Many elementary students require gross motor activities during indoor recess. It gives important sensory input so they can attend and behave!
The mother of a kindergarten student approached her child’s teacher regarding the available movement activities offered during indoor recess.
Her son was the type who really needed movement input during recess. This sensory input helped him to focus and behave better the rest of the day.
Momma wanted to make sure that her son was still able to get gross motor and movement input if inclement weather caused the class to stay indoors.
This child’s teacher reassured the mom that movement brain breaks were offered throughout the school day. And during the indoor recess days, she played videos so the kids could dance and move in the classroom.
But momma knew this wasn’t enough to meet her child’s sensory needs!
She knew her son wasn’t able to get the same input from dancing that he could get on playground equipment or from a wide open space. Momma knew he needed more gross motor movements during this important time of the day.
She researched indoor gross motor activities for her son. Additionally, she read a book written by an occupational therapist.
When she and I crossed paths, she had many questions and concerns for me (she knew I was a school based occupational therapist and wanted to ask me about what she learned in the book.)
I had so many thoughts and ideas for her right away, and was excited to give her support.
This post is to share the activities with you. You know I love another opportunity to help guide more educators and parents who will come across this challenge.
It’s truly so important to help meet the needs of sensory seeking children throughout the learning day. Recess is their time to get the physical and sensory input.
When the weather brings recess indoors, we are forced to be creative so that kids can still play, move, and have fun.
Especially important for the kiddos that NEED the input.
Why Gross Motor Activities Are Important for Kids During Indoor Recess
Recess is so incredibly important for all children. They experience the outdoors and can move in large open spaces.
During outdoor recess, young children can obtain heavy work input as they climb on playground equipment.
Their nervous systems receive important movement input while on swings, balance structures, and slides. They get powerful input when hanging upside down or spinning around.
Young children’s brains and nervous systems need this gross motor time every day.
Gross motor play nourishes the body with sensory input – the foundation for learning and attending (as shown in the sensory pyramid of learning.)
Sensory input helps kids develop body awareness, motor coordination, and perceptual skills needed for learning and completing daily tasks.
More importantly, sensory activities help calm and organize the brain and nervous system so that children attend and behave better. Physical activity helps with mental health.
So what happens if you live in an area where indoor recess is common due to a rainy day, cold day, or snowy day? You offer indoor gross motor activities that give children’s bodies similar sensory input!
Gross Motor Activity Ideas for Indoor Recess
Make sure you choose indoor gross motor skills activities that provide movement (vestibular) input and muscle / joint (proprioceptive) input.
Children’s brains pay attention better when they have opportunities to use more parts of their bodies and larger muscle groups.
The sensory input provided to the muscles and joints gives calming and organizing information to the brain.
The following gross motor indoor recess activities are grouped into different categories.
Scooter Indoor Recess Activities
Scooters are one of my favorite indoor recess games. Borrow scooters from a PT, your physical education department, or a co-worker for some excellent heavy work input.
Children can play matching games as they move themselves back and forth on the scooter. A fun game which also provides heavy work input is using the hula hoops; kids take turns pulling each other either on their stomachs or in a balanced sitting position.
- Sit on Scooter, Propel with Feet
- Prone (on Belly) on Scooters Pulling with the Arms (Feet in the Air)
- Use Hula Hoops to Make a Train
- On Belly, Spin Around in a Circle Using Arms
- Follow a Path or Pattern
Indoor Spotter Jumping Activities
Floor spotters are a great way to offer deep pressure and movement input for elementary kids. Set them up as part of an obstacle course or just in an area by itself.
- Jump with 2 Feet Together on Each Spotter
- Hop with Right Foot on Each Target
- Hop with Left Foot on Each Target
- Frog Jump to Each One (Low Squat Jump)
- Leap Pad
Paper Plate Activities for Balancing and Heavy Work
Paper plates are another great way to provide sensory input. Each student can use two paper plates, one for each foot to slide down a hall or around a large safe space. Use four paper plates for the hands and feet for bear crawls to a target and back.
For the inchworm, kids slide their arms first and then slide their legs up to the arms like an inchworm. Plank jumping jacks don’t require moving across the floor.
- Ice Skating
- Bear Crawls
- Plank Jumping Jacks
Gross Motor Hallway Games and Activities
Create or use long open spaces in the hallway for gross motor and movement activities. Have students complete these by choice and preference or make it into a game. Have kids play follow the leader using any or all of the following gross motor movements.
- Scavenger Hunt
- Log Rolls
- Backward Rolls
Gymnastics Movements for Indoor Recess
You will definitely have years when some elementary students like to practice their gymnastics moves! The upside down movements or the orbital movements are so good for the vestibular system.
- Back Walkovers
Indoor Gross Motor Games and Activities Using Floor Tape
Place tape (painter’s tape works well) on the floor in different patterns listed below. Create rule cards or have students come up with their own rules for each pattern. Or they can try to follow a leader’s pattern.
- Hop Scotch
- Balance Beam Lines
Heavy Work Activities and Racing Active Games
For those students who have excess energy, these proprioceptive games are perfect. Kids really need to exert their muscles when performing these gross motor activities.
- Pushing a Peer in a Box or Bin
- Pulling Another Student on a Blanket on Their Stomach
- Pushing a Peer on a Chair with Tennis Ball Covers
- Pulling a Peer on an Upside Down Carpet Square using a Hoop
- Crab Walk Races
- Bear Walk Races
- Wheelbarrow Races
Set up activities to work on hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills during indoor recess. Place one set of objects (bean bags) on one end of the hall or room and the other target (bucket) on the other side.
A small group of students can divide up and have team relay races. Alternatively, kids can go for time or race one other peer. Use a scooter or hoppity ball in place of the running.
- Bean Bags to a Target
- Rings on a Cone
- Stacking Cones or Cups
- Complete Puzzles
- Balls in a Cup or Can
Jump Rope Activities for Indoor Recess
There are multiple games that can be played and made up using jump ropes. It can be set up as a station in the back or front of the room if space permits. Jump ropes are also a great option to add to an obstacle course or to use them for balancing games.
- Single Jumping
- Double Jump
- Step Over
Gross Motor Activities Using Balloons During Indoor Recess
Balloons or a cheap way to provide extra movement input for kids. Tapping the balloon in the air above the head is a perfect way to help improve postural muscles in the upper back shoulders and neck. Additionally, the position of the head provides unique input for the vestibular system.
- Balloon Taps in the Air
- Balloon Wall Taps
Indoor Recess Classic Game
Use your entire class or divide into small groups for indoor games. Classic group games are a fun way to add physical activity and to work on listening skills and social skills. Be sure to add movements such as spinning, bending forward, backward, etc to give the head extra vestibular input.
- Simon Says
- Red Light, Green Light
- Musical Chairs
- Mother (Teacher) May I?
- Freeze Dance
Obstacle Courses for Indoor Gross Motor Input
Choose some of the previous activities listed to make an obstacle course. Have students create their own (with your supervision and approval.) Add elements for stepping over (bins, spotters, ropes) or climbing under (table, chair, blanket) or moving around.
Create mobile movement mats (like a yoga mat with a hopscotch pattern drawn on it.) Add scooters, tape, hop balls, etc to various parts of the obstacle course.
- Jump Rope Paths
- Yoga Mat with Hopscotch
Additional Resources and Ideas for Indoor Gross Motor Activities
Try games like sports charades, movement board games, or movement dice games. For the dice games, list 6 or 12 movement exercises; kids roll a die or dice and perform the corresponding exercise.
Check out 40 Core Exercises for Kids for great ideas that target improving core strength. So many kids lack core strength. These exercises are quick and easy to add to daily routines. This post has a free printable at the end.
For more proprioceptive exercises for your students, check out these 25 Proprioceptive Brain Breaks to Increase Attention & Focus. This type of sensory input is so powerful for the nervous system. A free printable is also available on this post.
If you’d like more easy movement ideas to embed throughout your day, check out 30 Great Movement Activities to Enhance Learning. This post shows ways to add the movement activities in your classroom or learning space.
Tips for Your Indoor Recess Gross Motor Activities
I’m sure you’ll have a few barriers when trying some of the activities shared in this post. Please don’t let them stop you!
Your kids need movement during the day. Recess is a great opportunity for this, even if inclement weather brings it indoors.
Space is typically the biggest concern for indoor gross motor activities.
Start by checking your building schedule to see if there are any large open spaces available during your scheduled recess time.
If not, hallways are a great way for kids to get movement and gross motor activities while indoors. But check to make sure there are no neighboring classes trying to learn.
Look into using a peer buddy system. Check with your administrators and your building schedules for free time and have responsible older students partner up with younger kids to set up, guide and lead the activities. (Under adult supervision.)
Talk to your parent associations and utilize parent or community volunteers. I know the parent who brought this concern to my attention would have gladly volunteered her time to make sure her son got the input that he needs every day!
Finally, have students complete all activities under supervision and ensure safety is the top priority for your students. Develop Learn Grow’s disclaimer states that you are fully responsible for your actions and the results of your actions. Click the link for more information. I love sharing my OT activities and ideas, but I am not responsible for when they are actually carried out.
How to Address Behavior Problems at School – This post gives tips on dealing with behavior challenges. One of the important points made in this post is making sure that kids who get in trouble are not punished by withholding recess. They’re typically the ones that NEED it so they can behave better!
Skill Building Outdoor Games for Kids – This blog post shares outdoor movement games as well as activities that support visual motor skills for the classroom. Find simple DIY activities or games for your Amazon Wish List.
Best Brain Break Exercises – This post contains a free printable with brain gym exercises listed as part of the exercise sequence. It’s a quick sequence that can be completed in under two minutes. Perfect for students in between lessons.
Articles Linked Throughout the Post
Interested in a Classroom Exercise Program?
I’ve had great feedback on the 8-week classroom exercise program. It includes core exercises, crossing midline, sensory activities for learning, visual activities, hand dexterity, and more!
It shares a series of exercises to practice every day for 8 weeks.
Use these specific occupational therapy exercises to improve:
Attention… focus… core stability… crossing midline… sensory processing… visual development… & more… Click for more info!