3 Easy Tips to Beat the Recess Blues

The importance our kids place on recess is fascinating. Students cluster like they're in a newsroom, reporting the critical events of the day such has who moved their clip to orange or which dessert their mom remembered to pack in their lunch (here's hoping it was sugar-free).  Older students organize complex games of basketball involving half-courts and sub-ins, and the primary students chase each other around the monkey bars. If it weren't for the screams and shrieks of delight, an observer might find recess to be... peaceful.

But for some of our sweet kiddos, recess just stinks. They hate the sun, they don't like to play basketball, or they've just moved from Northern Iowa and have no friends.  Those kids have what I like to call the Recess Blues. And for those kids, recess can seem like an endless stretch of time designed as torture.  So what can we do for them? How can we support our students who don't like the typical recess activities, don't have a way to enjoy them, or who have a hard time making friends?

I give you 3 easy tips to help your students beat the Recess Blues.

1. Set up "Playground Buddies"

Once, when I taught first grade, I had a brand-spanking new student who had never been to school before. Never. Not preschool, not Kinder. On the first day of school, I sent the children to recess. Out she happily went with the others. During that time, I popped into my neighbors class to see how her day was going. She told me that she had set up her new students with "playground buddies", which meant a veteran student would 'show them the ropes' on the playground and be a sure-bet for pairing up for play.  I gulped. Had I been as smart, I would have done the same. But I wasn't, and at that moment had visions of obliviously waving this student into the lion's den with an over-the-top grin, "See you next Thursday! Don't forget your jacket!"

Luckily, she was an outgoing gal. But that experience taught me that pairing up a kiddo is a powerful tool for a teacher! It's got to be some kind of intense pressure out there as a new kid. Finding a friend. Asking for their hand in play. Kind of like asking someone to the prom, if you really think about it. Stressful! So take the pressure off and pair them up so they can play monkey in the middle with someone other than them self.

2. Teach some old-school games

Red rover, red rover. Let all the 80s kids come over! You and me, we know a lot of awesome games. Awesome games that our students are clueless about because those games don't involve pixels.  Red rover, cat's cradle, jump rope songs, Steal the Bacon, TV Tag - these were the games of yesteryear, and they are seriously awesome games. They get kids running like crazy and playing together! I love these games for three reasons. One, most kids don't know how to play, so you have to teach them yourself, which means they start out on a level playing field in terms of skill. Two, they are almost limitless in terms of players, so even the kids who weren't interested at first, but later become interested because they are so enthralled by the joyous laughter of their peers, can join in on the fly. And three, the rules are simple, which means they are easy to follow and they make it easy for kids to negotiate when conflict arises.

Oh, and four. You get to play it yourself when you teach them, and therefore can skip the gym.

3. Put them to work

Sometimes, a kiddo who is dreading recess won't say anything to you directly. But after watching them wander around the yard, day after day, drifting from hopscotch to four square you'll realize who they are. Those kids are the perfect "very important helpers".

You know those extremely important "papers" you've been meaning to take to the office? That time-sensitive note you "need" to deliver to the other teacher on the other side of the field? Why yes, child, you are the perfect person to help me with these incredibly important tasks that must be done immediately -- and during recess.

Of course the kicker is that these tasks may or may not exist, and they may or may not actually be important. So put on your best Judy Garland face and sell it.  Feeling useful is powerful for a child who is bored or in need of a recess activity, especially when it's something you're selling as extremely important! And what's better is that you'll get to build a relationship with that kiddo. When you're setting up your important 'job', it's a great time to do a little chatting about their interests, friends, and life. And when they've completed their important mission, they'll just love how gracious you are and how you are so appreciative for their efforts. "And you even gave up your own time to help little old me!"

Of course you couldn't run those errands yourself anyway. Your feet hurt because you already played Red Rover. Twice.

What are your best ideas for helping kiddos beat the Recess Blues? I'd love to hear about them!

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