15 fun indoor recess games and activities

If it’s not the bitter cold, ice, and snow keeping your class indoors for recess, it might be the rain that so many regions of the country get inundated with in the springtime. After a whole day trapped in the classroom, you and the kids desperately need some fresh air and unstructured break time.

If you’re looking for easy, fun ideas to let the kids get their pent-up energy out in a controlled way in the classroom, look no further. GoNoodle has sponsored this list of 15 fun indoor recess games and recess activities to keep your class happy, entertained, and exercised:

Whole Class Indoor Recess Ideas

Providing whole class recess activities is wonderful because it gives kids a chance to move around and release energy before it’s time to sit still and focus again.

Four Corners

This classic indoor game is simple to teach and easy to play. I’ve really enjoyed participating in Four Corners with students (rather just than facilitating the game) during recess, so it’s a great option when you really need a fun break for yourself. Forgot how to play? Here’s a step-by-step guide to jog your memory.

Balloon or foam ball games

If you don’t mind a little (or a lot!) of movement and noise, then give the kids play balloon badminton or balloon volleyball. Paper plates make great paddles if you need them! There are tons of other ways a single balloon can entertain a group of kids–check out this great collection of group balloon games.

The Hot/Cold game

This group game is easy to teach and requires zero preparation. Find a fair way to select the “it” student and have this student go out into the hallway while you hide the object he or she has to search for. When the student comes back in, the class will yell hot, warmer, or cold, depending on how close he or she is to the missing object.

GoNoodle

This is my favorite choice for indoor recess because it’s effortless for the teacher and totally engaging for the kids. GoNoodle is a free website with interactive videos and games. The resources are well-categorized so you can choose videos that help kids focus, get energized, release excess energy, calm down, and so on. Since each video is just a few minutes long, you can choose several during your indoor recess period, starting with the most active option and ending with a focusing, calming video. To make this easier for teachers, GoNoodle created several Indoor Recess Mega Mixes which are mash-ups of some of their most popular videos–just select one with the length of time you want, and hit play.

GoNoodle indoor recess mega mixes (plus 14 other ideas for fun indoor recess activities)

Hand tricks

Many kids have never been taught traditional hand tricks such as cat’s cradle and hand jives. These are great activities for developing fine motor skills and concentration: get step-by-step instructions here and here. I’ve also found a good Pinterest board with lots of hand clapping games and routines to choose from.

Charades

Both younger and older students will enjoy this indoor recess activity. Have kids guess animals, characters from books you’ve read together, and other concepts you have discussed in class. You can also have kids create charade cards: each child takes a couple of index cards and writes an charades action on it. Mix up the cards and pass them out for kids to use when playing the game. After a few whole class sessions to make sure kids understand the rules, you can have them play in small groups so that each student gets more opportunities to participate.

Chair-less musical chairs

Who says you can’t use this party staple during indoor recess? Minimize the chance of small accidents and the disruption to your desk arrangement by playing a chair-less version of the game. Give each child a carpet square or small piece of construction paper to lay on the floor: these will be the spots that kids try to sit on when the music stops. I like to divide the class in half and run two simultaneous games of chair-less musical chairs. This allows me to separate certain students if needed, speeds up the time it takes to complete the game, and decreases the time any one student spends “out.”

Yoga and stretching

I know dozens of teachers who swear that classroom yoga has been a huge hit with students and increased their energy and focus. The most engaging and simplest method I know of is GoNoodle’s Maximo videos. Each one is about 3-4 minutes in length, so you can either let the kids vote on several Maximo videos to complete, or choose one to end your indoor recess time and get the kids ready to transition back into learning.

Start or end with a Freeze Dance Party

Most kids love to dance or just be silly with their friends, so this is a great way to get kids moving indoors. Play a CD or stream music on a computer that’s hooked up to an LCD projector with decent sound, and let the kids shake it off. I’ve found this option is best for short periods of time, generally no more than 5-7 minutes: any longer and things start to get a little crazy! So, I like to start or end the indoor recess period with a freeze dance to make sure the kids get a chance to move around a bit before (or after) a calmer activity, like small group choices.

15 easy indoor recess ideas

Small Group Indoor Recess Ideas

I love this approach, because I think choice is a really important element for kids and I want them to have some control over how they spend their break. I like to have the indoor recess choices written on chart strips with magnets on the back. The strips also indicate how many kids can choose the center at one time, so a strip might say “Legos: 4 people.”

When recess begins, I display all of that day’s available choices for kids by putting the chart strips on our board. I try to only pick one or two noisy/messy options for each indoor recess day, so I don’t make all the activities available every time.

I then call kids up to use a dry erase marker to write their names next to the choice they want, with a maximum of 3-6 names (depending on the activity) for each choice. After everyone’s had a chance to choose, I let the kids look at the board to see where everyone in the class is going and raise their hand if they want to switch. It usually takes less than 30 seconds to have a handful of kids erase their names and re-write them in a different spot, and prevents kids from asking to switch later on due to personality conflicts in the group. I then release the kids to go play, one center at time (“Play Dough group, go ahead…Board Game group, go ahead…”).

When it’s clean up time, I ask the groups who are working with lots of materials to start putting things away a few minutes earlier than the rest of the groups. When there’s one minute until indoor recess is over, I set a timer, and everyone’s back in their seats 60 seconds later.

Here are some of my favorite small group activities for indoor recess:

Legos or other building materials

What kid doesn’t love Legos? Ask parents for donations or check thrift stores for various building and construction toys. If kids are reluctant to take their creations apart when it’s time to clean up, let them use a class iPad or other mobile device to take a photograph of it. In a future indoor recess time, they can use an iPad app like Voicethread to create and narrate a slideshow of everything they’ve built!

Computer and app games

On your classroom computers or tablets, create a folder called Indoor Recess Games and fill it with the sites or apps that are okay for use during indoor recess. Students can then choose whichever game site or app they’d like from the folder without having to constantly ask you, “Can I go on this site? Are we allowed to do this?”

Board games

Look into your own childhood and dig up fun games you’ve enjoyed indoors as a child. Teach your class classic board games such as Sorry!, Clue, or even Chinese Checkers! Card games and puzzles are also good alternatives.

Play dough or clay

I know what you’re thinking: My kids are too old for this! It’s too messy! It takes too long to clean up! I used Play Dough as an indoor recess option with my third graders and it was always the most popular choice. Playing with clay is a great unstructured, relaxing activity that gives children a chance to be creative. The key is to teach clearly defined rules and routines around play dough use when introducing it to your class: no mixing colors, put the lids on tightly, and so on. I recommend brainstorming the list of rules together. I also suggest having play dough mats (either plastic place mats, or large, laminated sheets of construction paper) and teaching kids to keep all their play dough on the mat.

Art, crafts, and coloring

Make your scrap paper available to students along with crayons, scissors, and glue. Every now and then, you can add in some stickers, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, or other dollar store-type items to inspire fresh creativity. I also let kids use leftover worksheet copies, which students use to play school with or transform into their own activity (there are always a handful of kids who LOVE this.) When you don’t feel like dragging out a million art supplies, good old colorings books can do a pretty fantastic job of entertaining and calming kids for the entire indoor recess time.

Bring-your-own materials

My students used to anxiously watch the weather forecasts for thunderstorm days, because they knew that meant they could bring toys to school! At the beginning of the indoor recess period, I’d ask if anyone brought something to share, and let the kids show their games and toys. I’d then write those options on the board so the rest of the class could sign up to play if they’d like.

What are your favorite indoor recess activities for kids? Please share in the comments below!

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nancy March 14, 2015 at 7:02 am

After a winter like we have had in Ohio indoor recess was an everyday occurrence-almost! Using YouTube I have showed Disney movies (I.e. Toy Story) The short segments make it almost perfect for recess time. We watch the next segment the following day.
~Nancy

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2 Teresa March 21, 2015 at 12:02 pm

My group begs to be able to play with the Lincoln Logs and tinker toys. They like using the ereaders . I made a card game for them Go Fish Sight Words. They really enjoy playing the game while at the same time working on vocabulary and sight words

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3 Tracy Colodny January 20, 2016 at 2:13 pm

My husband and I are Noon Aide at a small Elementary school when we have an indoor day grades 1-5 get to play in their classroom but Kindergarten has to watch a movie now when you get 60-70 5-6 year olds in one room that show no interest in watching a movie it can get crazy we are looking for some activity ideas that we can do with them its only a 20 minute recess and were all in one classroom together any Ideas would help

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4 Sherece Bennett February 26, 2016 at 1:32 pm

If you have a Netflix or Amazon Prime account you can have students watch the show R.L. Stine’s A Haunting Hour. The episodes are only 25 minutes long. Students love the episodes about “Lily D.”

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5 Sherry Roberson September 26, 2016 at 9:07 pm

I recently moved to third grade after many years in first. I brought some of my inside recess materials, but many of my games were not suitable for third grade. I sent a note asking for any games or building toys that families wanted to donate or loan to the class for the year. We got card games, puzzles and other activities. All free!

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