Help kids practice social skills throughout the day, not just in class.

Matt Harris, a principal at a Playworks school, sees recess and playtime as important social learning opportunities. “By tackling empathy at recess, we aren’t just hoping that kids will practice it. We know they do, because we see the difference,” he says. “Kids are playing more inclusive games, listening to each other, and solving conflicts quickly so the group as a whole can get back to playing.”

CASEL identifies social awareness and relationship skills as two core competencies for social learning. When students are socially aware, they practice skills like inclusion, respect, compassion, and empathy. Relationship skills include conflict resolution, cooperation, playing fair, and playing with students from different friend groups or ages. Here are six ways you can help kids practice social awareness and relationship skills during recess. 


Teach students to play in ways that are inclusive

For example, in a game of foursquare, set the expectation that whoever is serving will rotate out after 3 serves so that more students have a chance to play. Find tips on inclusion here.



Model positive social skills

Join students in a game at recess. Lead by example. Offer high fives, use positive language, and encourage students with a “good job, nice try” when they rotate out. Children will take their social cues from adults.



Play games that reinforce empathy

Build social awareness through games that encourage students to take the perspective of others, to walk a few steps in someone else’s shoes, or to collaborate as a team. Try​ Fake Out or Hi, My Name Is.



Teach Rock, Paper, Scissors for conflict resolution

Playing Rock, Paper, Scissors teaches students to resolve disagreements in a way that feels fair without adult intervention.



5. Teach games that encourage cooperation

Three-lines Basketball teaches the skills used in traditional basketball, but children must cheer on their teammates and work together.
See it in action.



Agree on the rules

Elementary-aged children are learning to follow social norms and appreciate clear expectations. Display rules for popular recess games on the playground. Set the expectation that all students can join games like foursquare and jump rope to encourage students to interact with peers outside of their friend groups.

Want more help building social skills at recess? Our professional development workshops help teachers and recess staff use games, attention getters, and other hands-on tools to help kids build social skills through play.

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