure.

Equipment and facility access are large factors to consider, but a successful recess does not require a large green space and/or playground, tons of equipment or educated teachers or trained staff to supervise. All of those factors can help create a space for learning, fun and growth in the school community, so do what you can with what you have and slowly add to your recess program.

Successful recess programs have attentive supervision by adults willing to engage with the students. Familiar games and activities, sports and activity clubs, or mini-tournaments all provide purpose and structure for the students to cling to. Behavioral issues will rise when recess ends up rolling out the ball rack, adults micro-managing students or lacking management.

Below, I am going to share 5 essential games and activities to help your students thrive during recess. These activities can be taught during general Physical Education class and can transfer to recess. Each of these activities are proven effective; however, they need to be taught and supervised. Students who are less confident in playing the games deserve support for questions and to help if conflict occurs.

1. Spikeball

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Spikeball features a circular, hoop-shaped net and frame. Two teams of two players stand around the Spikeball ring. One player starts the game by serving the ball down on the net so it bounces up at his/her opponents.

The other team has up to 3 hits (like volleyball) to get control of the ball and spike it back at the net. Whichever team fails to hit the net, loses the round and their opponent gets a point. There are no boundaries and the ball can be hit from anywhere. The first team to earn 11-15-21 points is the winner. Check out these posts sharing more about Spikeball, and how it can be added to your PE or recess program.

https://x.com/HuronPark/status/1716216007012839609?s=20

https://x.com/ElemPE1/status/1612959296723247104?s=20

https://x.com/JoeMcCarthy09/status/1612476342259404800?s=20

https://x.com/EckerDustin/status/1204587075837812736?s

2. Gaga Ball

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Gaga ball is probably the most popular recess activity. Gaga ball is similar to dodgeball, but the balls stay near the ground, which will limit the impact on players when hit by a ball. Gaga ball players use their hands to slap or hit the ball, aiming to hit other players at or below the knees. If you’re hit, you’re out. The last player in the Gaga ball pit is the winner. Gaga is relatively inclusive, since students do not need to be able to run fast, and smaller students may even have an advantage over taller ones.

Check out these posts sharing more about Gage Ball and how it can be added to your recess program.

https://x.com/physedreview/status/720409132675805184?s=20

https://x.com/CoachGelardi/status/1693686989512417454?s=20

https://x.com/GregWunderlich/status/1486480152670441472?s=20

3. 9 Square in the Air

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9 Square in the Air combines elements of volleyball and 4 Square, but expands the court to 9 squares and raises it off the ground. The elevated frame includes 8 squares surrounding one in the middle, with a player in each square. The player in the middle, also known as the king, serves the ball through the top of the frame toward another square. Each player gets one chance to hit it up and out of his/her square, making it fall into another player’s square. When a player gets out, he/she rotates to the end of the line back at square one to start the rotation over, and all other players rotate forward to fill that player’s spot.

Check out these posts sharing more about 9 square and how it can be added to your recess program.

https://x.com/9squareintheair/status/1654523059976404995?s=20

https://x.com/wcsWMSathletics/status/1715129243305136450?s=20

4. 4 Square

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The object of the game of four square is to eliminate players in higher squares so that you can advance to the highest square yourself. Four square is played with a rubber playground ball on a square court with four players, each occupying a quarter of the court. The ball is bounced between players in squares until a player makes an error and is eliminated. Eliminated players leave the court, all players advance to fill the empty squares, and a new player joins at the lowest ranked square.

Check out these posts sharing more about 4 square, and how it can be added to your recess program.

https://x.com/BigTennPhysEd/status/1663929620494708737?s=20

https://x.com/JenHeebink/status/1458548921815511045?s=20

https://x.com/CoachSharp18/status/1232441867389693954?s=20

5. Switch

All you need is 5-6+ people and something to mark 4 corners of the square. A 4 square game space works very well for this activity. The first person in line is the “switch” caller. When “switch” is called, each student must find a new corner to

stand on. The last person to find a spot, goes to the end of the line outside the square. The “switch” caller moves to the middle point of the four squares, and the second person in line becomes the new switch caller.

Check out these posts sharing more about Switch, and how it can be added to your recess program.

https://x.com/ElemPE1/status/1346191817885159424?s=20

https://x.com/JeffVanWely/status/1374432814255407106?s=20

https://x.com/StoryFalconPE/status/1568241686832111616?s=20

Take the time to intentionally grow your school’s recess procedures, structure, equipment, and facility layout. Ensuring purposeful recess can positively benefit students, teachers, the school and community.

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