A Checklist: Elements of a Great Recess | Playworks

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A Checklist: Elements of a Great Recess

Is your school recess a place where children thrive? Below is a checklist of items that make recess great – use it to help create a safe and healthy recess for every kid.


  • Students are given 20 minutes of recess (or more!) each and every day.
  • Recess is not taken away as punishment or for academic reasons.

Play Space

  • The playground has designated areas for games, with a playground map visible to all.
  • Boundaries are displayed (with cones, chalk and/or painted lines) for safe, fun play. 
  • There is enough equipment to provide active play for all students, but not so much equipment that it is lost or used unsafely.


  • A variety of games is available to choose from, including traditional sports, new games and room for creative play.  (You can find hundreds of game ideas in our online games library.)
  • Three to five core playground games are set up, student-led and active daily.
  • Games are fair. Create teams by counting off (as in one and two or apples and oranges) or creating rotational lines (as in the game of three lines basketball).


  • Recess rules are positive, simple and clear. Create 3-6 simple and positive rules; for example, instead of “Don’t push,” tell students what they can do – e.g., “Use light butterfly tags.”
  • Consequences are responsive, respectful and related. When rules are broken, recess staff discuss the bad behavior with the student and encourage him/her to think about what s/he did wrong and how to correct it.
  • All students and staff are aware of and follow the same rules. A poster of the recess rules is displayed where everyone can see it at recess.


  • Recess staff have been trained on play and positive group-management techniques.
  • Recess staff have clear roles on the playground and actively engage with kids by playing, leading and/or talking with students.
  • Recess staff stop/interrupt negative behavior as soon as it occurs and discuss appropriate behavior with students.
  • Recess staff lead students to and from the playground in a safe and effective manner.

 Student Empowerment

  • Students lead their own play in most cases and always have a choice in how/where they play as long it is safe, fair and inclusive of others.
  • Creating a special student leadership program for older students can encourage student ownership of the playground.
  • Students learn conflict-resolution skills and can spend more time playing, not arguing.  Rock Paper Scissors is an easy game that can solve simple conflicts, such as was the ball in or out and who was first in line? Here’s how to play.

Positive School Environment

  • High fives, fist bumps and positive and encouraging statements are seen and heard frequently from both students and adults.
  • There is communication between staff, administration and the rest of the school community about recess plans.

Indoor Recess