As teachers are preparing lesson plans, learning new curriculum, and setting up their classrooms, it is time to start prepping our collective classroom: the playground.

“Treat recess plans like lesson plans,” recommends a recent Robert Woods Johnson Foundation brief. “Like classrooms, recess needs a leader and a plan for organization, conflict resolution, interactions, and transition. Supporting children’s natural desire to play is critical so that they have the opportunity to engage in activities that will aid their overall development.”

Recess supervisors have an incredible opportunity to make recess a fun, safe, healthy part of the school day. Here is a summer checklist so you can hit the ground running next fall:

1. Map your playground. 

Think back to last year’s injuries or conflicts. Is one corner of the field always a muddy hazard? Do tag games always spill into the basketball court? Before the school year starts, mark spaces for popular games and spaces that are off-limits. Post a recess map and do a first-week-back walk through so students know their boundaries.

2. Check your equipment.

Kickballs have a funny habit of deflating or disappearing over fences. Take the time to pump up balls and inventory any supply needs. The Playworks “recess kit” can be a helpful checklist; these are the most-used items on Playworks’ playgrounds.

3. Set expectations.

Fidget spinners? Pokemon Go? What should students not bring to the playground? While you won’t know this Black Friday’s must-have item, you can get ahead of the game with a letter setting recess expectations in back-to-school packets. While you are at it, educate parents on the importance of opportunities for active play at recess so they can be proud of what your school is doing right.

4. Prepare your recess “lessons”.

Consider introducing a “game of the week” during PE class, assemblies, or as an option at recess. Introducing games throughout the year helps kids discover new ways to have fun (and get their heart rates up!). Here are 5 to start the school year off right:

  • Switch is a simple rotational game for students of all ages.
  • Foursquare is a classic with as many variations as there are kids; make sure new kids know a common set of rules so everyone can play together.
  • Three Lines Soccer is 3-on-3 soccer with a rotation that allows more kids to play.
  • Around the World is a basketball shooting game in which kids take turns.
  • Bandaid Tag is a simple tag game kids can learn quickly and jump in to play.

5. Practice transitions.

Lining up gracefully after recess can be a challenge. Consider leading a cheer (like the Banana cheer) or playing a game (like Land, Sea, Air) while kids line up. Then change the mood with a cooldown:

  • Volcano breaths: have students take deep breaths to cool down before returning to class.
  • Recess hats → Classroom hats: have students take off their imaginary recess hats and put on their imaginary classroom hats to create a mental transition.

6. Lace up your kicks.

New research suggests that playing with students at recess is an incredible opportunity for adults to build trust with students. Adult engagement is especially important for kids who may not have playful role models outside of school.

7. And of course . . . make a bulletin board

Post recess rules (or your school’s shared expectations), a map of your playground, how to play the game of the week, and anything else kids may need to know. Does your school have a Buddy Bench or a Peace Path? Include an FYI for new students. Share your board with us on Pinterest!

Be sure to download your free Recess Heroes Posters to promote positive play at your school by hanging them in your lunchroom or  in the hallway leading out to the playground.

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More Resources


August 16, 2018

Back to School Refresher for Recess Monitors ›

Start the school year off right by using tools to make recess fun for all. As we prepare for students to head back to school, we need to prepare not just the classroom, but the playground. Recess supervisors help make school a fun place for kids to play. The following are tools to make recess…

May 9, 2018

Designing an Inclusive Recess ›

How might we help all kids feel included at recess? Part of the answer will always be students who lead by example. But inclusion is also a recess design challenge. Small changes have a big impact on recess culture. At Playworks, we look at everything from the lines on the blacktop to how students play…

March 15, 2018

Recess in the rain… and snow… and… ›

Whether it’s snow, rain, smog, or cold, weather can put a wrench in recess. Playworks is here to help. This toolkit draws on our 20 years of experience on playgrounds and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Kids need physical activity every day, and they are healthier when they get to play outdoors. Fresh air, sunlight,…