Creative Ideas for Indoor Recess
When rain pounds at the windows or a snowy freeze descends on the school, many teachers brace themselves for indoor recess.
Outdoor recess is beneficial for both students’ well-being and their classroom behavior. They can swing, slide, socialize and get their wiggles out in the great outdoors. Studies have shown that younger students who receive at least 20 minutes of recess time work more and display better behavior throughout the day. The change of scene refreshes their minds, and they return to the classroom invigorated and ready to learn.
When students are cooped up indoors, their boundless energy has nowhere to go, and the classroom can quickly transform into chaos. Thus, teachers find themselves looking for creative ways to keep students entertained — without letting classroom antics get out of hand.
Fortunately, with just a little work and creativity, indoor recreational activities can be fun while promoting learning. Kids develop teamwork skills, follow directions and hone their fine motor coordination through game playing and creative work.
Below you’ll find a list of stimulating classroom games and indoor activities for days when inclement weather keeps your students inside.
Read the full article or skip to a specific section:
- Activities Appropriate for All Age Groups
- Indoor Activities for Pre-K—Kindergarten
- Indoor Activities for Grades 1–2
- Indoor Activities for Grades 3-4
- Indoor Activities for Grades 5–6
- Have Fun With Indoor (and Outdoor) Recess!
Fun Indoor Activities Appropriate for All Age Groups
Whether you’re looking for preschool indoor recess games or fun activities for 6th graders, there’s a rainy day recreational activity for students of all ages.
1. Arts & Crafts Projects
Art projects require a little more prep than other indoor recess activities, but students enjoy being creative and channeling their energy into a fun project.
Fun arts and crafts ideas include:
- Painting: Try letting students de-stress by painting. What youngster doesn’t love getting messy with finger paints or watercolors? Make sure you have a stash of old aprons on hand and lay down some newspaper on tables to keep the mess in your classroom to a minimum.
- Coloring: One of the easiest ways to keep kids occupied is to let them color. You can keep donated coloring books in the classroom or ask students to bring in coloring books and keep them in their desks for a rainy day.
- Drawing: Kids can free-draw if they wish, perhaps using how-to-draw books as guides. It’s amazing how a few initial ovals can turn into a horse with a little dedicated work! Or, you can do a directed-drawing activity with a small group or the whole class. There are some wonderful videos online for teaching kids to draw porcupines, kangaroos, smiling bowls of mac and cheese and more. The step-by-step process builds confidence and results in some irresistibly cute art.
- Playdough: Playdough is a sure-fire hit with small kids but can also be popular with older students. Make sure to use mats on your tables to keep the mess factor low.
- Arts and crafts: Providing kids with a table full of string, pasta, stickers, googly eyes and other odds and ends can result in small masterpieces, from macaroni necklaces to colorful pipe-cleaner animals. You may want to demonstrate a few ideas for students to give them some inspiration.
- Origami: For older students with the patience and fine motor coordination skills for folding, origami is an excellent way to keep hands and minds occupied. Guide students to books or videos that will help them find designs that excite them. Special colored origami paper is available, but you can always use squares of scrap paper, too.
- Collages: Offer students some old magazines, paper, glue and scissors, and let them create personalized collages. Suggest that they create collages with photos representing their personalities, from favorite foods and animals to phrases that best describe them.
2. Physical Activities and Games
What do you do for indoor recess when your kids need to get rid of some energy? Sure, art projects are fun, but sometimes your students need to get out of their seats and get moving for a while. To provide a fun recess while boosting students’ physical health and gross motor skills, try one of the inside recess activities below. As a bonus, most of these games require no equipment.
A classroom dance party is a great way to get students active. Put on a dance video and let kids twist, jump and shake it off to the music. Ribbon or scarf dancing is also fun.
For a little more peer involvement, you can have your kids do freeze-dance games like the Wax Museum Challenge. In this activity, one student acts as the guard, standing at the front of the classroom with their back turned. Other students dance silently, getting as crazy as they wish — but when the guard turns around, they have to freeze! Any student the guard catches moving, talking or laughing is out.
You don’t need to go outside to play hopscotch — just use masking tape to create a hopscotch outline on the floor and use a beanbag or other soft object instead of a rock.
Arrange your classroom chairs in a circle, find some upbeat music to start and stop, and you’re on your way to an easy game that will have kids scrambling and laughing together. To keep things from getting too crazy with the furniture, you can use items like hula-hoops for kids to stand in, removing one hoop each round.
This outdoor-turned-indoor activity is borrowed from occupational therapy games, but it can also be great for indoor recess fun. It’s particularly appropriate when snow and ice are on the ground! Have parents collect old tissue boxes for your classroom. You can let your students choose their boxes and decorate these “skates” with stickers, markers, construction paper or whatever suits their fancy. Then let them “skate” around the classroom, perhaps incorporating games like Red Light, Green Light to work on listening and motor-planning skills.
Simply blow up some balloons, pass them out to your students, and let the “volleyball” game begin. This activity can be more of a free-for-all if your students can handle it, or you can create two teams for an organized back-and-forth game. For a twist, let the student who hits the balloon call out the name of another student, who must hit the balloon next.
Your students will love getting themselves out of a tangle in this fun game. Have kids stand in a tight circle and thrust their hands into the middle. They must grab a classmate’s hand in each of their own hands. They will then be knotted together in a human chain.
The goal is to unravel the chain by sliding over and under their classmates’ linked hands until they form a smooth circle. To make this game less challenging, you can have your class create two or three separate circles instead of one huge one.
Classic Movement-Oriented Games
These can include boxed games and schoolhouse staples, from Simon Says and Duck, Duck, Goose for younger students to Four Corners for older ones.
3. Board, Card & Other Seated Games
What are some great indoor recreational activities that don’t call for quite so much activity? For a calmer classroom, check out some of the games below. Though they’re more conducive to a controlled room, they’re sure to keep your students entertained.
- Board games, checkers, and chess: Classic board games can still provide hours of indoor fun. If your students are up for a challenge, you can let them play checkers or chess in pairs. These games are fun to play while promoting critical reasoning, thinking ahead, strategy and even social skills — it’s hard to play a game together without talking to your partner!
- Card games: Games such as Go Fish and Old Maid will provide many recesses full of fun, cooperative play.
- Hand-clapping games: Though hand jives aren’t great for maintaining a quiet classroom, they promote coordination and social skills, and they’re catchy and enjoyable for kids to boot. Familiar old chants like “Miss Mary Mack” and “Miss Susie” can help your students practice eye-hand coordination, rhythm, memorization and wordplay while interacting with friends.
- Guessing games: Classic games — like Heads Up, Seven Up; Who Has the Bean; and Doggy, Doggy, Where’s Your Bone? — use a little mystery to keep kids engaged and smiling. There’s always Pictionary, too, which allows kids to play and draw at the same time.
4. Educational Games
There’s always room for a little learning in your students’ games! Indoor recess ideas for elementary school students can promote stealthy learning through play.
Kids’ Trivia Games
A stash of age-appropriate trivia cards in your classroom will keep students guessing and learning in their free time throughout the year.
Keep some easy, colorful puzzles in your classroom for kids to put together during recess. Puzzles featuring cute animal images or characters from popular kids’ movies and shows are always a hit! Kids will have fun while working on their spatial reasoning and manual dexterity.
Word or Number Games
Activities like word searches, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku are fun to do and easy to find. You can always play a game of hangman on the whiteboard, too! Try a counting game like One, Two, Buckle My Shoe for younger kids.
Pass the Chicken
For this game that’s perfect for classroom review, you’ll need to gather your students in a circle to pass around a squeaky rubber chicken. You give a task or a math problem, such as “name four dog breeds” or “name pairs of numbers that add to seven.” The student who started with the chicken has to answer.
The rest of the circle tries to pass the chicken around before the first student gets done. If the student cannot answer, they have to squeak the chicken loudly and do a chicken dance! If the student is successful, the child holding the chicken when the question is answered correctly goes next.
Building blocks are an excellent resource for kids of all ages to build decision-making, coordination, creativity, motor and social skills. While playing with blocks helps younger students discover concepts like shape, size, matching and sorting, older kids can use them to practice their reasoning and communication skills.
There are several types of blocks your students can play with. You can provide students with various options, including wooden, cardboard, foam and plastic interlocking blocks. Before choosing the right blocks for your classroom, consider your students. Lighter cardboard and foam blocks may reduce the chance of injuries for younger kids, as block structures often topple. However, older students may be able to handle heavier wooden or interlocking plastic options.
The many cognitive skills kids can practice while playing with building blocks include making comparisons, following a pattern and logical reasoning. For example, younger students may learn that putting two blocks together will give them a larger surface to build upon. Meanwhile, their older peers might want to work together to create a specific structure or make the largest tower possible.
Regardless of your students’ ages, they’ll enjoy this creative activity by creating plans for their towers or making decisions as they go! Students of all ages will have fun working together to test their structure’s integrity and practice their reasoning skills by troubleshooting along the way. They’ll also build their social development by cooperating with classmates. Students will have to share blocks and communicate to build a structure. Their self-confidence will grow when they successfully execute an idea by working together!
Playing with building blocks can introduce your students to basic math and science concepts like geometry, balance, space visualization, symmetry and gravity. Adults can use blocks to teach older students concepts like fractions, measuring and estimating, and they can educate younger kids about different shapes, numbers and colors. This activity can also boost kids’ self-esteem, as they’ll feel pride in their work and enjoy sharing it with adults and peers.
Your students can improve their ability to describe objects by explaining their tower’s size, color, position and shape. They can even practice storytelling by describing the building process, recounting their challenges and successes and how they had to work with others to produce a successful result. When kids share their experiences, they learn how to process their emotions while increasing their ability to communicate with others.
Indoor Activities for Pre-K—Kindergarten
Below you’ll find some indoor recess activities for preschoolers to kindergartners.
Let younger students engage in free play with blocks and building sets. This play will foster creativity while boosting fine motor skills and coordination.
Bust out familiar classics like “Ring Around the Rosie” and “The Hokey Pokey” to get students moving, or try a song that gets students practicing color recognition as they move around. Encourage students to skip for a controlled activity.
Younger students love to dress up and play pretend, and indoor recess is a fantastic time for it! You can keep a box of donated clothes and costumes in your classroom for students to try on. Make sure to have a full-length mirror handy so kids can admire the looks they create.
Drawing and Coloring
Younger kids love to color and draw. You can also play soothing music during free coloring time to stimulate kids’ imaginations.
Try Red Light, Green Light for an indoor recess game for kindergarten or pre-K students that incorporates both motor-planning and listening skills. Give your students a specific motion to do, such as tiptoeing, walking backward or hopping like a bunny.
When you say, “Green light,” your students are free to start moving. When you say, “Red light,” your students must freeze. Any student who continues moving or falls must return to the starting line. The first child to the finish line wins! Simon Says is another fun game to get students moving and thinking at the same time.
For a change of pace, break out a parachute for some silky recess fun that helps develop motor skills and cooperation. Many parachutes are multicolored, like bright circus tents — kids can hold the colored edges and shake their sillies out while making the parachute ruffle and flip.
You can have your students use more controlled movements to make the parachute rise and fall and then invite them to sit down or go underneath the parachute. Try putting small stuffed animals or light beanbags in the center and letting students bounce them up and down in the fabric.
Indoor Activities for Grades 1–2
Here are some rainy day recess games for the lower primary grades.
Kids love testing their memories with colorful cards and cute pictures! Let your students exercise their memory skills by playing matching games.
Try out a game of musical chairs with your students, or play Hot Potato, a similar game of listening for the music to stop. Have your students pass a “potato” — maybe an eraser or ball — around in a circle until you stop the music. Whoever is left holding the potato is out! You can also add a rule that anyone who drops the potato is out.
Are you willing to turn all four corners of your classroom into a playground space? Introduce your kids to Four Corners. Use paper and markers to assign each corner of your classroom a number. Then choose one child to be “it.” That child stands at the center of the room with their eyes closed, counting down loudly from 10.
When they reach zero, they choose a corner, and everyone in that corner is out! Anyone not standing in a corner is also out. This is a great game to play to encourage quiet movement since kids will try to creep silently from corner to corner to avoid giving away their positions.
Would a ring toss be fun, just not in the blinding rain? You can have your students create their own equipment by coloring paper plates, decorating them with stickers, and then cutting out the centers to form rings. Have your students toss their rings at soda bottles or hot-glue paper towel tubes to cardboard squares to form targets. For an added challenge, assign numerical values to the rings and posts and have your students use math facts to see who can get the most points.
How often do students get to play with their own toys at school? Break the rules on purpose at indoor recess. Something familiar from home can provide a novel dose of fun in the middle of the school day.
Indoor Activities for Grades 3–4
Here are some indoor recess games for kids in 3rd and 4th grade.
Paper Airplane Competitions
Let your budding pilots and engineers create paper airplanes out of scratch paper. Internet pages that illustrate different designs for paper airplanes, from simple models to sonic jets, are a great resource!
Hot and Cold
Have one student go into the hallway. Then, have the remaining students decide where to hide a small object like an eraser or a ball. When the student in the hallway comes back in, have that student move around the room looking for the object. The other students can say “hot” or “cold,” depending on how close or far they are from finding the objects. Encourage creative vocabulary use with words like “icy,” “freezing,” “smoking” and “burning.”
Keep a talkative class engaged and under control with a game like Silent Ball. Have your students stand in a circle and tell them that they must be perfectly silent on the count of three. Students must throw the ball back and forth to one another without dropping it, talking or laughing — anyone who does so is out!
To incorporate some learning, try Silence, a game in which kids must arrange themselves in a line without speaking. You can have your students arrange themselves alphabetically by their first names, chronologically by birthday, as the presidents in order or as fractions by size — anything goes! You can stick Post-It notes on them to help them with the organizing.
Many kids in this age group are beginning to be interested in strategy games where they have to figure out how their opponents have arranged their hidden pegs without being able to see their opponents’ board.
Indoor Activities for Grades 5–6
Here are some indoor recess games for 5th and 6th graders.
Quiet Writing or Drawing Time
Let your older kids explore their creativity with time for free writing or art. Though coloring books will likely seem babyish to this set, many kids will love writing in a journal or sketching and drawing on scratch paper.
Heads Up, Seven Up
This game is a favorite for students of all ages. To start, choose seven students to stand at the front of the class. Have the rest of your students put their heads down on their desks by saying, “Heads down, thumbs up!” The seven students will walk around the room, and each one will choose a student by touching them on the thumb.
Have the seven students stand at the front of the classroom, and then say, “Heads up, seven up!” The seven students who were touched will stand up and try to guess who chose them. Those who guess correctly replace their choosers as one of the seven, and the game continues!
Play a common guessing game with cards and headbands. Each kid receives a card with a picture of a familiar object. The card goes into a headband so that others can see it, but the student who has it cannot. Then, students must ask for clues from others to figure out what pictures are on their cards. You can also teach your students to play Charades. To add an educational twist, have students act out characters from books they’ve read, figures from history or even concepts from science class.
Movies or Shows
Older students will likely be happy to sit quietly and watch a movie for indoor recess. The beauty of this activity is that most movies are longer than recess time, so if you know you’ll have a string of bad-weather days, you can plan to watch a movie in installments. You can also stream shows. To incorporate some learning, try a science or nature show.
This activity works with drawing, writing or both. Write a fun sentence at the top of a piece of paper, and then fold the paper down so the first part of the sentence is hidden.
Pass the paper around the room and have each student contribute a new line to the story without reading what has been folded down at the top. Afterward, read out loud what’s likely to be an absurd story. You can also create a drawing in this way, or a combination of writing and pictures.
Have Fun With Indoor (and Outdoor) Recess!
There’s no need to fear an extended stretch of rain or snowy weather! Indoor recess doesn’t have to be dreaded. With luck, some of these fun indoor recreational activities can help you create enjoyable, educational indoor recess plans. Whether your students are drawing or painting, playing games or dancing to a video you choose, they’ll be having a good time while preparing themselves for more instruction. And who knows — teachers might end up enjoying themselves as well!
Of course, when the weather turns nice, your students won’t be able to wait to play outside on their favorite equipment. Consider having your school invest in quality, customizable equipment to keep your kids healthy and happy when the weather is right for outdoor play. Miracle® Recreation offers a free customized design process. Contact us today to discuss what would work best for your school.