25 Recess Games

kids playing on playgroundRecess is a great opportunity for elementary school kids to try out new games that will encourage interaction, expend energy and build skills. Plus, teachers can get to know their students in new and fun ways. Let’s take a look at 25 recess games to keep in your back pocket and use all year long when recess hits a lull. 

  1. Parachute Games - If you don’t already have a parachute, grab one! You can elevate the typical parachute games by adding a beach ball on top that kids can work together to keep on the parachute. Or, add several smaller balls to make it even more of a challenge.
  2. Mannequin Tag - This version of tag has the added element of the leader/teacher designating how everyone moves (running, skipping, hopping, walking, etc.) If a player gets tagged, they become a mannequin. To come back to life, another player must give them a double high five. Using a high five to unfreeze someone eliminates the concern for hard tagging that could push or hurt a player.
  3. Tunnel Tag - Similar to mannequin tag, but this time, when a player is tagged, they freeze with their legs open in a tunnel shape. To free them, another player crawls through their legs from the front.
  4. Museum Night Janitor - In this game, everyone poses like a statue. The janitor player moves around pointing their flashlight at the statues. If the statue moves or laughs, they go to a designated area where they have to do five jumping jacks before rejoining the game. This game works great indoors during rainy days, too! You could adapt it for outside by having students unfreeze one another by tapping lightly with a scepter or similar object.

Recruit classroom volunteers with a sign up. View an Example

  1. Hula Hoop Four Square - Place four hula hoops in a square. Have four students begin hula hooping at the same time after calling out the word, “Hoop!” If a player drops their hoop, they go to the end of the line and the player in front of the line immediately goes to the empty spot to begin. If all players are very good at hula hooping, you can set a designated time for them to hoop before rotating players.
  2. Red Rover - A classic recess game that stands the test of time. Students hold hands and stand in two rows facing each other. One row will pick a player on the other side and say, “Red rover, red rover, send [insert name] right over.” Then, that player runs over and tries to break through one of the links. If they successfully break through, they get to take a student back to their team. If they don’t, they have to stay on the other team.
  3. 44 Home - Similar to hide and seek, but they count to 44, before yelling, “44 home!” Then, they try to find the hiders before they make it back to base.
  4. Red Light, Green Light - Such an easy, fun game for kids to play, while also practicing colors and the meaning of stoplights. In this game, someone plays the light and says, “Green light.” Players inch forward in an effort to tag them until the light calls out, “Red light.” When they turn around, if any players are still moving, they are out.
  1. Crab Soccer - Like soccer, but students are in a crablike position and you use a larger, lightweight ball (such as a beach ball) that students will kick with their feet. Make it a cooperative game, where students work together to keep the ball in the air. Be sure to choose softer ground or an area that is free from debris.
  2. Giant Twister - This game is so much fun. Make a giant Twister game using a white blanket or tarp with colored dots. Call out the colors using the traditional Twister game spinner and have fun.
  3. Chain Tag - Team tag! Start with two people who have to hold hands while chasing people. Anyone they catch becomes part of the chain. The game continues until no one is unchained.
  4. Simon Says - This copycat game has a leader who calls out instructions with the starter, “Simon says...” Then, they periodically give an instruction without the starter. Anyone who does the action without the “Simon says” is out. There are great printables online of different actions that Simon can ask for.

Sell tickets and recruit volunteers with a sign up. View an Example

  1. Musical Statues - A combination of musical chairs, except they don’t sit down when the music stops — they strike a pose! Anyone who can’t hold their pose until the music starts is out. This makes the game less competitive and more fun as students can get ideas on how to pose from each other.
  2. Hula Hoop Freeze Tag - In this version of freeze tag, random hula hoops are scattered around the playing area as safe bases where players can go when they are being chased. But they can only stay for up to 10 seconds before they are no longer safe.
  3. Snakes & Worms - Get two or three colors of yarn. Cut a 20-feet long piece into smaller pieces that are hid around the playing area. Put students in groups based on the colors of yarn and have them work together to find their pieces. When yarn is found, they should run to tie it to the original piece. The team with the longest yarn strand at the end of recess wins.
  4. Gold Digging - Paint some rocks with gold spray paint a few days before and then hide them around the schoolyard. Give students small sifters to go and sift for the gold rocks. You can even break students into teams and make it a gold-digging competition.
  5. Dinosaur Bones - Does your school have an area with sand? Pick up some dollar store dinosaurs and hide them in the sandpit like fossils. Encourage students to dig for the dinosaur bones. Use this to discuss different types of dinosaurs.
  6. Chalk - No game idea needed here. It’s amazing how entertaining chalk can be! You could create some drawing games or have them trace each other in funny poses on the ground. But they will most likely come up with plenty of their own.
  7. Jump Rope Marathon - Jump ropes are affordable and easy to store. They make a great sport for a recess marathon! Run the marathon similar to sprints or just see who can jump the longest. You could track the jump rope marathon weekly or over time and see how their rankings change as the year goes on.

Ask parents to contribute to "popsicles on the playground" with a sign up. View an Example

  1. Ultimate Ninja Marathon - Set up an easy and fun obstacle course around the play yard and have students move through it. Hopscotch can lead to a few parked tricycles that they ride to another event where they crawl through a tunnel to get to a sand pit where they have to find a dinosaur. Once they find a dinosaur, they bounce a basketball to get to the play area where they have to go up and down the slide to their next event. You can customize the marathon to what you have available and mix it up every so often when you want to reuse the idea.
  2. Bossy Ball - Practice following directions — from a ball! Write instructions and tape them on a bouncy ball. Students stand in a circle and bounce the ball to each other. When the ball is caught, they must follow the instruction that they read first. Ideas for instructions can include: bounce to the right, bounce to the left, throw the ball with your eyes closed, throw the ball while hopping, throw the ball while spinning, throw the ball while singing, etc.
  3. Blanket Volleyball - This is both a cooperative and a competitive game that kids will love! Break students into groups of four and give each group a blanket. Each student holds a corner and they use the blanket to catch the volleyball and volley it back over to their opponents. You can have more than two teams and station them around an open area, since launching the ball in one particular direction is difficult. Students will love working together to play this new version of volleyball.
  4. Name Ball - Have students stand in a circle. The player throws the ball in the air while calling a student’s name. That student tries to catch the ball before it hits the ground. Ask students to call new names each time until everyone has had a turn.
  5. Ball Relay - Get different sized balls and run relays with them. For small balls, have students walk from one cone or area to another with the small ball between their knees. Use a medium-sized bouncy ball like a basketball to be dribbled and a soccer ball to be kicked along the relay race route. Break groups into teams and after each pass, they go to the end of the line until it is their turn again.
  6. Cats in the Corner - Mark off a square with cones. Students spread out between the four corners and one player stands in the middle with a ball. When the player yells, “Cats in the corner!” the children try to run to a different corner without being hit by the ball. Any player hit can either become the next player to throw the ball or can sit out.
Whether you have a few minutes to spray paint rocks gold or need something ready to go in a minute, there are ideas here to last you a while. Have fun, enjoy playtime and make some memories this school year.  

Erica Jabali is a freelance writer and blogs over at ispyfabulous.com.