17 Games to Play on the School Playground
Recess is the time of day many students look forward to the most — and it might be the time teachers most anticipate, too. Having a block of time set aside for kids to play outside and let off steam provides a much-needed break in the school day.
You might need a few ideas for keeping all your students engaged throughout recess, which is where fun playground games come in. Suitable recess games help you capitalize on the various benefits of outdoor play for kids. Learn about those benefits and 17 games you can implement at your school.
Benefits of Playground Games for Kids
As playground games for students get them out of their seats and into the great outdoors, they offer many benefits for your students, including:
- Develops motor skills: Playing on playground equipment can help improve students’ balance and coordination. As kids scale a twisty ladder and walk across a swaying bridge during a game, they’re actively working on their motor skills while having fun.
- Benefits health: Outdoor play gets kids out in the sunlight, giving their bodies a chance to produce more vitamin D. Vitamin D can help students’ immune systems, and sunlight can even boost serotonin, which can benefit students’ moods.
- Improves social skills: While you likely have many opportunities for students to work together on projects and activities in the classroom, recess allows them to work together in a different environment. Playing with other kids teaches empathy while also allowing students to build camaraderie with their teammates as they cheer each other on.
- Boosts creativity: As you’ll find in many of the games on our list, playground activities often allow students to come up with creative solutions to problems or engage their imagination in games of pretend.
- Develops sensory processing: Encountering new sensory experiences helps young children understand themselves and the world around them. When students engage in activities on sensory playground equipment, they further develop their sensory processing abilities.
- Increases skills needed for academic success: As students enjoy playground games, they put their observational and decision-making skills to work. For example, when they play a strategy game, they must decide which choices serve them or their team best. Improved observational and decision-making skills can help kids in class activities and aid them in life outside of school.
- Puts classroom lessons into practice: Playground games let you as an educator reinforce lessons your students are learning in the classroom, but in a fun way many kids won’t even recognize as learning. Sharing, counting, patience, and other skills can all come into play with outdoor games.
- Improves classroom behavior: Many recess games test students’ listening skills and abilities to follow the rules — skills that would directly translate to time in the classroom. Recess also helps reduce disruptions and improve students’ concentration in the classroom.
Games to Play on the Playground
With a well-chosen set of student games for recess, your students can let off steam and come back to the classroom ready to focus and learn. Plus, outdoor play allows them to exercise and work together as a team. If you’re ready to improve your school’s recess time, check out these games kids will love:
1. Hide and Seek
Who doesn’t love a classic? You simply designate one student as “it” while everyone else hides. As the searcher finds their classmates, they all work together to find the remaining students. The equipment on your school’s playground leaves your class with ample hiding spots, making this a fun recess game that can keep the kids engaged for a while and encourage teamwork.
A close cousin to hide and seek, sardines is a game in which the person who’s “it” hides while everyone else tries to find them. Once a student discovers them, the finder joins them. The game continues until everyone but one student has found the hiding spot — making this final person the new “it” while the game starts over again. This game encourages patience and teamwork as the sardines stay quiet and wait to be found.
3. Treasure Hunt
Treasure hunt is a game that works well for all ages and allows for many variations. You can play this game with any number of students, so if you have a small class or need an activity to keep just one student engaged, this activity is for you.
You’ll need a few items to hide around the playground. Feel free to get creative with these “treasures.” If you’re playing with a small group, you can send each student after the treasure individually, but if you have a large class or multiple classes, split the students into teams to find the items together. The student or team to return with the most items is the winner.
While you could provide students with a simple list of the items, consider these alternatives to make the game even more engaging:
- Provide clues: Instead of telling kids which items to find, write riddles for your students to solve and uncover where you’ve hidden the treasures. This variation tests the kids’ problem-solving and reasoning skills. If they’re on teams, they can also work together to figure out the clues, boosting their communication skills. As they work through the riddles together, they might disagree about what each clue means. When disagreements pop up, they can practice conflict resolution and understanding others’ perspectives.
- Let each team hide the treasures: Instead of hiding the items and writing the clues yourself, give each team a set of treasures to hide. They then put their creativity and writing skills to work as they write clues for the other team. This alternative works especially well for older students, giving them an added chance to practice lessons they’re learning in the classroom while also having fun!
4. Four Square
Four square is a fun playground game that gets kids active. For this game, you’ll need a ball that can bounce, chalk, and a concrete surface.
Split the surface into four squares and place a student in each square. The player in square number one starts with the ball, and the game continues as each student bounces the ball into each other’s squares. If the ball bounces in someone’s square and goes out of bounds before the student can hit it back to someone else, they’re out. The same goes if the student hits the ball onto a boundary line or knocks it out of bounds without first bouncing it into someone else’s square.
If someone gets out, they move out of the square, and the other three players each get to move up to the next highest square. Then, the next student in line comes into the game at square number four.
The competitive nature of four square lets kids practice social skills like empathy and expressing compassion for their classmates when they get out.
5. Red Light, Green Light
Another one of the most classic kids playground games is red light, green light. Put your playground equipment to good use by challenging students to crawl across the playground set or traverse the monkey bars while the light is green. This variation allows the players to develop more coordination skills while also making the game more engaging. Your students will have to be careful not to get caught mid-swing when you call out “red light”!
Freeze dance is a fun alternative if you have a speaker and means of playing music. Move to a flat, open area and let your students dance out their energy — freezing when you pause the music — so they’ll be ready to focus once again when they come back to class.
6. Simon Says
Simon says provides endless opportunities for creativity. If you designate a student as Simon, challenge them to use their imagination to come up with unique instructions for their classmates. For example, Simon could instruct students to climb to the top of the jungle gym or go down a slide.
Another variation is to give students a creative theme. You might have all players cluster around the playground set and pretend it’s a castle. Simon’s instructions can then center around castle-related tasks, such as pretending to be a knight or defending the castle against dragons! Alternatives like this make the game even more fun while also flexing students’ creativity.
7. Follow the Leader
Follow the leader is one of the most quintessential school playground games. Like Simon says, it leaves plenty of room for variety and creativity. As the students follow the leader up the jungle gym, across monkey bars, or down a slide, they practice their motor skills and coordination. You might also give the group a theme to base their play around, such as:
- Out at sea
- In the woods
- Stuck in the desert
- Floating through space
- Climbing a mountain
- Caught in a blizzard
- At the zoo
Having your leader pretend they’re in these situations challenges them to flex their imaginations. Perhaps they climb through tunnels to pretend they’re in a cave in the mountains, or they might swing across a set of challenge bars to represent navigating a rocket ship in space. See what kinds of theme-inspired tasks your students come up with!
8. Pretend Play
We’ve included pretend play on this list because it opens up endless possibilities for games. As with follow the leader, you can simply provide your students with a theme, maybe coupled with a challenge or goal, and watch as their imaginations go to work. For example, you could set the scene by having your students pretend the playground set is a ship and challenging them to navigate that ship to shore in the middle of a storm.
Implementing pretend play in your recess activities allows you to take advantage of the many benefits imaginative play brings to kids.
9. Jump Rope
If you’re looking for more classic recess games for kids, consider pulling out jump ropes and letting your students play double Dutch. Jump rope is a classic for a reason, after all! Encourage friendly competition by seeing who can jump rope the longest. For playground fun that focuses on working together, have two students spin a longer jump rope and one be the jumper. The student who’s jumping can communicate whether they want the rope to go faster or slower.
10. Hula Hoop
Another classic recess activity is hula hooping! You might challenge your students to see who can keep the hoop up the longest, or maybe try something different and have them hula hoop with their arms or around their feet. Hula hooping helps kids develop rhythm and coordination.
11. Hula Hoop Relay
On the other hand, you might be looking for student games that put a unique twist on a classic playground object. Hula hoop relay creates a fun, team-building challenge using only a hula hoop.
Line your students up and have them link arms. Give the student on one end a hula hoop and challenge them to move the hula hoop down the entire line without breaking the chain. This game provides a great way to build problem-solving skills and encourage your students to think creatively for a solution.
12. The Floor Is Lava
Haven’t we all pretended the floor was lava and bounced from one piece of furniture to the next? It’s fun, gets kids moving, and engages their creativity. Turn it into a perfect student recess game by challenging students to navigate from one piece of playground equipment to the next. If your equipment is spaced out, you might give your students a little help by laying a few mats on the ground. As long as the kids don’t touch the lava!
13. Catch the Dragon’s Tail
While this game goes by a few different names, they all point to the same amusing activity. You’ll line your students up and have them place their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The student at the front of the line is the “head,” and the student at the end of the line is the “tail.” The head and tail try to reach each other while everyone else tries to block them — all without breaking the chain.
This activity will get your students laughing, and it’s also a great way to encourage teamwork as everyone tries to keep the head and tail apart.
14. Catch — With a Twist
Catch is another classic that lets kids practice their hand-eye coordination. Add a fun twist to the mix to make the game more intellectually stimulating, too.
For example, you could arrange your entire class into two lines and have the players toss the ball to each other while spelling out a word. Every time they catch the ball, they have to say the next letter in the word, encouraging focus. Alternatively, you could give the students a category — such as animals or state capitals — and have them name something in that category before they toss the ball.
If a student can’t come up with an answer when it’s their turn, they can pass the ball to the next person and embark on a challenge. They might have to walk over to the playground equipment and head down a slide or climb a structure before returning to the line. This twist adds a broader variety of exercises to the game, creating more opportunities for your students to develop their motor skills.
15. Riddle-Based Obstacle Relay
Another idea for an intellectually stimulating game is to create a riddle-fueled obstacle game for your class. Before recess, head out to your school’s playground equipment and leave riddles or challenges throughout the structures. When your students head outside, place one student at each riddle. Designate another student to start off the relay.
The starting student will have to walk to the first obstacle and work together with their classmate to solve it. Once they find the answer, the classmate moves on to the next riddle and student on the course.
Relay-like team games like this are a great way to build camaraderie. Each pair of students will have to work together to solve the challenges. Placing the riddles throughout your playground equipment allows students to engage in physical obstacles, too, getting them active and moving around while also exercising their minds!
16. Rabbit Hole
While many of these activities suit students of all ages or work best for older kids, rabbit hole is a student playground game perfect for younger kids.
You’ll need a hula hoop and cones to lift the hoop off the ground. Your students will try to climb inside the hoop — a task that gets more challenging as more students try to get into the circle together. Then, they have to climb back out when you give the call, all without knocking over the hula hoop.
This game provides a great way to build younger students’ coordination in a fun, engaging way.
17. Monkey in the Middle
The classic game of monkey in the middle works great for smaller groups, but you can adapt it to suit your whole class, too. Position the students in a ring and have them toss the ball across the circle — the larger the group, the tougher the challenge. The kids will have to work hard to get the ball all the way across the circle. You could also designate multiple students as “monkeys” and encourage them to work together to catch the ball.
Add another level of excitement to the game by putting multiple balls in play. This alteration works especially well for large groups. The students will have a blast trying to keep all the balls out of the monkeys’ reach.
Little Tikes Commercial Solutions
As you brainstorm fun games for playgrounds, consider how your school’s play structures can help foster an even more fun, active environment for your students. Recess is a critical part of your students’ daily schedules — it allows them to get outdoors and channel their energy into productive activities so they return to the classroom refreshed and ready to learn.
Every piece of playground equipment serves a role in your student’s recess activities, and the right equipment can elevate your outdoor games to a more creative, engaging level. At Little Tikes Commercial, we provide a diverse range of solutions to help you set your playground up for success.
We understand schools need to curate equipment that serves both younger and older students, which can be a complex task. Kindergarteners will be in a very different development stage from fourth- or fifth-grade students, so you’ll need to look for playground equipment designed for kids across age categories. To help you find the right set of play structures, we provide commercial playground equipment designed for various age groups.
You’ll also need playground equipment that meets the standards set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is why we offer accessible play structures to suit your school’s needs. And our inclusive designs go further than ADA requirements, helping your school offer meaningful play for students of all ages and abilities.
Little Tikes Commercial has been providing commercial equipment to schools and daycares for decades. We’re highly experienced in designing fun, effective structures to make your students’ recess time as engaging as possible.
Learn More About Little Tikes Commercial Today
Are you ready to create an outdoor space that serves as the perfect environment for your school’s playground games?
Whether you’re looking for equipment for a new school, you need to upgrade your existing playground, or you want to add new components to your space, we offer the products you need. Shop our playground systems designed for ages 2-12 or 5-12. We can also work with you to create a custom solution for your unique situation.
We know schools will likely have a tight budget they must stick to. If you’re looking for a playground equipment provider that understands your distinct needs and can work with you to fit your budget, turn to Little Tikes Commercial. We can offer solutions that work well for your students — and your allocated funds.
Contact Little Tikes Commercial today and learn more about how we can provide quality playground equipment for your school!