We believe recess should be a time of joy and discovery, where kids can stretch and grow physically, emotionally, and socially. But like any game, clear rules and guidelines are essential to help your students play well and play fairly.

Use this checklist to make sure your recess rules and consequences are as effective as they can be:

Recess rules should be:

  • Short: 5 rules or fewer.
  • Understood and agreed upon: Staff and students agree to internalize and follow the same guidelines.
  • Positive: Instead of “Don’t push,” tell students what they can do: “Use light butterfly tags.”
  • Visual: Give staff a clear sign or poster to point to on the playground — images are important for younger students in particular.

Consequences should be:

  • Designed to teach: Punishments and unrelated menial tasks do not change behavior, and only lead to frustration. Tie the consequence to the behavior, so that students can connect the dots from their actions to the outcome.
  • Part of a calm conversation, on both sides: Allow the child to express themselves — there may be more to the story — but don’t confuse excuses and explanations. After carrying through with the consequence, let it go. If you hold onto it, the child will too.
  • Responsive and timely: Recess staff discuss the behavior with the student immediately, and encourage him/her to think about how to correct it.
  • Consequences may progress from less to more severe as a behavior is repeated, or follow from the situation — when a student runs to be the first in line, he or she receives a warning and is asked to walk to the end of the line.


  • Warnings that don’t include a connection to a better choice: “You’re not going to be able to play that game again.”
  • Sending a student to the office without first trying to address the issue.
  • Calling a parent without a positive plan in place.
  • Speaking about a child in a negative way.

What you can try this week:

  • Set 3-5 recess rules using positive language.
  • Review how your recess staff addresses problems, and set new guidelines for correcting behavior as needed.
  • Display a poster of the rules where everyone can see it at recess.