How to Keep Students Active During Indoor Recess

February 11, 2015

The weather might keep students indoors, but it doesn’t have to keep them down.

For the past two years, students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have been enjoying the inclusion of daily recess back into the school day after being absent for more than two decades. Healthy Schools Campaign worked to reinstate recess into the school day by establishing the Recess Taskforce.

But when the weather outside is frightful, outdoor recess is not always an option. That doesn’t mean schools can’t find ways to give students much-needed physical activity during recess blocks.

CPS recommends that recess should be held outdoors if the temperature is above 32 degrees. If the temperature is between 31 and 15 degrees with or without wind chill, principals should use their discretion to decide whether recess should be held indoors or outdoors. If the temperature drops below 15 degrees with or without wind chill, recess should be held indoors.

Considering the average high temperature in Chicago in February hovers around 32 degrees, indoor recess is a possibility for much of the month. Even so, this year hasn’t been nearly as bad as last year, says Julia Goetten, a school wellness specialist who oversees recess and physical activity at CPS’ Office of Student Health and Wellness.

Keeping students active when the weather outside is less than cooperative often requires some creativity, Goetten says. She encourages schools to think out of the box — or gymnasium — and use some unconventional spaces for recess: auditoriums, classrooms and hallways, for example. “There are a lot of creative spaces we want to see the schools using,” Goetten says.

Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood uses its auditorium space to ensure all 1,300 of its students get the physical activity they need during indoor recess. Primary students watch and follow along with fitness or yoga DVDs that are played on a large screen in the auditorium. In the intermediate and upper grade levels, students split into teams to keep beach balls up in the air.

The PE teacher at Hamline Elementary School on Chicago’s southwest side transformed an unused classroom space into an indoor recess space with activity stations. At one station, students practice putting golf balls. In another, students tossed Velcro balls at a target. And in yet another, students circled up and tossed softballs to each other while other students in the circle performed a variety of physical activities. Students received rewards for completing each station.

Here are some resources for schools looking to pump up their indoor recess game:

No matter the weather this winter, a little creativity can go a long way toward ensuring that students are getting the exercise they need to be healthy and ready to learn.