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 tag. Then, we re-design spaces and experiences to make inclusion the default instead of the exception.

Take a peek at our design notebook for ideas to try at your school:

Recycle Lines

Recycle lines: Pain a line for rotational games like foursquare, wall ball, etc. Kids line up here. No one has to guess where the front of the line is.

Design challenge: Playing with peers is crucial for social learning, but many students have a hard time joining in. Students who struggle with entry behaviors often miss out on opportunities for social development.

Design solution: Clear entry points let students practice joining games in ways that are not disruptive. When games are easy to understand, it is also easier for students to practice welcoming new players. Above, we’ve redesigned a typical foursquare court to include visual cues that make the game more accessible.

  • Paint or chalk a “Recycle Line” next to games where students rotate in and out. Make it obvious where the front of the line is so there is no confusion.
  • At the beginning of the year, do a recess walk through to let students know that anyone can wait in line to join these games at any time.
  • In games like foursquare or kickball, students need to know which way to rotate. Number or color squares and bases so kids who have a hard time with directions don’t need to keep asking.
  • In foursquare, put the server box in the first square so everyone gets to practice serving the ball, not just the players who make it to the last square.


Tag! You Are All “It”

How to play Sprout Tag: 1. Everyone is it at once. 2. Take a knee when you get tagged. 3. Watch the person who tagged you. When they get tagged . . . 4. Sprout back up and keep tagging!

Design challenge: Kids love to run, so it’s no surprise that kids love tag. But think about the design flaws in a traditional tag game. Often, the player who is “it” can’t catch up to anyone. Not only can this be embarrassing, it also means that no one else gets to take a turn tagging. Often, the energy starts to lag and the game breaks up.

Design solution: Try variations on tag where everyone is “it” at the same time. Here are a few of our favorites:

Recess Systems

Design Challenge: If your school posted signs for “days since last injury” and “days since last conflict landed in the principal’s office” what would they say? Scrapped knees and hurt feelings are normal, important parts of childhood. But when recess feels unsafe or when balls wind up over the fence, all kids end up included in the consequences.

Design Solution: When students use equipment as intended, kids get to keep playing longer. These strategies create more opportunities to include others in the fun:

  • Assign equipment to game areas rather than having students “check out” items. When the foursquare ball stays with the foursquare court, balls are less likely to go flying. Plus, kids get to keep playing and inviting others in even when the person who started the game leaves.
  • Introduce games at the beginning of the year and post instructions next to play spaces as a reminder. Clear rules ensure that all kids know how equipment should be used.
  • Share easy-to-play variations on challenging sports to create more opportunities to include beginners. Try posting rules for three lines basketball next to the basketball hoop or three lines soccer next to the soccer field.

What is your recess design challenge?

Thousands of schools around the country have partnered with Playworks to re-design recess. Get in touch to learn how we can help your school.











More Resources

kids playing duck duck goose
kids playing duck duck goose

April 29, 2021

Leveraging Play to Address Learning Loss ›

In order to help kids recover from learning loss, we must ensure their emotional needs are met. We need to prioritize every child’s wellbeing, and that starts with acknowledging that many kids are healing from traumas caused by the pandemic, including social, emotional, and physical impacts of COVID-19.  “When children experience stress and trauma, it…

woman smiling at laptop
woman smiling at laptop

January 5, 2021

Top 6 Games to Play Virtually ›

Many educators have risen to the challenge of transitioning their lessons to accommodate virtual education, and Playworks has been helping educators ensure play remains in every child’s day, even online. Kids prioritize play, and with our support educators are leveraging play when teaching virtually in order to keep kids engaged, active, and to build community.…

kids and adult doing yoga
kids and adult doing yoga

October 6, 2020

Using Play to Foster Social Connections and Physical Activity ›

Play isn’t just fun and games – it’s a vital aspect of our health and well-being. When we play, we engage our bodies, minds, and senses, creating opportunities for increased physical activity, learning, and connection with others. Play can even help relieve stress and support the development of important social-emotional skills, including communication and cooperation.…