Skill Building Outdoor Games for Kids at School

Outdoor Brain Breaks for Kids, Recess Activities

Kids need time outside.  Finding the right outdoor games for kids at school can actually help to build skills needed for attending and learning! 

So many kids that I work with are sensory seekers.  They need movement and extra physical input. As much as they can get, every day.

Typically, their favorite “subjects” in school: phys ed and recess!  (With lunch being the third favorite!)

Several other kids I work with have difficulty with visual motor tasks in the classroom.  They need additional gross motor activities that help coordinate more muscles groups.

With either of these two groups of kids, recess is a great opportunity to address their needs.

During recess, I can help kids get extra energy out.  Or, I can find outdoor games to work on skills needed for classroom tasks!

The Importance of Outdoor Games for Kids at School

If you’re reading my other posts on the blog, you’re very aware of my love for multi-sensory learning. 

You may have read the Pyramid of Learning post. So you’ve seen how the sensory systems are the foundation for learning.

When working with school staff, I often share one of my biggest requests: “Please don’t ever use missing recess as a consequence for kids!”

I share this with administrators and teachers.  And I let them know why…

Typically, the kids who are misbehaving in the classroom… are the ones that NEED recess. 

[Click the previous link for tips on how to address behavior problems in the classroom.]

The kids who are misbehaving the most, rely on the outdoor physical activity.  It gives their brains and nervous systems sensory input that helps them behave and attend better!

Taking this time away from them can actually backfire.  It can increase the challenging behaviors.

Additionally, recess can help kids that need more practice with gross motor coordination skills.

Outdoor recess time is a great brain break for kids.  It offers fresh air and natural light. It’s also an opportunity to find outdoor games and activities that are beneficial for development.

Recess Games and Activities for Kids

Skill Building Outdoor Games for Kids While at School

My favorite outdoor games are being divided into three different categories.  The first is somewhat of a DIY category.  It requires minimal, inexpensive supplies and helps kids be creative in their outdoor play. 

The second category involves movement.  All kids’ brains need movement for learning.  But as noted previously, some kids require movement! 

[Balance and movement activities also help improve visual skills. Visual skills are needed all day for learning, too!]

The third category of outdoor activities shares coordination games.  Kids can expend energy – but they can also work on improving coordination skills.  (Skills needed for school fine motor tasks such as writing and cutting and managing their belongings.)

Low Cost DIY Outdoor Games for Kids at School

There are several quick games that you can have kids play just with chalk. These are great for balance / eye skills.

  • Use chalk to draw a hopscotch design for jumping
  • Draw “stepping stones” with chalk for a balance game
  • Make a series of letters or numbers for jumping and hopping on
  • Draw lines to use as a balance beam
  • Create an entire obstacle course with chalk (balance beam, stones, sideways feet, etc)

Games with just a ball. These are great for improving visual focusing and visual tracking.

  • Bounce and catch a tennis ball off a brick wall (wall ball)
  • Kick a ball along a path or to a target and back
  • Use a gym ball to kick off a wall (or throw it off a wall to catch)
  • Target toss – doesn’t have to be in a big basketball hoop – use cans, bins, boxes, etc
  • Four square with a gym ball- use chalk to draw the court  [click the link for videos / directions]

Jump rope activities work on movement and coordination.

  • Jumping rope – singles (kids beat their personal bests)
  • Double jump rope
  • Place on the ground for a tight rope balance beam
  • Lay it on the ground, jump side to side over it
  • Play limbo

Create a challenge for kids to create their own game.  Choose one prop or object (such as chalk, a tennis ball, gym ball, jump rope.)  Or have them find a prop!

[Amazon affiliate links are used in this post.  See below for more information.]

Outdoor Games for Kids that Get Them Moving and Exerting Energy!

I decided to choose some games that kids can also play while social distancing outside, if needed. 

In place of the traditional bucket stilts above, I prefer to use this style of balance stilt.  The flat side and the curved side create two levels of difficulty.  Either of the stilts are also great to place on the ground for balance stepping stones. 

[The Zoom Ball also works on bilateral coordination – click the link for more bilateral coordination activity ideas.]

recess activities, outdoor brain breaks for kids
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Outdoor Games and Toys that Work on Visual Motor Skills

Why not improve eye-hand coordination during recess?!  Visual motor coordination is needed for cutting, forming letters and numbers properly, and writing on a line or within a space.  It’s also needed for managing classroom materials.

[Amazon affiliate links are used in this post for your convenience. There’s no additional cost for you.  If you choose  to click on an Amazon link and make a purchase, Develop Learn Grow may earn a small commission.  See full Disclaimer and Privacy Policy for more information.]

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Leave a comment below to share your favorite recess game for kids. 

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School-Based OT

Amy Hathaway MOT, OTR/L, CIMI-2 is a licensed and registered occupational therapist.  She is the founder of Develop Learn Grow. 

Amy has 21 years of experience as a pediatric occupational therapist.   She enjoys collaborating with teachers, parents, therapists, administrators, and support staff in preschools & schools, as well as coaching and guiding parents of infants and toddlers in their homes.

She is married and has three children.  Click to read Amy’s bio.  

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