How to Bring Fun Back to Recess? Ideas Needed!

Hi yndeasykiz
Readers! Let’s help Bree! – L.

Dear fellow Free-Rangers,

I am thrilled to tell you that my daughter’s school is re-vamping recess to make it… FUN! That’s right, after years of cracking down on things like tag (no touching, someone might get hurt or feel violated), cartwheels (someone might get kicked), touch football (someone might take it too far and tackle another player), etc. we now have a new conversation is beginning.

It started with our principal asking parents how to make recess more safe and productive. When another Free-Ranger and I were the only parents who showed up to the strategy meeting with articles, research studies and statistics on the importance of free-play in childhood development, we got the support we were looking for to re-define safe as “Not actively/intentionally harming people or property” and productive as “Kids playing on their own without adult intervention.”


Now, we have two weeks to come back to the school with a plan and a list of things we think the playground needs.

Big equipment is too expensive, so no redesigning the play structure. But  we can think about getting small things like more balls, a boombox for music, hula hoops, etc. (cardboard boxes and duct tape for fort building…).

The principal himself even thought of buying some sort of targets to hang on the softball backstop for snowball season, realizing that rather than banning throwing snow balls, we should provide an appropriate outlet.

So, I am coming to you to ask for other suggestions, ideas and memories of your favorite childhood recess activities.

I’ve been asked to talk with the students, but the truth is, most have been so sheltered that they simply don’t know what the options are.

For myself, I remember the giant cement tunnels at my school. We used them as bunkers, and we also played games like red-rover and chicken on the top of them.

We also loved jumping off the back hill with umbrellas to see if we could fly like Mary Poppins in a good wind storm. (Umbrellas are not currently allowed at our school, someone might poke an eye out…). Oh, and climbing. We loved climbing. Everything and anything.

What are your favorite recess memories? What has been taken away that shouldn’t have been?

Thanks for the feedback! Maybe when all the kids at my school survive, and the student culture thrives, I can send our principal on tour to talk common sense to other schools around the nation. Wouldn’t that be grand! -  Bree, a.k.a. the blogger at Think Banned Thoughts.


Kids having fun of their own making. A radical idea!


140 Responses to How to Bring Fun Back to Recess? Ideas Needed!

  1. Stacey October 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Monkey Bars!

  2. Danielle October 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    My favorites were the “scooters,” which were essentially a wooden square with four pivoting wheels that you’d sit on and push off with your feet & the giant parachute. The kids hold on to the edges, raise it into the air, and then run underneath. 🙂

  3. Emily October 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    Wow! This is so refreshing to read.

    What about shovels? Real metal ones (trowels or whatever) that will actually break ground, not cheap plastic ones made for sand.

    Unless you can get a sand pile… Fairly cheap if you don’t worry about getting a sand box along with it, just dump a load of sand in a corner.

    Tires (if you’re in a rural area, ask farmers to donate old tractor tires) They’re great for climbing. Smaller ones are fun to roll and run with or stack to make structures.

    Love your idea of boxes to build forts with! How about smaller stuff to build with and a table for their structures? I’m thinking of twigs, pine cones, pepples, and several bottles of glue.

    I’ll be back if I can think of more.

  4. Kris October 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    WHERE is this school??? I want to send my kids! I love running up and down the incredibly steep (or so it seems in my memory of it) hill. We had to try to get up without using our hands. We played Space Ship and Martians on the monkey bar dome. We used frisbees too. And, of course, tag. Or we’d just make up our own races (Run to the end of the swings, turn and go to the kickball fields, turn and go back to the seesaws.) Good luck and let us know how it all goes! (Love the idea for the snowballs too!)

  5. Morag Lonergan October 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    My kids nursery had and still has a mud pit, instead of a sand pit. They loved it.

  6. Beth Kimberly October 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    So exciting! I love the ideas the idea to create snowball targets. Great play equipment, just as jump ropes, different balls and hula hoops add a lot to recess. If volunteers, staff and/or student leaders teach the children a few exciting games, this can really get the fun started! Check out for some ideas. I also like Pop-Up play pods idea. You’ll need collected items (cardboard boxes, old fabric, etc.) to reuse and a place to store those items, then give children a safe space on the playground to let their imaginations run wild! Here’s a great video about it:

  7. Kristen October 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    I remember having pieces of wood that has four wheels attached to the bottom, and a bunch of orange cones and we could make whatever game we wanted. Another good thing, chalk. Kids can create so many games with a stick of chalk.

  8. David Buchner October 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    I wonder where all the good old playground equipment went. Now there’s all this wood-and-plastic, color-coordinated, fully-integrated stuff — but all the old standalone metal monkeybars and merry-go-rounds and slides and such. I suppose most of it got sold for scrap. 🙁
    Does anybody remember those monkeybars that were roughly in the shape of an Apollo Moon lander? Golly, I’d love to have one of those.

  9. Hels October 24, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    For the winter play, I remember the following:
    – ice skating (the rink was right there, soccer field was poured over) or skiing (the trail was right around the field), it really takes only a minute longer to put on your skis vs get dressed for outside.
    – playing “war” – throwing snowballs at each other though I suppose given a target, we would play that way too
    – building snow forts
    – carving snow caves (requires big piles of snow)
    – if the weather allowed for the snow to form a crust (not icy crust, mind you, just more compressed snow), then we would carve it into different shapes with just tree twigs we picked up right there. And we would boast who made the best one.
    – building snowmen, of course

    That was for both boys and girls, and we played together a lot… In the Spring/Fall, I remember mostly the girly things. I think all the boys ever wanted to do was play soccer at recess.

    For the non-winter (though given the climate I lived in as a child, we really had only about two months that were really truly non-winter during school year, as we had snow on the ground mid-October through mid-April):
    – a lot of just running around chasing each other or racing each other to see who could get across the field or whatever the fastest
    – hide and seek (more fun indoors – more options)
    – different varieties of tag and cowboys & indians type games
    – jumping with jumpropes (individually or in teams, a lot of options there),
    – jumping with a stretchy cord that two people would hold around their ankles first, raising to the knees, and you had to jump in a variety of increasingly more steps not touching the cord
    – hopscotch, of course, several varieties of that
    – chalk drawing
    – ball games – the more tame varietes (and they may even be educational!) involved five to ten of us standing in a circle and throwing a ball to each other (we counted off to determine the order, in fact, count off rhymes were an entertainment in and of themselves too) while naming five things (be it five cities, five girl names, five animals) and bouncing the ball off the ground while saying the name, or throwing it around quickly while you said a name starting with the letter on which the previously said name ended,
    – playing in the sandbox – we used to build castles and populate them with Kinder Surprize toys, but those aren’t even sold in the US… I am sure there are other small toys to substitute. Surely for school age children they are not a chocking harard?
    – variety of Simon Says games that involved usually assuming a lot of weird poses or jumping on one foot etc.
    – badminton, without any court or net – just stand some distance from one another and try to get the shuttlecock to each other. We had a real badminton craze at one point…
    – trying to dance to some tunes – this was usually led by a teacher

  10. Kristi October 24, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    jump ropes, single and long enough for double dutch, balls, bases (like for kickball or baseball), tennis rackets and balls, chalk and sidewalks (hopscotch anyone), red rover, tag, obstacle courses with tires to run through, walls to climb, pull up bars, etc, freedom to RUN and explore!

  11. Renee Anne October 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    We had those old farm tires on their sides or half in the ground that we used to play in. They were also surrounded by dirt as opposed to sand so when it was rainy, we could play in the mud. Granted, that usually meant a good 15 minutes in the bathroom after recess to clean the mud off but it was worth it 🙂

    And dear God do I miss monkey bars (old school ones), swings, and merry-go-rounds (but I can understand why they don’t have them anymore).

  12. Amy October 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    At my kids’ school, every morning they have out a whole bunch of jump ropes and a boom box. They play music (think “Surfin’ USA) and the kids jump rope. It’s great exercise and gets some of the wiggles out of them before class starts. And when one kid thinks up a new trick, everyone wants to try to master it. All you need is a few dozen various length sturdy jump ropes (plus a few for double dutch) and some tunes!

  13. Violet October 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    My neighbor put a bamboo stick through the branches of his tree and hung a rope. That cheap toy has resulted in hours of tarzan swinging.

  14. Amber Kent October 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Jump ropes. Side walk chalk. Frisbees. Kites (have them make their own in science class!).

  15. mysticeye October 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Just a note about the tires, not to be “worst first” but you can run into bylaw issues if they accumulate water because of mosquito risks Don’t want to get the principal on your side just to end up with the bylaw officer giving everyone a headache!!

    If you can get some tree trunks whole (balancing) or cut up (jumping stones) that could be a lot of fun. Also if you’re cunning you can make a teeter totter out of a smaller tree trunk and a bigger one. Also smaller brances can be made into tents (sheets?), forts etc.

    Also you might be able to snag some hay bales, though they wont last forever. They’re usually $1 each more or less. (There’s also usually a minimum, lol, I sent my step dad to buy a single bale of alfalfa for my rabbits and the farmers almost fell over laughing, made him stay for tea and made him take three bales for free. What can I say it’s like $8 for a tiny tiny bag at the petshop)

    10L or 20L buckets from industrial food storage make good drums or stepping stones, etc. You should be able to snag some free. They’re used for shipping things like things in brine (cheese, olives), mayo, mustard, etc.

    Also try to get some areas of the playground left to go wild or plant some tall ornamental grasses the kids can play in. And trees, most playgrounds have no shade because of the fear of kids climbing trees!

  16. jen October 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    I remember playing the four square game a lot. All it requires is painting the grid and a ball. Lots of tag and dodge ball too.

  17. Nancy October 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    Here are links to a couple of websites with instructions for “old-fashioned” playground games we used to play “back in the day”:

  18. Slawebb October 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    when I was growing up there was always a game of kick ball and a game of soccer or football being played. We also had jump ropes and chinese jump ropes available to play with. there were 4 square and hop scotch games painted on the asphalt. And there was tether ball.

  19. Lisa October 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    I went to a school with a huge property. Part was just a big soccer field where we played pick-up games at recess.
    We also had a play ground with monkey bars and tire ‘balance’ beams as well as a 30 foot balance beam made from a couple 2 ft diameter tree trunks.
    I don’t know if balance beams are allowed anymore but I loved the one we had. Maybe a local construction company builder might donate one.
    From about grade 4 on, we would make forts with the old pine tree logs that littered the perimeter of the school’s property.
    And, something we LOVED was very simple- 4 square! a 6 ft square divided into 4 sections and a bouncy ball. You bounce-passed the ball to each other and if you didn’t catch the ball, you were out. The goal was to be the last person standing. All you need for that is some paint on a concrete slab and a some big bouncy balls- soft ones or basketballs.

  20. Susanna K. October 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    Those red rubber balls are great – I have many fond recess-related memories of those. A little paint on the blacktop and you’ve got four-square! I used to love playing that.

  21. Jet October 24, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Four square, hopscotch, and tether ball were always favorites at our school that didn’t require huge investments into equipment.

    Playing off the above tire idea, you can also hang up some progressively smaller targets for throwing regular balls (not just snowballs) through, kind of like the carnival game.

    Then playing off that, there are all kinds of awesome games that can be made from a few sheets of plywood and some beanbags, like cornhole. If you just provided some painted sheets of plywood with assorted holes cut out of them and some way to get them up off the ground, combined with some beanbags, the kids could make up their own games and have a blast.

  22. Lisa October 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    I work at a daycare, and the kids make forts from these blocks: They are really sturdy (more so than cardboard boxes), and we have several sets so they can make house-like frames with doors and drape blankets over the top of them. I also let the kids dig in the dirt! You can’t believe the uproar this has caused, but it’s just dirt! As long as I keep the digging in one section (so there aren’t a bunch of random holes all around), it has been fine. They also make little trails in the dirt to drive cars along. I find it amazing that kids come to tattle to me that “so-and-so’s playing in the dirt!” I always tell them that it’s ok, as long as they aren’t intentionally getting their clothes dirty and they wash their hands when they go inside.

  23. Beth October 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    This may be a bit different from where many of these comments will go, but what I remember enjoying about recess, and my school’s playground space, was that it was large enough for several different groups of kids to be doing different things – or, for some of us to find a quiet spot we could be left alone for a little bit. I say this as I think it sometimes gets lost, when we talk about the benefits of free play, that not every kid loves lots of physical activity, noise, and group play. I was pretty introverted, and while I could manage the constant group-oriented activity of school, I found it really tiring a lot if the time, and I really liked being able to have a few moments to myself during the day. It was my way to recharge.

    At one point – and it was basically unenforceable, so it didn’t last long – they made some kind of rule that everyone had to be actively playing with other kids during recess. I don’t know if that was to get us moving more, or some kind of effort to avoid “exclusion” or what, but I hated it.

    So, I guess my suggestion would be to look for some way to honor, or at least accommodate, the quieter kids in the school. Either a designated spot for quiet play, or better, if it’s feasible, to let kids wander a bit further afield than maybe they have before so they can find their own spot. And no rules aimed at inclusion that would make iti impossible for someone to be alone by choice.

  24. Bill Anderson October 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Whenever the weather permitted, we played marbles. And more marbles. Sometimes funsies, and often keepsies. Guess that isn’t permitted anymore.

  25. Frank October 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    I would ditto the four-square and tether ball suggestion. We played those everyday.

  26. Rachel October 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Giant tires are great. Anything you can balance on is good too. Doesn’t have to be very high, tree stumps or hay bales can be great fun to balance on and jump between.

    At my day care, the greatest day ever was when new sand was delivered for the sand box. It was a mountain and everyone wanted to make tunnels and attach sand structures to it.

    If there’s a steep hill available, it shouldn’t cost much to install a permanent slide and get a few burlap sacks to slide down on. Saw that at a farm we visited last weekend.

    It’s not as blatently active, but designating a small area as a student garden could be fun. Even if nothing actually survives, digging in the dirt is fun.

  27. Lisa October 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Ooooh, I forgot stopwatches! The kids love to time themselves doing anything! They see how long it takes them to complete a particular route on the playground equipment, or even just how long it takes them to run from one end of the blacktop to the other, and back. We also have a huge hill that we sled down. The kids can bring their own sleds, or we have about 20 that we all share. Also, cross country skiis can be great exercise, though they are probably pretty expensive. I love the idea of old tractor tires!

  28. ERIC October 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    I love this, I love reading the ideas. I help out a great deal at recess where I work. In a k-6 building. We have so many rules… Parents almost demand them.. 3 weeks ago, a student was running on the playground (GASP) he tripped, hit his head on the slide, and was cut pretty bad.

    We brought him in to the nurse, and called his mom so she could take him for stiches. When she arrived she was screaming, demanding to know who the hell was “supervising these kids” and “how could you let him just trip and fall like that”

    I guess her baby knew how to walk and never once tipped over until he got to our recess…..

  29. Mo October 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    Our PAC has a budget of $500 for recess supplies. We went to the gym teacher and got his catelog (US Games) and went through to find things we thought would be fun. We then got his feedback and modify our order based on what HE uses in gym class (durable safe balls that do not hurt when they hit a kid, etc).

    We got: jumpropes, hula hoops, footballs, and kickballs. So my suggestion is to consult with your gym teacher — if they use it at gym, then they can use it at recess. Good luck!

  30. Christy October 24, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Our school provides sidewalk chalk to the k-1st graders. They come up with all kinds of games with that, and right now you can get big packs of it for $1-$2 at all the big box stores bombing out their summer stock.

  31. Linda Wightman October 24, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    I guess there’s no hope for my two favorite games of competition with my friends: (1) seeing who could jump the farthest after swinging as high as possible on the swing, and (2) on the horizontal monkey bars, seeing who could skip the most rungs without falling off.

    @David Buchner, I remember those moon lander jungle gyms! With poles in the middle you could slide down.

    If it were me, I would nix the boom boxes. I found it very annoying to be forced to listen to someone else’s choice of music (and I still do). We are bombarded with amplified sound everywhere, all the time. How about just silence, punctuated by the sounds of happy children playing?

  32. Jespren October 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    My favs from recess were the sandbox, wallball, and tetherball.

  33. Melissa October 24, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Balls are a good first step. Jump ropes! And maybe some of those elastic (I think we called them “Chinese” jump ropes) ones too – girls will spend hours with this stuff. You’re going to need some of the “older” teachers to teach them the rhymes though – LOL!

    Tires, spools. Tire swings?

    Paint on hopscotch and 4-square if they’re on concrete or blacktop. Other games like that prepainted. Chalk.

    Maybe a few items to set up a capture the flag game – cones, flags. My elementary school playground was probably a couple of acres. We would set the whole thing up for a massive game of capture the flag. We’re 25+ years out of elementary school and we will still talk about the games where the girls beat the boys!

  34. Warren October 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    I think the thing is not to overthink or overdirect. Basic supplies like balls, jumpropes, and such will do. Once the kids realize they can be kids again, they will start to bring in things of their own, we did to make sure we had what we wanted.

    A word of advise, shop around. The school supply catalogues tend to be over priced. Going to your local WalMart type store, talk to the manager and explain what you are doing. I have found them at times willing to help, by discounts or even donations. Anything to stretch the budget.
    If you are in Canada, ask the parents to pitch in their Canadian Tire money, to help out. People usually do not mind donating that.

  35. Uly October 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    If the kids aren’t used to playing freely, a couple of books on active kids games will be invaluable. Klutz sells some on chinese jump rope and regular jump rope, and you can get bigger ones that cover more games as well.

    What do the kids do in inclement weather? Having some indoor possibilities besides watching a movie (ugh) would be a great idea as well.

  36. Warren October 24, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Sorry Uly,
    Unless the weather is of biblical proportions, send them outside. They are not made of sugar and will not melt.

  37. Captain America October 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    This is really interesting and exciting stuff!

    Back in the 1960s and 1970s there was a whole “movement” dedicated to bringing back more naturalistic and realistic play elements in playgrounds.

    Good ideas here. I like the principal’s idea about the snowball targets: I can imagine myself as a boy wanting to zero in on something like that.

  38. Captain America October 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    re: inclement weather.

    I walk my boy a half mile to the school bus point in hot, cold, rainy, nice, snowy weather. He needs the toughening up for future life. It’s good for him, too, to KNOW the feel of snowflakes falling on your face, or the splashing of rain puddles.

  39. gap.runner October 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    I remember playing a lot of four square, handball, and hopscotch during my elementary school recess. My suggestions would be like most of the others above: balls of various sizes and types, bean bags (can be used for throwing, tag games, or hopscotch markers), different sized jump ropes, monkey bars. My elementary school also had a big sandbox, rings, tetherball, and a large metal climbing structure with a pole for sliding down in the middle.

    I grew up in Southern California, so my school didn’t have winter activities. But my son, who was born in Germany, and his classmates would go outside and make snow forts or throw snowballs. They didn’t need any special equipment for playing in the snow except for their imaginations.

  40. Hels October 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    Thank you to the people who mentioned Chinese jump rope – I now know what the American term for them is. That’s what I meant by the stretchy cord things – we used to make our own, just ask Mom to buy a couple yards of appropriate material from the craft store and tie the ends togethers securely. 🙂

  41. Talyn October 24, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    Trees. I spent hours with my friends using the trees for all sorts of things. Bonus: You rarely have to replace them.

    Also loved jump rope and four square.

  42. Stacy McKenna October 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    I miss the swings the most. And metal slides that didn’t give shock you every item you slid down (though metal+sun=evil).

    But I also spent countless hours playing handball/wallball, tetherball, and Chinese jump rope.

  43. Eika October 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    My elementary school had– and still has– a policy: there’s a blacktop, which is paved, and a large area with some trees and play equipment and a field. In winter, you were only allowed on the blacktop unless you had snow gear, so at the start of every school year they painted a foursquare board on it. (They had to do two sometimes). They also brought in the (sadly now gone) balance beam, which was about two inches wide and maybe a foot off the ground. Basketballs, of course.

    Another idea: in elementary school, rather than dodgeball, they would set traffic cones up behind each team and the goal was to knock them over. Heck, traffic cones can be used for a lot: obstacle courses, relay races, boundaries.

    Sadly, red rover was banned as ‘too dangerous’, and the field was off-limits to younger kids (they thought we’d get hurt, playing kickball with fifth graders). But those are places to start.

  44. thinkbannedthoughts October 24, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Thank you all so much. I kept trying to remember what all we loved as kids – climbing, balancing, obstacle courses – and yes, I too sometimes liked to just be quiet in a corner (usually telling haunted stories to other kids…) and I definitely want to honor and respect any kid who needs some down time at recess.
    Love all these ideas and the general excitement. It makes me all giddy. Funny that something so simple could mean so much.
    Thanks, and keep the ideas and enthusiasm coming!!
    – Bree

  45. Sophie October 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    My daughter’s school has a box of balls per class, plus skipping ropes. Also a sandpit, play structure and painted games (eg targets, hopscotch, 4 square..).

    The oldest kids (11-13yr old) also run yoyo, yu-gi-oh and chess clubs for all years at lunchtime, as well as games in the hall for littlies on wet days. We also have a leadership program for the older kids that trains them as peer mediators in playground disputes, keeping an eye out for dangerous activities etc.

    Last but not in any sense least: one of our male teachers runs “rough play” once a week. This is mostly taken up by boys, and signed parental permission is required. Aside from a few careless moves at the start, no injuries!

    Best wishes!

  46. Lulu October 24, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    In winter, it’s great to take a run for it and slide on the ice. My kids did this for a week or two at their school until going on the ice was BANNED. Mini-sticks hockey was banned until the school could afford goggles for heaven sakes. King of the (snow)hill was banned as well. So is Pokemon trading!!
    On the edge of the schoolyard there was a 4-foot tall tree trunk, fat enough to stand on it’s own. It had no bark on it. It was fun to bring out a pen and write your name on it. Some climbed it. Some played tag around it. The grass was worn out around it because it was a good hangout.

  47. Melanie T. October 24, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    My playground in elementary school had rows of used tires embedded into the ground, forming a maze. We would run through it, jump over it, climb on them, and make games around it. It is even still there, after 25 years (and I am sure was there for years before we got there.)

  48. Mary October 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Aside from a big structure, our school has 4 square, funnel ball, basketball hoops and tons of grass. They also have jump ropes, hula hoops and lots of balls available. And I think sidewalk chalk for nicer weather.

  49. marie October 24, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    We used to walk the top rail of a wooden fence, “walk” a barrel (think log-rolling), and we fell off frequently…which was a huge part of the fun.

    Our playground equipment could not be beat: teeter-totters, swings with wooden seats so one kid could sit and another could stand on the same swing (more pumping!), a metal slide that would blister you on a hot day, and a merry-go-round that had spokes from the center so you could stand inside the merry-go-round and push.

    I loved the suggestion of making room for quiet kids out there. A fence to climb on, to sit on, to lean on; benches for reading.

  50. Nicole October 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    I like Beth’s point (and I see now above you agree:), to make sure kids with different interests are included. My kids are super active, one likes foursquare, the other liked soccer and football until it either delved into cliques (soccer) or was banned for “safety” reasons 🙂 There seems to be rampant cheating in games such as foursquare, tag, kickball – and while some kids either handle it or join in the cheating (e.g. arguing whether the ball was out), others cannot stand it and want something less competitive. Football was supervised by one of the teachers, who essentially was respected enough that the kids listened to him. We have a new company now where every single arguement is supposed to be solved by paper-scissors-rock, which kind of backfires as the cheaters still remain with a chance to win. But I digress.

    We had a bunch of trees and groups would claim them as their “fort” – I remember spending recess sweeping and just hanging out there. I did play foursquare when it was the nicer kids 🙂 I think my kids would get in trouble if they started digging in the dirt at their school. But it’s almost like it would not even occur to them at this point as they were never allowed to at school.

    But I definately agree with the balls, we find we need to have a new supply about 3x per year as they dissapear. And jumpropes. And I’m not sure if this happens at your school, but teachers have to do yard duty, which gives them little time for breaks and also while some are awesome with active kids, some not so much. So paying for “trained” yard duty can be a win-win.

  51. Peranting October 24, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Someone may have already sent this link, but check out the posts on Let the Children Play:

    It has tons of ideas for outdoor play areas that various schools around the world have done. You’d get ideas AND proof that they are working for other schools.

    You might also check for his posts on the play area he set up in his front yard for neighborhood kids for some simple ideas that would get kids playing.

  52. Miriam October 24, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Jump ropes – short & long ones. You may have to teach the kids the jumping rhymes that used to be passed down from kid-to-kid. (Cinderella, dressed in yellow, went upstairs to kiss her fellow. Made a mistake & kissed a snake. How many doctors did it take? One, two, three, four…) I remember spending all recess either jumping or twirling the rope for my friends.

    Bouncy rubber balls – for 4-square and kickball. If your playground has a basketball hoop, make sure there are balls for it. Tetherball was always a favorite too.

  53. Ann In L.A. October 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    I would have loved this as a kid:

    It’s essentially a big shed full of junk: tarps, tubes, plastic pipes, wheels, boxes, boards, tires, blocks, etc. The kids can build anything they want out of them. They also get to clean it all up at the end of recess–which is a great lesson too.

    And I know both of our kids would have been thrilled by it.

  54. backroadsem October 24, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    My favorite memories were: Tunnel/Tire tag (we also had the cement tunnels as well as a bunch of old truck tries half-buried in the dirt), running around the maintenance shed (another tag game), “working on the river”: during rainy season, all the kids became obsessed with digging through the sand to extend a river in strange tributaries throughout the recess grounds–no equipment needed, four square, jump ropes, Chinese jump ropes, and in winter, attempting to build a giant snowman that 100% of the time ended up with a single 6-foot-high snowball and a bunch of kids scratching their heads wondering what to do next.

    I also suggest checking out books on pioneer/colonial kid games. When you speak to the kids, that might inspire them.

  55. Taradlion October 24, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    At our school all winter we sled on an enormous hill (there ere a few injuries), but it was amazing. Loved jump rope, Chinese jump rope, and the swings.

    One of my favorite things to do with chalk is trace shadows, run away, and then come back and try to fit the shadow back in.

  56. PJ October 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Chalk. For making hopscotch & 4 square games and all kinds of doodling and drawing.

  57. walkamungus October 24, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    Another vote for tires — GIANT tires from earthmoving equipment! Arrange three on their sides in a triangle, then lay one on top. Instant castle, spaceship, tank, sailing ship, home base.

    My elementary school also had a bunch of car tires, maybe 25 or so, bolted together in a ring and hung from chains attached to tall poles, with one big tire on its side in the middle. Oh, the fun jumping from the middle tire to the ring of tires, and bouncing up and down on the ring in order to make the jumpers miss…

    At some point, parents will probably complain about the tires leaving scuff marks on kids’ clothing. Do not let the compromise be to paint the tires! Makes them *very slippery*. We were all better off with dirty clothes.

  58. Katie October 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    At my elementary school we used to have gaint tires to play on and in. (think tractor-sized) Sadly, they were removed when I was in about 3rd grade, because the school decided they were too unsafe. We all really missed those tires! So I would highly recommend them.

  59. missjanenc October 24, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    KICKBALL!!!! Nothing fancy needed except a ball.

  60. Emily October 24, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    How about a chalk wall? Paint a big area of external wall with blackboard paint, put out a few buckets of chalk and let them be creative. Added bonuses of providing a spot for quieter kids, and saving space.

  61. Steve October 24, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    I’m so glad “Ann In L.A.” posted the link to the
    SCRAPSTORE PLAYPOD. That is well worth showing to your school officials.

    Here’s another one of their videos:

  62. Heather October 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    An old post on this site may help:

    In particular, I like the various fabrics used in the dens, but there are lots of ideas there.

  63. An October 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    How’s this for “the olden days”? I went to an inner-city Catholic school and in the corner of one of the playgrounds there were these two giant dumpsters, directly under a huge billboard which I remember usually advertised cigarettes. It was attached to a brick building right next to the school yard. Around 2nd grade we’d have the funnest time playing behind those dumpsters, making it sort of a clubhouse, making doors out of palm branches. Once we found a broken piece of marble in the dumpster and pronounced it our “treasure” which we buried next to a nearby tree. The rival “club” who set up their clubhouse somewhere across the playground was always sneaking over to try and steal it. Boy, those sure were the days. No teacher ever wandering over to see what we were doing at all.

  64. lucy gigli October 24, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Allow for creativity of the kids!
    Like the fort project. Stuff that can be used.
    My favorite memory from 5th and 6th grade is that some how we came up with the idea of rolling a piece of paper up in a pencil and it made a “rolly”. then we took the “rolly”s outside and let the wind roll them around and we would chase them around the school yard. We probably made up rules to go with the chasing, but I don’t remember that. I just remember that a wholue bunch of kids were chasing these little rolling pieces of paper around for weeks!
    Thanks for helping me remember that.

  65. Rachel October 24, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    I LOVE all these suggestions. It makes me wish we could all have recess right now. How much healthier would America be if we all went out to play on our lunch breaks? I wonder what my boss would think if I painted a 4 square court in the parking lot?

    Digging was wildly popular. Not with shovels, just hands and sticks. We’d dig “traps,” carve out earth doll houses, make mudpies.

    The coolest parks of my childhood had big steel geodesic domes on them. They became everything from treetops to space stations.

    For the commenter who was concerned about water accumulating in tires and breeding mosquitoes: that is easily solved by drilling holes in the tires at ground level. Big tires lose no play value with extra holes in them.

  66. Gina October 24, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    My 2 cents: NO boom box. Kids need to hear the sounds of outside and each other. They do NOT need more electronic stimulation.

    That said: Chalk, balls, dirt, rocks, sticks and jump ropes.

  67. Bronte October 24, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    We spent a good few years playing elastics. We even managed to get the principal to let us use the gym for it so we wouldn’t ruin our socks on the concrete.

    Also some paddle ball paddles and tennis balls. We would use the outdoor benches as a net.

    Swing ball was good too.

    My school had about 5 acres of land, of which at least 2 acres was playing fields and another 1 would be tennis courts so we had loads of space which probably helped.

  68. gretchen October 24, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    I work as a recess supervisor at an elementary school, and have experienced some of the unfortunate regulations put upon schools and children.

    There are some great ideas here, but another important piece of recess “equipment” that shouldn’t be overlooked is a process by which students can democratically discuss and decide on the rules, as well as come together to problem solve (class meeting?). It is amazing how much safety can be achieved with any game or toy if the students are part of the process and the management of it!

  69. Lollipoplover October 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    I LOVE this post! Recess makes kids enjoy school.
    Here are my kids favorite recess activities:

    4 Square
    Wall ball
    stickball (halfball)
    jump rope
    capture the flag

    Our school sends them out in all weather and parents are expected to send in proper gear. Indoor recess is only for when there’s a downpour. They use the gym and play on scooters, basketball, dodgeball, even board games.
    Long live recess!!

  70. Sansha Johnson October 24, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    I’m making this kit for my kids for christmas but it is essentially old bedsheets, clips, clamps and rope to make forts and other hidey structures.

  71. CrazyCatLady October 24, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    Ribbons on sticks for twirling. I would go for cheap plastic marking ribbon found in hardware stores in bright colors, and then tape about 12 feet onto caramel apple sticks that have the points trimmed off. The ribbons get knotted easily, it is not worth it to spend much on the ones that will be knotted the first day.

    Tin cans with ropes to use as stilts.

    Balance boards made with a large dowel and a board.

    If it snows, scoops made from plastic milk bottles. Or, cut the other way, molds to make forts from, if they want.

    Bandanas. For all sorts of games. Or, tied into baby dolls.

  72. Heike October 24, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    Builder Boards:

    My childrens’ school got parents to volunteer to make these. The school paid for the wood; a contractor father offered his shop, and a few weeks later, the children had endless fun.

    Every day when I pick up my daughter, I see new creative creations happen – forts, stors, hurdles, canals: it must be THE best equipment to encourage creative play. Plus, the children learn a ton about math, construction, physics, cooperation… Just wonderful!

  73. Jenna October 24, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    All I ever did at recess was my gymnastics. Tumbling and doing tricks on the bars (and most schools don’t have such bars anymore). Oh and the swings (also something a lot of schools have done away with for safety reasons). I even used to do a back flip off the swings and no teacher ever told me to stop.

  74. Heike October 24, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Another thing from our school: cut up redwood stumps + some 2×4’s. Great for all kinds of things! The kids put the 2x4s on the stumps for balancing. They climb all over the stumps, make see-saws with the 2x4s laid across a stump, pretend the stumps are stoves, make a train out of them… Probably can be had very cheap, maybe even free!

  75. JJ October 24, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    At Quaker schools they intentionally keep things simple but from what I hear recess is still awesome. Mostly it is four square (you need four painted squares on the pavement and a ball) and capture the flag (you need a sweatshirt or towel) and tag (you need nothing!). My point is don’t be afraid to keep it simple. The less fancy equipment you give them the more creativity and leadership it inspires.

  76. Metanoia October 24, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Paint a bunch of different things on the ground – we had several four square courts a big snakes and ladders grid, different types of hop scotch, a big snake in a circle with numbers. It was fun making up games for the designs that weren’t obviously for a specific game. We also had a brick wall with half courts for different hand ball games.

    We had two different playgrounds with a large and small grass area and a full size oval, and 2 areas (one pavers, one asphfalt) with painted game things. I loved the cement tunnel and the different tyre swings and the huge old fort we had with ramps and slide and firemans poles and climbing things.

    I was really sad when the old painted tractor was taken away. I loved climbing into the drivers seat and moving the levers and steering wheel to pretend I was driving it.

  77. Adam October 24, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

    Nerf balls: all varieties. Nerf soccer balls can be gripped in one hand and thrown, which is great.
    Frisbees! (the best)
    monkey bars
    single rope swings where/if possible.
    high-ish platforms in front of sand pits for jumping off
    things to climb (ladders, jungle gyms, etc.)

    if you go tires, do the line of varying diameter tires half buried on edge.

  78. Gillian October 24, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    Hand ball – just a square painted on the ground next to a building, and you throw the ball and hit the building and then have to keep it in the square. Kind of like one sided tennis. I forget the rules, but anyway some paint and a ball sounds cheap!

  79. Richard Rairigh October 25, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    I remember a lot of games such as kickball, dodgeball, four square, and hide-and-go-seek. I also remember a lot of free play in the wooded area near the playgound. We found bugs, made things with all the natural elements around and just found creative ways to spend our own personal time with friends.

    We are current working on a few ideas in school with that same idea: (1) PlayPods, a concept we learned from the Children Scrapstore in the UK, in which we are constructing sheds and packing them full of loose parts that can stimulate creative and cooperative play during recess and (2) Mobile PlayPods, we have purchased a large trailer and have packed it full of loose parts and are in the process to taking to different locations such as parks, schools, child care centers, neighborhoods, etc and dropping it off (with a little training for the adults on how to have fun and facilitate free play).

    Hope this helps! Great job!!!

  80. DJ October 25, 2012 at 12:51 am #

    I went to a very rural community school for a couple of years. We had a play structure made completely out of old tires. The tires were buried about halfway in the ground. It looked kind of like a domino game, with big tractor tires for the spinners. The smaller car-type tires were buried enough to make the holes inaccessible, but the tractor tires were so big that you could go inside them.

    Because the tires were buried standing up, there really wasn’t any place for water to collect, etc. I do remember looking for spiderwebs, though, before going in.

    Lots of imaginative play happened in and on those tires.

  81. Mrs. H. October 25, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    Tether ball! My favorite.

    Also ditto on the chalk, although it doesn’t encourage much activity.

    In my elementary school, we had a painted baseball (kickball) court, and we used to have running races–start at home plate, two people would run around the bases in opposite directions and race back to home. We spent HOURS at recess doing that–one match, then the winner races the next challenger, etc. It was thrilling because you could tell when you passed second base who was ahead, but sometimes that person wouldn’t be the ultimate winner. Also thrilling because there was a pecking order of who was fastest, but when the pecking order changed it was very exciting.

  82. DJ October 25, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    At another school I attended, they had a big blacktop area. Four square was a fun choice. They also had an area painted like a blueprint for a house, with rooms and windows and doors marked.

    At my kids’ school, they love jump ropes, hula hoops, and four square balls. There are soccer balls and basket balls. My son (6th grade) often takes his baseball and a couple of gloves for playing catch. One of the teachers often throws a football for those to want to play touch football.

    And my daughter (3rd grade) and friends bring Beanie Babies and Pet Shop pets — I would think that somewhere for that type of imaginative play would be good as well.

    Teaching them some games would be good as well. I use “Games for Girl Scouts” and the “Cub Scout Fun Book” for ideas, plus others I’ve picked up from Scout camps, like Little Sally Walker.

  83. Nic October 25, 2012 at 1:04 am #

    Why don’t you ask the kids? There are so many great ideas here, but it’s so important to include children in the process to be really child friendly.

  84. Dulcie October 25, 2012 at 1:43 am #

    Why not just a big grassy open area? You could play kickball, duck duck goose, farmer in the dell, tag, tons of stuff. Because kids aren’t used to coming up with their own games and never got the chance to play the games we did, maybe one day a week a recess monitor could introduce a new game to teach the kids. After a couple of months, the kids could have a whole arsenal of things they could do to keep themselves busy. This would only need to be done for a short period of time because each year as new students come in, they’ll join in the older kids games. The older kids could play the mentor, interacting with the younger kids, teaching them the games and fostering the idea that kids of different ages could *gasp* play with each other.

  85. Sara October 25, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    We had a big asphalt area too! It had 2 basketball hoops and various things painted on it, like a big circle, 4 square, hopscotch etc. But the most fun things were 2 wooden platforms in a back grassy/dirt area under a couple of trees. They had steering wheels mounted on 4x4s. We could pretend it was a bus or ship or car or whatever. Good luck!!

  86. tired_triumph October 25, 2012 at 2:03 am #

    What a fun thread! I remember that I loved balancing and jumping off the low “balance beams” my elementary school had. I remember doing “gymnastic routines” with my buds.

    I also loved Chinese jump rope, monkey bars (perfecting “penny drops” from them), and any fort-like structure with a slide or a pole to slide down. I have this memory of us making obstacle courses too … using jump ropes, pylon cones, and various sports equipment.

    So awesome to hear about this pro-play free range success!

  87. Yan Seiner October 25, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    Set some basic rules (no rough play, no foul language, etc) and let the kids come up with their own ideas. All they need is an open field. Parents can provide some balls, maybe a couple of tires or trees, traffic cones, whatever happens to be laying around, and the kids will invent their own games.

  88. Rachel October 25, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    Could you please tell me where to find these studies that explain the benefits of “FREE PLAY”? My child’s school has decided to regulated recess which does not allow any unstructured time at all during the school day. I need more info when I argue with the boneheaded administrators!!!

  89. Jenny Islander October 25, 2012 at 2:40 am #

    1. Do not do not DO NOT

  90. Jenny Islander October 25, 2012 at 2:52 am #

    let the cat on the keyboard. Anyway.

    1. I cannot overemphasize this: Do not put written instructions on anything! If there are written instructions on something right now, pry them off.

    2. My happiest memories of grade school recess are of the days when the playground stretched all the way into the forested vacant lot next to the school. Digging in dirt, investigating the minuscule moss jungles growing in rotting stumps, and sitting under a grove of spruce saplings that grew so closely together that most of the rain and snow ran right off the top . . . wonderful. Obviously you can’t make woods appear, but consider asking the city to give your school a large log the next time they have to take out a tree. Or ask a local tree cutting business ditto. Park the log on its side on one side of the playground and just leave it there for about ten years. When it’s so punky and damp that even the wood ants have deserted it (watching the ants march in and out is lots of fun for quiet kids), have it moved out and get another log. Bonus if it’s a beetle-killed conifer, so that the interesting patterns the insects carve on the surface of the wood appear as the bark flakes off.

    3. The next time some non-game-surface asphalt cracks, chisel it out and put in a gravel patch. Let it grow mud puddles.

    4. Make a firm rule that unless the weather service is forecasting frostbite danger, heatstroke danger, or winds at or above 30 mph (the limit for a child’s comfort IME), all well children shall be outdoors at recess. Solicit donations for a loaner box for weather gear. If the gear doesn’t go back into the box, don’t say anything about it.

  91. Jess T October 25, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    Yes, build a HILL on your field! And don’t mow it! Let it grow wild, and let kids hide and play and dig and learn.

    Also, I’d suggest considering arranging benches, chairs, or other seating (stumps, big rocks) in various areas around the yard… Give kids a chance to group and plan and scheme and talk.

  92. Jenny Islander October 25, 2012 at 2:57 am #

    Oh! Cheap sleds: Get cardboard grocery box, open, flatten out, sit on it, lift your legs, whee! When the box falls apart, get another box. These are the best sleds for ungroomed short slopes because they will slither over almost anything.

    Oh oh! Plow some of the snow ONTO the play area. Make a snow mountain. Let the kids clamber all over it. It doesn’t have to be above shoulder height on an adult to be fun! Just be sure to make it SOLID and BIG. If you want to be able to reach a stuck little ‘un without climbing up yourself, make a snow range instead–long, but skinny.

  93. Meagan October 25, 2012 at 3:14 am #

    Check out the blog “Playscapes.” (Just google playscapes blog) It has lots of suggestions for budget playgrounds (mostly natural playgrounds) and “loose parts” playgrounds.

  94. Donald October 25, 2012 at 3:42 am #


    I’d like to donate a sundial. I’ll custom design a sundial of human involvement specifically for the longitude and latitude for the school of your choice. To use the sundial, simply stand on the month line on today’s date. Your shadow will tell the time.

    The sundial is painted on a concrete or asphalt surface in an area with sun exposure and will make a great addition to any playground.

    There are many learning outcomes associated with my sundial. This is still the case even if the children don’t construct it themselves! At the first glance of my web sight, it may look like an activity solely for children. However, the sundial can be constructed in a few hours by teachers or parents.

    For a further explanation of my sundial, please see my web sight

    I’m looking forward to your reply

  95. Ann October 25, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    4-square was the big one for us! You could paint the squares on the cement so there is always a place to play. Definitely get jump ropes – both single ropes and double dutch length.

  96. ValerieH October 25, 2012 at 4:09 am #

    At my grammar school on 70’s, older kids were play leaders. We played organized games with the younger kids.

  97. fighting for my children October 25, 2012 at 4:51 am #

    four square, numbers in the squares-jumping from # to number, cant remember what its called but same thing with letters. Hopscotch. All thats required is a little paint and tetherball.

  98. Jenny October 25, 2012 at 4:56 am #

    -Kick Ball (third grade – every day kick ball.)
    -Tether ball was pretty good too.
    -Orange cones – tons of them, the kids will do stuff with them.
    -Sidewalk chalk, pounds of it (hop scotch)
    -Jump ropes
    -4 square (rubber kick ball and chalk)

  99. fighting for my children October 25, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    Stella della ova mostly a girls game I think.
    Skipping games. skipping rhymes,

  100. CathPrisk October 25, 2012 at 5:45 am #

    Loose parts are key, but just developing the philosophy as you’ve clearly started is going to reap dividends.

    Check out this blog I contributed to the ‘Purpose of Education’ debate earlier this year:

    Includes links to Scrapstore Playpods mentioned by some others and examples of schools that have seen the light and seen the massive benefits in terms of behaviour, attendance, creativity and readiness to learn.

    Also for early years just check out Teacher Tom in another part of the States. Just lovely playful practice.

    Great to read the input on here!

    Good luck!

  101. fighting for my children October 25, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    The old what time is it Mr Wolf and red rover etc.

  102. fighting for my children October 25, 2012 at 6:16 am #

    freeze tag, grounders ( stay on the playground equipment and the “it” has to stay on the ground and close their eyes and try to tag u)

  103. Donald October 25, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    My offer is good for Bree as well as Lenore

    I’ll donate an analemmatic sundial. Please see my other post. The blog won’t let me post the website link again

  104. Nicole October 25, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    I substitute teach, so I see lots of different recess situations. You can’t have too many balls (all sizes) – we always run out of those. And jump ropes are popular as well. Hula Hoops are fabulous – inexpensive, and they are for way more than actually spinning them around your waist – kids use them as targets, bases, boundaries, etc. I second the chalk if you’ve got blacktop, and the stopwatches mentioned above would be a neat idea as well. And what about something for kids in quieter moods – a few sets of jacks, maybe?

    You also need some sort of system for doling out all these toys – so they don’t just always go to the pushiest kids. Reward tickets from their teachers for first choice, people with names A-L choose first on odd days and M-Z on evens, or ask the kids for suggestions beforhand – just something set up to head off a mad stampede every day.

  105. Bernard October 25, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Boombox!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I taught school for 15 years. I still miss it. We had recess back then. . . As a special ed teacher I also chose when the children needed an extra recess. What I miss most are children’s HAPPY NOISES. They need artificial sounds (boombox) as much as they need adult interference in play. What they need from us is the standard play equipment and to be left to their own wise counsel and devises. Those who have lost play as a reality will soon get it back. Their antennae for regaining mental health are a lot more attuned to what is real and healthy than ours are.

    A quote to be considered:

    The understanding of atomic physics is child play compared to the understanding of child play – David Kresh, American poet (1940-2006)

  106. Kym October 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    favorite recess activities when I was in school (before they put in a wonderful tire playground that spanned two hills they added) were tetherball, jump rope games, and hopscotch. Right up until we graduated to middle school, we played hopscotch and jump rope games of all kinds. All that’s needed is sidewalk chalk and markers for hopscotch, and jump ropes. And someone who can teach kids how to play since they probably don’t know! Tetherball was a favorite and the equipment wouldn’t cost much – a well-anchored pole with a volleyball and rope or chain. I grew up in Canada and now live in the eastern US, and have found that almost none of my American friends have even heard of tetherball. Here’s a link that explains it if you’re not familiar with it –

  107. Amanda October 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Unicycles, pogo sticks, stilts, glider planes, kites…

    What are those bouncy balls called where the child sits on it and bounces? We used to have races with those.

    If there’s a hill & it snows there, a multi-person toboggan is fun. Or 2 for races.

  108. Uly October 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Warren, I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like going out in the rain and then having to sit down for several more hours in wet clothes and shoes. Inclement means just that – inclement. I don’t know what you think it means, but to me, more than a drizzle is something that I don’t want to be forced into. (Allowed to play in… maybe. Forced to? Not so much.) It’s no crime to have options for children for days that really are bad weather days.

    Unless perhaps you live somewhere where the weather is always nice?

  109. Captain America October 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    . . . my son calls them “bouncy balls.”

  110. Taradlion October 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Hippity Hop.

  111. Laura Marks October 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Four-square is *hugely* popular at my kids’ elementary school, where so far 2 kids have broken their arms but to my knowledge this is being treated as “kids sometimes fall and get hurt” rather than “OMG ban the play structure.”

    The kids love to play four square, they make up their own rules, and they only need chalk and a ball. So I will, I don’t know, 25th the sentiment. 🙂

  112. Elizabeth October 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Foursquare and tetherball are the ones I remember best. Foursquare is practically free (just need blacktop and some paint) and tetherball is not very expensive either.

    Also – a few of those huge wooden spools that cable comes on. We had several of those in my neighborhood, stacked two high (bolted together so they wouldn’t fall over) and arranged in a circle. They served as everything from fairy castle to apartment building to fort, depending on who was doing the pretending.

  113. Heidi October 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Swings! I hardly see swings anymore. We used to see how far we could jump off of them when swinging, and I went to a school with a desert, weedy, thorny, no grass playground. We also played giant games of sharks and minnows, had a sand pit, and we all loved the two four square games painted onto the parking lot blacktop.

  114. Brandy October 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    We had a couple of four square courts painted on the tar and we LOVED them! Easy to do and inexpensive!

  115. Jenny Islander October 25, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Spools–oh, I’d forgotten those! I live in a fishing town, so the big spools for cable and so forth are easy to get. Also tetherball, yes yes, so much fun–there were tons of games we could play with them.

    For the kids who aren’t into team-ish things, authorize the flying of paper airplanes outdoors as long as they are picked up afterward.

    It seems like a weird intrusion into the culture of childhood to have kids check out yo-yos, jacks, superballs, etc., but these days it may come to that; kids are more likely to have some beepy flashy thing than they are to have toys that can survive being dropped in a puddle.

  116. Stacey October 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    At my kid’s school, the different types of balls are popular – ie soccer, football – ones for specific sports. They have a big field and they play sports (no adult involvement) a lot of the time. It’s supposed to be touch football but a lot of times they wind up tackling a little (no one really minds). I think some belts of football flags (that are on a waistband, and you pull the flag off) would be good if they wanted to minimize the tackling.

  117. Stacey October 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Oh, another thing – most of the smaller items, including balls, jump ropes, bouncy balls etc can all be gotten for free just by putting out a call to the parents. Many parents will be so happy to see recess come back, they would love to bring in a jump rope or ball or something.

  118. lsl October 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet is jacks. Also, my school, & most of the schools I’ve substituted at, had a map of the USA & a state map of counties painted on the sidewalk. We’d quiz each other on them by having to jump them in alphabetical order or as called by another student. We also had some of the obstacles for the bike rodeo painted on the ground, & we used all of them, even without bikes. One I remember was we would play a variation of 2-square on the figure 8 from the bike obstacle course. We called it “Super 8s” & you would try to see how high you could bounce the ball, but still with enough control that the other person could catch it.

  119. thinkbannedthoughts October 25, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    I LOVE this group.
    Thank you all so much. What wonderful ideas and enthusiasm. I agree with one of the @Rachel’s above – it makes me want to start recess for grownups!!
    And to possibly the same, or possibly a different @Rachel above – studies on the importance of free play for children:
    There’s a great new book out for parents of younger kids called It’s Okay not to Share by Heather Schumaker (might have spelled her last name incorrectly) geared toward parents of younger kids, but it had some great studies and info in an accessible manner. I left my copy with the principal after our first recess meeting.
    A quick Google search also brought me to this, which seems amazing and extensive and I can see getting lost in this rabbit hole for days –
    Thank you all again. Keep the ideas coming and I promise to update Lenore, and hopefully all of you, with the results of this wonderful experiment in letting kids be kids again!
    – Bree

  120. Terri B October 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    I remember kickball, football (tackle!), baseball, dodgeball, soccer… we had monkeybars, four square, hopscotch, jump ropes… recess was the best part of the day. I want to be 7 again…

  121. SaraC October 25, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Oh gosh, so many to read! Has anyone mentioned “Butt’s Up?” We played it against a big, brick church wall with a raquet ball. Four square was huge as well, and Marco Polo on a big monkey bar structure.

  122. Matt in GA October 25, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Four square! Four square! Four Square!

    I loved it as a kid, and I love that kids are still playing it. All it takes is a ball and four squares on the ground (painted or even drawn in chalk or marked with masking tape).

    When I was young, we played it with a tennis ball. Kids these days tend to use those rubber playground “bouncy balls”, which also work for kickball, dodgeball, and wall ball.

  123. Really Bad Mum October 25, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    A big sand pit with shovels and buckets.

  124. Janis October 25, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    Debbie Downer here with a Word of advice expect the kids not to touch anything and if they do not to know how to use it. In the community where we use to live the kids knew video games, tv shows, and structured sports but had no clue what or how to play Red Rover, Tag, clueless on how to use the scooters or refused to use them, had zero clues on how to build a fort, throw in a culture that kills imagination they did not know how to make up games on their own and were too afraid of germs to play in the dirt. we tried for a year all 4 seasons but the kids never got the hang of it and ended up not coming over b/c I did not allow tv or video games when friends were over.

    That said a box of jump ropes with print outs of double dutch songs, a box of fort building supplies with general ideas on a post card on how to build a fort, a jar papers that the kids pull one out to choose the game of the day with instruction on how to play it, a large bin of balls again with tags attached to the bin with all different ideas of how to play various games with the balls. Eventually it will start to wake up their creative side and imagination so that next year you can add other things that might cost more and know it will not gather dust b/c the kids will be able to think independently.

  125. Amanda October 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    I skipped all the comments for lack of time. Just letting you know in case my suggestions have already been offered!

    We had donated tractor tires on our playground. They made awesome forts and were a good place to hide from the wind in cold days. A bit of paint makes a great foursquare court, kickball/baseball field, and hopscotch squares. More balls is a great idea. You can do so much with a ball, and they always seem to be in short supply! Jump ropes are great too.

  126. Kim October 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    someone may have posted this already but this is my favorite idea:

  127. Lauren October 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    We used to love playing foursquare. All you need is a bouncy ball and a painted outline of 4 squares. We also had tetherballs, but that may seem too dangerous nowadays. As someone who has been hit in the head numerous times by basketballs and volley balls, you will survive!

  128. Jenn October 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    The school I teach at has a variety of lines painted onto pavement for games (hopskotch, four square, checkers) or creative play (line tag, mazes) or just use your imagination to do something with those lines. We also have an `outdoor classroom’ with large rocks for sitting, jumping off, or playing games. Some schools have checkerboards printed on them. The rocks are expensive and there are (sigh) policies about how close together or far apart they need to be, plus the radius needs to be a soft ground surface but they have added to our school yard to encourage outdoor free play. We’ve also trained some older students as leaders to teach younger students how to play games we all seem to remember from our childhood.

  129. Lisa October 26, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    If you have pavement like my elementary school in Queens, NY had (no playground equipment on school property in the 70’s) paint lots of games! Hopscotch, four square..I remember a game I think was calles “Scully” with bottlecaps and having to flick them from one numbered space to another. I’m sure dollar store checkers could be used. Google “old time games:” or playground games” and stuff like that should come up. I agree about miscellaneous balls and jump ropes as well.

  130. Matt L October 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    FOAM POOL NOODLES- Use these to tag instead of hands. If needed, tell children to tag waist and below. You can also cut them up and use pieces for games like steal the bacon, capture the flag, and pirates.

    PLASTIC GROCERY BAGS/TEXTILE SCRAPS- Simply put one in your pocket with half sticking out and try not to lose it to other team/enemy/tagger.

    CONES,ROPE,BASES- Visual markers for kids making up their own games. There’s usually less “but I am not out.” if there are easy to see boundaries.

    2 LITER BOTTLES- Clean, fill with water and food dye and presto! Now you have bowling pins.

    SMALLER PLASTIC BOTTLES- Fill these with rice and random objects that will fit inside. See who can find all the objects. ( We hotglued the caps to prevent cheating). Of course some small tupperware could hold some rice and the kids could make their own. Can also be filled with oil and water and water and soap.

  131. Matt L October 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    GUITAR AMP- A 15 watt guitar amp is inexpensive and can go louder than many boomboxes in store. You just need an mp3 player, the adapter to fit in where you usually plug in your guitar, and an 2.5 mm audio cable to connect it all together. This all costs less than 50 dollars and I’ve yet to find a boombox to match in sound and price.

    Yes, you would need extension cords for outside play. They do make battery powered amps, but they cost a bit more.

  132. Nursey October 27, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    “Cinderella dressed in yella went downtown to catch a fella”…. aaaaahhh…. jump rope songs….. we didn’t have BOOM BOXES! We made our own “music” by making up little rhymes to go with our jumping.

    Sand boxes! I could play for HOURS and the only limit is the imagination.

  133. Sky October 27, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    My favorite playground games as a kid were Red Rover, hopscotch, and my all time favorite – hot lava tag. (Playgrounds are not well designed for hot lava tag these days, though, as everything is too spread out).

    Because my children’s school has no playground, the school just keeps tons of hula hoops, balls (soccer and basketballs and kickballs) and jump ropes. The kids can play on the sidewalk beside/in front of the school or in a huge grass field on the other side of the parking lot. They also play hopscotch. Apparently the most popular recess activity, though, is collecting sticks from the edge of the field, seeing who can get the most, and piling them up into a large pile. Go figure.

  134. Dan October 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    My favorite games was “the dark room”, we used turn off the lights and hide inside the room, then one of use enters the room and starts searching for us in the darkness, he should also recognize the person he found otherwise he will need find us the second round, I remember that the room turned to mess as well as the closet and the beds, My mom used to get so so angry at the end she limited the spaces where we can hide, which made the whole game uninteresting …

  135. Christy October 29, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    Tetherball and four square were my favorite! Not much equipment required at all. I also loved jump ropes. This play ground sounds fun– I wanna play and send my kids there too!

  136. Ed October 30, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    Kickball!! (In my home town we called it “diamondball”) All it takes is a ball and a baseball diamond painted on the ground. We played it (HORRORS) on an all-asphalt playground. We also had a giant basket of balls just to kick back and forth or to play four square.

  137. Maegan October 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    My favorite toy was an oversized tree. It was our haunted forest and my friend’s older sister played the witch. She was so good at it that she actually scared my younger sister. There was often a large mud puddle behind the tree up against the fence. I find that most of the time, kids don’t need real toys at all.

  138. NicoleK October 31, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    We found a corner of the playground and played “Little House on the Prairie”. Everyone wanted to be Laura, was the problem.

    No equipment needed.

    We also played Narnia and Inspector Gadget.

    Some boys played football. Sometimes we all played kickball or dodgeball.

    Sometimes we played with the equipment. When we were older we played tetherball.

  139. Erikka October 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Ah we had an amazing forest of old growth trees behind our school, but we were never allowed to go in it! Once, my friend and I snuck in, but we got caught :(. I also remember when I was in elementary school and I got in detention because I ran on the play ground when we were playing hot lava monster. After that, we all just sat around in circles and talked. Laaaame.

    No tag games, no red rover, no swings, no teeter-totter, no running on playground, no climbing up the slide, no going by the edge of the woods/in the woods, no sitting by the marsh, no digging holes. Our school was psycho >__<

  140. thinkbannedthoughts November 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Thanks again to everyone who commented. The meeting with the principal is today at noon. This time he’s making a point to balance the freerangers with some of the more cautious/concerned parents. The goal is the same – define safe as “Not actively/intentionally harming people or property” and productive as “Kids playing on their own without adult intervention.”
    I’ve written down a ton of these ideas to bring in. I think as the concerned parents hear them and remember their own fun childhoods they’ll remember to breathe. That’s the hope anyway.
    I’ll let Lenore know how it all goes!
    Oh, and to the many people who said “Ask the kids” – We did that too. Spent lunch at the school talking to all the grades about what they liked most about recess/the play ground, what they wished was there, what rules they thought were silly/over the top, etc.
    Student council just got voted in and I am going to suggest empowering them to talk to students, form student run/organized clubs like yo-yo, frisbee, chess or whatever else THEY come up with as well as allowing unstructured play, which is the point after all!
    Thanks again.
    I love this community. May the movement grow and restore sanity to the world!!