Rethink game rules & boundaries

Student rules poster for game to other students

Unclear game rules and boundaries not only create an unsafe environment they also mean students may be excluded from play. When boundaries are unclear, you can see one game moving into another, causing conflicts and disruptions. When game rules are absent, or when they are too cumbersome or not consistent, conflicts arise. The game stops while students argue over rules. Some students don’t feel welcome to join.

What are effective rules and boundaries?

Effective game boundaries are both visual and physical, and must be taught, practiced and reinforced. If your school does not have boundaries permanently painted on the ground, you can create boundaries using cones, chalk lines, or paint.

Good game rules are clear and simple, limited to a few key rules. For rotational games, rules should also include a few actions that result in a student cycling out. Rules should also be consistent, meaning that the same rules and consequences apply throughout the school. This way, adults and students are held to one set of fair, inclusive standards.

How rules are communicated and reinforced matters. By posting rules on cones, walls, fences or a-frame signs, we make them available to students when they are needed, like at the start of games or when there’s a dispute. When an adult or a student leader is asked to help resolve a dispute, they can reference the rules posted.


Poster attached to cone showing foursquare rules

What you can try this week:

Rethink the Rules

  • Inventory the games available at recess by referencing the playground map to identify the game stations (i.e., which games are being played where). If you don’t have a playground map, see the “Map your Playground” resource on Recess Lab to get started.
  • Write on poster paper up to three simple, clear rules for each game. Rules geared toward keeping the game simple and getting the greatest number of students to participate are best (e.g., for foursquare, only underhand serves, and the ball can only bounce once in a square)
  • Write up to three actions that would send a student to the recycle line.
  • Laminate and post the sign next to its relevant game station.
  • To promote use of the signs, adults can ask a student to read the rules out loud at the start of the game. The adult can also model how to play by the rules (e.g., demonstrate an “underhand” hit for foursquare). When disagreements between students occur or when a student is not following the rules, and adult can ask a student to read the rules out loud.

Brighten Up the Boundaries

  • Use the playground map to identify game stations.
  • Check to make sure that each game station has sufficient space to avoid safety risks and prevent game interference so that games can run smoothly and kids can stay engaged.
  • Use colored cones or chalk to draw clear boundaries for each game station.
  • Check to make sure that any safety hazards on the playground, like a tree stump at the edge of the grass, have been clearly marked. Then, make sure no game stations are to close to the location of the hazard .
  • To make sure kids know where they can play, ask students to trace the boundaries of their game using their fingers before beginning the game.

Print out this poster and get started!