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Recess Rules and Behavior Expectations

recess rules and behavior

What are some resources for recess rules and behavior for early education and special education?

Students of all ages love recess! But I'm telling ya, those littles and those with support needs live for recess! Choosing and teaching recess rules and behavior expectations can be difficult with little kiddos or special education students. Whether you're using behavior visuals, recess behavior charts, or simply teaching recess rules for social emotional learning groups, here are some ideas to help you jumpstart.

Why is recess important for kids?

Do I even need to answer this? Can you imagine sitting at your desk, working at your computer for your job, and never getting up to move? Maybe some people can work like that, but I sure can't. And littles' systems are still developing!ย 

Here are 3 reasons why students need to move at regular interval during their learning day:

  1. Improves memory, attention, and concentration through proprioception and vestibular movements. The swings, the running, the spinning; it all helps!
  2. Reduces challenging behavior in the classroom by allowing the “wiggles” to get worked out throughout the day.
  3. Improves social and emotional development through open-ended play with peers and generalization opportunities.


recess rules

Recess Visuals Supports!

Are you looking for visual supports and data collection for your students at recess? I mean, let's face it. Recess can be one of THE most challenging times for some of our students. I hope this helps! Join the email list to get this 30-page PDF with positive recess behavior visuals, behavior charts, and recess-specific data sheets. Then stick around for weekly tips, tricks, and free resources to help you with your special education, ABA, or early learning students.

How do you manage recess?

Recess is not just time for “break” for staff! ๐Ÿ˜ Make sure you either have dedicated recess staff or your support staff get *their* break at a different time.ย 

With that, here are 7 ways that teachers and recess staff might foster a culture of awesomeness at recess:

โค๏ธ Provide clear expectations for staff, training, and guidelines that help them know what *their* role is when at recess. When staff have training and know the expectations ahead of time, they don't have to make decisions in the moment of a crisis or conflict. It builds your staff's confidence and allows them to relax and enjoy the great outdoors, too!

recess teacher
recess rules lanyard

๐Ÿงก Pre-teach recess expectations to the studentsย . Keep the rules short, easy-to-remember, and regularly revisited. Keep the rules age-appropriate! Use “to do” language rather than “not to do.” Provide visuals to help them remember. AND, try this! Show them, don't just tell them! Take them out to the field and YOU show them what is expected of them. They love that!

๐Ÿ’› Use proactive strategies. Prevention is so much more effective than responding to challenging situations in the moment. It's easier to move the glass out of the way than to clean up the spilled milk.ย 

Strategies might include practicing games during controlled groups in class, role playing difficult social situations beforehand, clearly going over a certain rule before they walk out the door, setting up a positive contingency for certain behavior goals, and so on.ย 

preventative behavior strategies

๐Ÿ’š Positive reinforcement! This doesn't always mean offer rewards for doing what's right. I mean, we all gotta learn to make good choices without rewards. But some rewards have their place if a student needs extra motivation to learn a new skill. Positive reinforcement also means opportunities for positive social interactions, connecting students with each other as well as with teachers, building a community in the school, and so on. Build them up as one, and your school community will be stronger!ย 

Ideas to foster this environment may be a school-wide system like PBIS, or class incentives for certain goals, or individual behavior charts, or just a simple, “Man, that was an AWESOME recess, wasn't it? Wasn't our community strong today?”ย 

You might like some of these short stories for littles to help with recess rules and behaviors!

๐Ÿ’™ Have clear and consistent consequences. Create consequences, when possible, that align with the expectation. Provide students with an opportunity to “fix” something that didn't go well, whether it's to repair a relationship or to clean up a mess. Sometimes it might be warranted to have varied consequences for minor versus major infractions or for repeated offenses. In other words, be thoughtful with consequence management.

time out
recess rules on the playground

๐Ÿ’œ Prepare the environment. Is the equipment age-appropriate? Is it accessible for all students? Is the layout on the playground such that there is line-of-sight for recess staff? Do the games and toys encourage social interaction and cooperative play rather than aggressive play?ย 

Setting up your environment beforehand will help do that magic “prevention” for a lot of behaviors. This may involve talking to your admin or facilities to make sure the play area is perfect for your population. Don't be afraid to advocate what you know is right for them!

๐Ÿ’– Things to avoid. Here are just a few ideas of some best-not-to-do's that might help your recess day go great.ย 

Avoid going toe-to-toe with a student (everyone trips when you go toe-to-toe). Some students are looking for a verbal fisticuff. Find other ways to communicate expectations and consequences without engaging in a battle with a 6-year-old.ย  ๐Ÿ˜Š

Avoid making threats that can't be followed through. I actually heard a teacher once say, “I can stay here all night if I need to until you….” Uh, that sounds like a horrible evening for everyone.ย 

Avoid ignoring issues that can and should be nipped in the bud. Little “tweaks” can help prevent big problems!ย 

And, I emphasize this one!, avoid losing track of students you know are at risk for causing or experiencing challenges at recess. That doesn't mean you need to microscope anyone, but you know what I mean. Keep the students who may have a history of challenges in your periphery. You might be able to help them navigate a difficult situation easier if you're in tune!

preschool recess rules

What are some recess rules?

Create your own set of rules that are appropriate for your setting and population. You can Google “recess rules” to get an idea of other schools' rules to get you started.

I like to use Recess “Rock Star” because it's a fun acronym, and I can create cute materials to go with it.

I also like the trifecta of:ย I am Safe,ย I am Respectful,ย I am Responsible. This can be used for any age or population and just defined specifically for that group.

Whatever you choose to use or focus on, be mindful that it is 1) age and developmentally appropriate, 2) taught explicitly to all students who are expected to abide by them, and 3) reinforced regularly when they are followed!

Recess can be (and IS) some of the most fun students can have during a school day, PLUS, they learn a TON through play! So let's help them be successful there and earn an A+ on the playground!

Check out these recess resources!

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