Keep Kids Engaged Over the Summer

The end of the year is in sight!

Throughout the year, we helped schools all over the country discover the power of play with proven insights, useful tips, and quick changes to make on the playground.

We also invited educators to participate in Recess Checkup Week, where teachers and principals took time to evaluate their recess to make their schools healthier and safer.

Throughout the summer, we’ll be thinking of more ways to help schools examine their playgrounds and elevate recess.

Without the routines of the school day in place, it can be hard to manage kids’ energy and keep them active in healthy ways. Whether you’re working with kids at a summer program or have a few lively ones at home, this month we’re sharing a few activities you can do to focus their energy in positive ways.

Most schools have large open spaces dedicated to recess where kids have free range to run, jump, and play. But these games (below) don’t require a lot of space. Whether it’s in the backyard or on the sidewalk, these are activities kids can play anywhere:


Before you start, think of a few questions you’d like kids to discuss among themselves. Have the kids form two circles—one inside circle and one outside circle. Each kid on the inside is paired with a kid on the outside; they face each other. A teacher or parent poses a question to the whole group, and pairs discuss their responses with each other. Then the parent or teacher signals to the kids to rotate: Kids on the outside or inside circle move one space (or more) to the right or left so they are standing in front of a new person. Now the teacher or parent poses a new question, and the process is repeated.

Back-to-Back Get Up

Before you start, divide the group into pairs and have them stand back to back. Have partners cooperatively press their backs together and then have them try to sit down slowly, without the use of their hands. Once pairs sit down, have them try to stand back up while still pressing their backs together and moving their feet close to their bottoms.

Too hot to be outside? Depending on where you live, summer temperatures can make it hard to spend time outside. Here are a few games you can play with kids to keep the fun going indoors:


Players secretly write down common phrases on pieces of paper and fold them up. The first chosen artist randomly picks a phrase to draw while the others guess the phrase without talking or drawing letters or symbols. Once the answer is guessed correctly, a new artist is picked. Variation: Instead of common phrases, write books, characters/celebrities, or films.

Look Up, Look Down

Begin with two circles of players. Choose one person in each circle to be the caller who starts by saying, “Look down!” Everyone looks down at their feet. When the caller says “Look up!” everyone looks up directly at someone else in that circle. If two people are looking at each other, they both go to the other circle. If caller leaves the circle, a new caller is chosen.

For more activities to keep kids engaged and active over summer break, check out our game library.

We’ve received more than 3,000 stories from principals, teachers, and parents since launching Recess Lab. Here are some of our favorite submissions from the school year:

“I teach grades 1–8 in a parochial school. The thing I love most about recess is how the older students look after the younger ones.”
—Janelle H., Minneapolis, MN

“I love the idea of teaching recess—of getting the staff involved and pre-teaching conflict resolutions as easy as Rock Paper Scissors. On our recent family survey, our lack of playground equipment was noted. If we had better games, activities, and a positive approach I think we could help overcome the physical challenges of our playground.”
—Barbara F., Belgrade, Montana

“I teach 5th grade, which is part of our middle school. The only recess they had was 15 minutes right after lunch. This wasn’t enough. Students were antsy and unfocused during afternoon classes, so we took 15 minutes from academics and added a second recess. We noticed an improvement. They were so thrilled and thankful to have this extra time and we did not have any behavior issues. However, this year we have seen more issues. We had playground balls, but they were throwing them at each other and on the roof, so we don’t use them anymore. I would be interested in ideas that would help them love recess, play respectfully, and burn some energy, while building in some team building activities.”
—Theresa S., New London, Wisconsin

Want to share a tip for your peers or ask a question about safe and healthy play? Write to us here.

Know a teacher or principal who should take the Checkup? Send them the 3-minute quiz so they can see how their recess stacks up.