Search form

Rejuvenate Recess


Author and PE expert Guy Bailey shares some of his favorite games to help classroom teachers make the most of recess, even when the weather doesn't cooperate.Included: Ideas to help increase physical activity for students during the school day.


The Importance
Of Recess

PE specialist Guy Bailey believes there are many educational benefits of recess and play, some of which he cites in his book Recess Success.
* Game playing at recess creates a daily opportunity for healthy physical exercise.
* A direct correlation exists between exercise and classroom performance.
* Game playing offers valuable opportunities to learn about competition.
* Game playing teaches the skill of cooperation -- how to work together and help others.
* Recess game playing can be an excellent platform for learning social skills that carry beyond the school playground.
* Through play, children can create a safe setting in which to develop friendships.
* Recess provides a safe setting for children to test their emotional and physical capabilities.

"I believe a minimum of 30 minutes a day of playground time is needed for developing an acceptable level of fitness. However, fitness development is just one of the benefits of recess and play," says Guy Bailey. "A recent study published in Pediatrics suggests a minimum daily recess of at least 15 minutes. The study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University showed that school children who receive at least 15 minutes of recess behave better and are likely to learn more." (Read more about the study at Daily School Recess Improves Classroom Behavior.)

Bailey is a full-time elementary physical education specialist in Vancouver, Washington. As the owner of Educators Press, he has written and published Recess Success and other books packed with indoor and outdoor physical education (PE) activities. His books are designed to assist PE instructors as well as teachers who seek to promote fitness among their students.

"A sound physical education program will compliment the recess program, by teaching children the skills of movement and providing a wide knowledge of play activities," Bailey told Education World.

When a school has a physical education program, much of recess can be devoted to free play. But in the absence of a PE program, a mixture of free play and organized group activities is likely to achieve the best result, Bailey advises.

"It's my belief that at least a portion of the daily recess be devoted strictly to free play," he shared. "Research has shown repeatedly that unstructured play is developmentally appropriate and a necessary outlet for reducing stress in children's lives."


Bailey is a strong proponent of small-sized games that maximize participation, rather than traditional large-group games. He prefers partner and small-group games such as Football Doubles and Soccer Doubles and offers some simple instructions.

Football Doubles
With cones, mark off a rectangular-shaped field about 30 feet by 60 feet in size. The two ends represent the goal lines. For large groups, set up several play areas and play multiple games simultaneously. Form two teams of two players each. Each player wears a flag on each hip for pulling. Designate one team to start on offense. The other team starts on defense, and places the ball in the middle of the field for a kickoff.

The defensive team starts the game by kicking the football off a tee toward the offensive players. One of the offensive players catches or retrieves the ball and attempts to score a touchdown by running it past the opposite goal line without having a flag pulled. The other offensive player (without the ball) blocks for the runner. If the runners flag is taken, the ball is downed at that spot and the offensive team has one "down" (or play) to score a touchdown. To execute the play, one offensive player is the quarterback and the other is the hiker/receiver. The defensive team has one pass defender (who tries to stop the hiker/receiver from catching the pass from the quarterback) and one pass rusher. The rusher must wait five seconds to pursue the quarterback after the ball is hiked. After the play, the teams reverse roles with a new kickoff (regardless of whether the offensive team scored or not).

Soccer Doubles
The play area consists of two cones (the "goals") placed about 40 feet apart. There are no set positions. Designate one team to start with the kickoff in the middle of the play area.

Two players are on each team. The objective is to control the ball, advance it toward the opponent's cone, and hit the cone with the ball for a score. If successful, one point is scored and the ball is brought back to the middle for a kickoff by the non-scoring team. After each kickoff, defensive players may attempt to steal the ball at any time to gain possession. Because there are no boundary lines, players can shoot and kick an opponent's cone from any angle.


The partner line games described below are modifications of traditional favorites. The changes eliminate the sedentary nature of the games, says Bailey, and the result is a higher level of individual participation, movement, and fun.

The games Partner Crow and Crane, Partner Steal the Bacon, and Push-up Hockey require two players; an unlimited number of pairs can play simultaneously. The games also require a play area with two safety lines marked approximately 30 feet behind each player. The two players start in the middle facing each other.

Partner Crow and Crane
This is a modified version of Crows and Cranes, which is traditionally played with a larger number of children. In fact, this game is played exactly like the regular game except only two children play against each other. The advantages are that the game leader can better match up students according to their running ability and, because players aren't swerving in front of others, that a safer play environment is provided.

To begin, have partners stand facing each other about five feet apart in the middle of the safety lines. Designate one player as the "crow" and the other as the "crane." When the game leader calls out "Crow," that player quickly turns and runs toward his or her safety line with the Crane in pursuit. A point is given to the crow if he or she successfully makes it to the safety without being tagged. Likewise, a point is given to the crane if he or she tags the crow first. After each turn, the players return to the middle and play again.


Increase Physical Activity at School

Want to make the most of recess periods and increase physical activity during the school day? Guy Bailey offers several ideas.

* Set up a walking program, such as "Walk across the State." Provide incentives as students track the number of miles walked. Invite parents and community members to join in.
* Increase available equipment during recess.
* Reward students with additional recess/physical activity instead of candy or treats.
* Encourage students to participate in such national school events as All Children Exercise Simultaneously (ACES) Day. * Sponsor a "Family Fitness Day" or "Play Day." Invite family members to participate in fitness-enhancing games during recess.
* Have students create their own games, including name, rules, objectives, strategies, and so on. They can teach the game to their classmates.
* Create monthly fitness calendars to send home with students. Encourage students to track their physical activity during the month and return the calendars to receive a reward.

Partner Steal the Bacon
This is a modified version of Steal the Bacon, another popular large-group game. The partners stand in the middle of the safety lines facing each other, about 3 feet apart. A beanbag is placed on the floor between the players. The players begin by exchanging a handshake. The handshake also is performed after each turn to prevent players from starting too early. After the handshake, players are allowed to grab the beanbag at any time. The object of the game is to steal the beanbag and make it back to the safety line without getting tagged (earning a point). If the other player grabs the beanbag before he or she reaches the safety line, no point is scored. After each turn, the players return to the middle, place the beanbag on the ground, shake hands, and begin play again.

Push-up Hockey
This "hockey" game develops upper body strength and endurance. Partners begin by facing each other about five feet apart in a push-up position (arms fully extended). One player is given a beanbag, and he or she starts by trying to quickly slide the beanbag through the opponent's arms (the "hockey goal"). The opponent can block the beanbag with an arm or hand. Players alternate turns after each attempt. One point is awarded each time a player successfully slides the beanbag through the opponent's arms. Because the beanbag needs to slide and cannot be thrown in the air, it's best to play this game indoors on a tile or wood floor surface.


On days when weather conditions aren't conducive to outdoor play, teachers can organize simple classroom games that offer some physical activity. Some of Bailey's favorites include Balloon Volleyball; Hoop Pass, Knots, Limbo; and Answer Scramble.

Balloon Volleyball
Students can safely play volleyball in the classroom by modifying the rules and using balloons and string in place of the regular equipment. Arrange students into two equal teams, with players seated on the floor. A string or rope is placed on the floor (or 2-3 feet off the floor) to separate the two teams. Balloon Volleyball is best played informally without most of the rules and violations of regular volleyball. Players start by hitting a balloon back and forth over the line. A point is scored if the balloon touches the floor on the opponent's side, or if the balloon fails to travel over the string. Allow the balloon to be batted an unlimited number of times by a player or team. Players are to remain seated and cannot stand up at any time during the game. After a while, consider adding an additional balloon(s).

Hoop Pass
Arrange students in even groups of 6-10. Give each group a hula hoop. Ask students in each group to form a circle, holding hands, with the joined hands of two players through the hula hoop. On a starting signal, players attempt to pass the hula hoop around the circle as quickly as possible without breaking their hands apart. Players should pass the hoop by squatting and stepping through it. The relay ends when the hoop arrives back at its starting position.

This is a fun challenge that's appropriate for all grade levels. Form groups of 5-10 students. Have players stand close together in a circle with their arms extended. When ready, each player grasps the hands of two different players on the opposite side of the circle. When everyone's hands are linked and the group is in a "knot," players begin "unknotting" themselves. (The grips must not be released.) To accomplish that without releasing their grips, players can crawl, step around some other players, and step over others.

The object of this popular activity is for players to walk underneath a limbo stick without touching it, and without touching the floor with their hands. Arrange the room so there's a large open area. Although optional, the game is more fun when upbeat music, such as Chubby Checker's "Limbo Rock," is played. Choose two students to hold the limbo stick about shoulder height. The other players form a line and, one at a time, try to walk (facing upward) underneath the stick without touching it and without falling backward (causing the hands to touch the floor). A player is called out after a touch. Have the players who are called out begin a new game in another area of the classroom. After each round, select new limbo stick holders and adjust the limbo stick lower and lower. Repeat this process until only one player is left.

Answer Scramble
This fun activity for all levels is a combination of creative movement, group cooperation, and problem solving. Arrange students into groups of 5-7 players and assign each group a specific space within the room. The game leader begins by calling out a number or letter that each group must assemble itself into using all the players. (Or, instead of simply calling out a letter or number, the game leader can pose such questions as What is the first letter in our school name?" or 5 + 5 = what?" The first group that most accurately forms the correct number or letter is awarded one point.


Many teachers wonder if competitive games that involve players being eliminated can positively impact the fitness of all students. Bailey suggests that, in order to maximize movement for all students, those games should be kept to a minimum both during gym class and during recess.

"Besides affecting the fitness levels of our students, elimination-type games often will result in lower self-esteem and confidence," observed Bailey. "Movement -- and play -- should be fun, and the recess setting should be an emotionally safe place for kids to take risks and express themselves."

The game No Outs Softball is an alternative to the classic elimination game.

No Outs Softball
Because there are no outs," this unique game provides lots of healthy movement. No Outs Softball is played on a regular softball field with two equal teams of 6-10 players.

One team is at bat, and the other team takes regular fielding positions. The batter's objective is to hit a pitched ball into fair territory and run the bases, without stopping, until the catcher gains possession of the ball and yells, "Freeze." This is the signal for the base runner to stop running and to stay in that position even if he or she is not on a base. When the next batter hits the ball, the runners start running around the bases again until the next freeze signal. Each time a base runner touches home plate, his or her team is awarded one run. The base runners do not stop circling the bases when they reach home plate, however. They continue to run and score until everyone on the team has batted. In addition, base runners may pass teammates when circling the bases. Teams switch places when the last player on the batting team has hit and stopped running on the "freeze" signal.

As a safety precaution, do not allow base runners to freeze on or near home plate. Instead, position the runners to the side and back of home plate before the next batter starts swinging.

Visit Educators Press to learn more about these books by Guy Bailey:

  • Recess Success
  • Gym Scooter Fun & Games
  • The Physical Educator's Big Book of Sport Lead-Up Games
  • The Ultimate Playground & Recess Game Book
  • The Ultimate Homeschool Physical Education Game Book