Coach Karen in Detroit, Michigan shares her tips for a great indoor recess.

As a kid, I remember playing outside every single day during Michigan’s chilly winters. I would bundle up layer after layer, walk to school and play outside for recess. Unfortunately, not all school communities have the means for attaining appropriate winter gear for students during the winter.

Below are some ways to make indoor recess great at your school:

  • Find All Available Spaces. Get creative! Gym, auditorium, hallway, library, and classrooms. Find all possible spaces for recess and the days and times they are available. Is the gym available three days out of the week for indoor recess? Great! Find the next best space for the other two days of the week. Work with the administration staff to see which spaces are available for your indoor recess. Make it work!

  • Back-Up Plan(s). Perhaps the indoor recess location will be used for an assembly, book fair, or another special event. Always come up with a backup plan (or two) for indoor recess. It’s a good idea to be prepared! Communicate the backup plan with all staff.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make an indoor recess announcement over the PA system on days when it might be hard to tell if it’s an indoor recess day or when the location has changed due to special events. Sending e-mails or making an indoor/outdoor recess sign that can be flipped are also some alternatives. Post recess schedules near the cafeteria, recess door and distribute to staff. Everyone will know the plan and feel prepared.

  • Stay Safe. Be sure to evaluate the space. How many classes can safely play in the indoor area? Get a second opinion if you’re not sure. Provide a list of classroom games for classes that can’t fit in the recess space so they can still play in their classroom.

  • Keep it moving. Just because you’re inside doesn’t mean you can’t stay active! Adapt running games to skipping or speed walking. If you have game stations during indoor recess move around to the stations that might need a little help. No one needs help? Start a new game!

  • Consistency. Recess releases so much creativity and spontaneity, but this doesn’t mean we can’t keep the space and recess structure consistent. No matter if we are inside or outside for recess, I always quickly go over the plan and game stations. When I blow the whistle, students know to line up at their designated cone and that we will follow that with a cheer and high fives. I believe keeping up a recess routine helps children learn to take charge of their own activities and fun!


Guest blogger Karen Dunham is a Playworks program manager in Detroit, Michigan. She enjoys traveling, playing guitar and making art in her free time. Karen loves going to school every morning to spread joy and be a part of the play movement!

How do you make indoor recess great?

Looking for more tools? Check out our Recess in Inclement Weather resource.

Re-edited from a post originally published 1/16/2014.

More Resources


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…

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.…