“Ugh! That game is for babies!”

How often have you heard this from your fifth and sixth graders?

Mitigate these kinds of reactions by:

  • Knowing the skill level, energy, and development of your students
  • Setting up age-appropriate games at every recess

This also helps younger kids feel comfortable jumping into games. While most games can be played with all ages, it’s helpful to modify them based on age.

Here are some starting points to consider:

Lower Grades (K–2)

  • Keep instructions and rules short and simple.
  • Minimize the use of spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.
  • Modify movements—for example, skip rather than run.

Upper Grades (3–5)

  • More complex rules and heightened levels of competition are okay.
  • Kids can practice deeper use of spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.

Here are some age-appropriate games we like:

Pre-K/K: Sharks and Minnows

  • Set up a clearly designated rectangular play area with visible boundaries.
  • Remind players to be aware of their surroundings (so that they do not run into others) and that all taggers should use safe butterfly tags.
  • Identify the sharks (either players or the leaders). Everyone else will be minnows.
  • The sharks stand in the middle of the play area and say, “Fishy, fishy, come out to play!”
  • The minnows slowly walk toward the sharks.
  • At any time, the shark can yell, “Shark Attack!” and the minnows must run to the opposite boundary line without being tagged.
  • If a minnow is tagged, they become a shark.
  • When there are only one or two minnows left, they become the sharks in the next round.

Grades 1–2: Mannequin Tag

  • In an open area with boundaries, demonstrate safe tagging, review how to give a double high five, and designate two players to be ‘it.’
  • To begin, the players spread out within the open area, and the leader designates what movement everyone should be using (i.e., running, skipping, hopping, walking, etc.). If a player gets tagged, they immediately become a mannequin.
  • To bring a mannequin back to life, another player must give the mannequin a double high five.
  • Neither player may be tagged while bringing a mannequin back to life and taggers cannot stand around waiting for them to finish. The leader should switch taggers and styles of movement.

Grades 3–5: Hula Tag

  • Prepare boundaries and a space for students to line up when they get out.
  • Choose 2–3 students to be “it.” Each one gets a hula hoop. These students, and these students only, can touch the hula hoop with their feet. The hoop must remain flat on the ground.
  • On the magic word, all students can move freely around the playing area, while the two who are “it” will begin kicking their hula hoops toward the other students’ toes.
  • If a student is hit on the foot with a hula hoop, they go to the sidelines and form a line.
  • If a student who is still in the game jumps with both feet in a hula hoop and says the magic word without getting hit by the hula hoop, the first student in line can return to the game.
  • After a few minutes, freeze the game, choose new taggers, and let all students back in the game to start a new round.

Our students have really taken ownership of running games on the playground themselves and inviting kids from all grades to play. Students who were reluctant to play at recess get involved because they feel welcome, which relieves any sense of stress or pressure they may have felt before.

Altara Elementary, UT

Skills Building Breakdown

For tips on modifying games for all age-levels, print this document to share with your fellow teachers or principal.

Download PDF