Supporting Kids at Recess Kindergarten and First Grade

recess kindergarten

While it pains me to say it, children struggle with recess. What should be a fun and easy time of day has recently become a time of day with constant struggles and ever-increasing recess problems. Children are more over-booked with activities and reliant on technology and so they don’t have experience with unstructured time. They don’t know what to do if someone isn’t telling them exactly what to do. They don’t know what to do if they are bored. Covid-19 exasperated this problem by isolating everyone and forcing everyone to keep their distance. Just like children need instruction in math and literacy, they also need direct instruction in playing with others at recess kindergarten and first grade. These are some of the lessons that I use when supporting my students with recess kindergarten. These lessons are all found in my Recess Curriculum.

What can I play at recess kindergarten?

recess kindergarten choices

How many times has a child told you they were bored at recess? Yes, it breaks your heart, but it’s also a clear indication that they don’t know what they can play at recess. When children don’t know what to play, or more importantly what they can’t play, then there will be constant recess problems.

Just like we introduce students to the areas in the classroom at the start of the year, we need to introduce students to the playground. Teachers need to show their students where they can play on the playground and then teach some games or activities they could play outside. I like to bring my students outside the first week of school and walk around together to all the different parts of the playground. We talk about all the different activities they could play in the different areas of the playground. Then, I let children practice this new skill they learned by playing at recess!

Includers & Askers at Recess Kindergarten

recess kindergarten

One problem that my students have struggled with a lot is around asking to join in play with others. I see it on the playground where they might ask to play with someone, and the person then runs away. When the person runs away, they might not have heard them or maybe they are expecting the asker to follow them. But without any information, it just seems like they are running away from the asker. That doesn’t feel good! So, I teach my students to be askers and includers. When the asker asks to play, the includer should say, “Yes AND…” The includer needs to include information about what they are playing when they say yes. For example, “yes, AND we are playing tag. Sara is it!” We also talk about how it feels good to be included and it feels good to include others in our play.

In addition to being askers, it is just as important to be includers. When children are playing, there are often recess problems because someone is hovering nearby or “won’t leave them alone”. Usually when this happens, it’s because they want to play and don’t know how to ask. I teach my students that good includers are looking around when they play. If they see someone standing nearby or watching them, they should ask them if they want to play with them. This is a great opportunity to teach about accepting differences. There are lots of ways to communicate and some students might not be ready to communicate with their words.

Welcoming and Not-Welcoming

recess problems

When we are teaching students about the different ways that people communicate, a great connecting lesson is teaching students about non-verbal communication. I teach my students that their body and face are talking just like their words are talking. Our body and face can look welcoming to others or they can look not-welcoming. I show my students different examples and we talk about what welcoming body language looks like versus not-welcoming. Great connecting lessons to this are teaching about personal space and making sure we give each other enough space, and teaching about showing kindness and respect to others.

Compromising and Being Flexible at Recess Kindergarten

solving recess problems

Children need to know what to do when two people want to play different things. Do you fight about it? Give up? No, we can make a play plan, be flexible, and compromise. Children need specific examples of what to do when making a play plan. When we compromise, we can either take turns or play something that combines the different play ideas.

For example, if you want to play on the swings and your friend wants to play tag, you could compromise by playing on the swings first and then tag, or you could play tag this recess but play on the swings the next recess, or you could both play hide and seek since you both like that game. When we make a play plan, we need to stick with it. A great connecting lesson is teaching student to be flexible. Being flexible is important in all aspects of our life, but especially when working and playing with others. When we are flexible at recess kindergarten, we are open to new ideas and trying something new or different than what we usually play.

Conflict Resolution

Inevitably, even with all of this support for recess kindergarten, there are still conflicts between friends. I teach my students how to solve conflicts on their own using A Bug and a Wish by Karen Scheuer. There are more tips here for teaching problem solving skills to children. A great connecting lesson is about apologizing and how it can help fix problems between friends. Children benefit from a specific script to say. When apologizing they can say, “I am sorry for ___. This was wrong because _____. Next time I will_____”.


Children need help with playing at recess kindergarten. They need direct instruction in how to play with others, what they can play at recess, and how to agree on a play plan with friends. If they don’t know this, then there will be increasing recess problems, and no one wants that! These lessons are all found in my Play Curriculum!


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