Indoor Recess Ideas and Brain Breaks for Preschoolers

Keep your children busy during indoor recess with these activities and brain breaks.

Indoor Recess Ideas and Brain Breaks for Preschoolers

Indoor recess ideas for preschoolers

As winter approaches, inclement weather may keep your children inside during recess. However, you can keep your children busy during indoor recess and help them refocus when it's time to return to instruction with indoor recess activities and brain breaks.

Why is recess important?

Unstructured play—child-led play that isn’t influenced by adults and doesn’t have a predetermined desired outcome—is essential for children's cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development. Recess gives children opportunities to relieve stress, process what they’ve learned in the classroom, engage their imaginations, and interact with each other without rigid classroom structure and expectations.

Two children crawling on colorful foam puzzle pieces on a green carpet.


Effects of recess on children's cognitive development

Recess helps children relieve stress and pent-up energy and gives them opportunities to solve problems through play. Taking breaks to participate in unstructured play helps children stay on task and focus when they return to lessons. 

According to US News & World Report and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), running, jumping, and other forms of physical activity that children engage in during recess, build new neural connections between the creative and analytic sides of children’s brains by exercising the prefrontal cortex. This cognitive development improves children’s memory, attention, and concentration, helps them regulate their emotions, and helps them process what they’ve learned in the classroom.

Effects of recess on children's social-emotional development

Recess helps children learn to share, respond to other people’s emotions, resolve conflicts, and negotiate group dynamics. It also gives children opportunities to form new friendships with children they may not interact with in the classroom. Socialization during recess can also reduce disruptions caused by children talking to each other during lessons rather than paying attention.

Effects of recess on children's physical development

Participating in physical activities such as running, jumping, and throwing balls during recess helps to improve children’s coordination, balance, range of motion, agility, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills.

Children's physical activity during recess also improves their overall physical health. It helps to promote a healthy weight, decrease stress, and strengthen the immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems.

Brain breaks for preschoolers

Brain breaks are activities that help children refocus and reduce stress. You should set aside two to three minutes after each lesson in your daily schedule for brain breaks. Brain breaks help your children transition between lessons or prepare to learn after a long break, such as lunchtime.

Freeze dance

Freeze dancing helps children release their pent-up energy. It also helps them develop their listening skills and motor skills.

How to freeze dance:
  • Have your children stand in an open area of the room with no obstacles.
  • Play music for your children to dance along to.
  • Have your children dance to the music. Encourage them to wiggle or jump around to release their excess energy.
  • Pause the music at random and have your children freeze when the music stops.
  • Resume the music and have your children start dancing to the music.
  • Repeat steps 4 and 5.

Balloon volleyball

All you need for this brain break activity is a balloon. Have your children take turns tapping a balloon into the air and passing it to each other without letting it touch the floor. Encourage your children to communicate with each other and say when they will try to tap the balloon up. This brain break activity helps children develop their gross motor skills, language skills, and cooperation.

A child looking up at a floating balloon while surrounded by colorful balloons. An adult sitting on the floor behind her tosses a balloon into the air.


Simon Says

Playing "Simon Says" helps children develop their gross motor and listening skills. 

How to play "Simon Says":
  • Say "Simon says" and give your children an action to complete. For example, you could say, "Simon says, touch your toes."
  • Occasionally, give your children an action without saying "Simon says." For example, "Reach for the sky."
  • Any child who does an action without being told "Simon says" is eliminated from the game.

Craft stick shapes

Give your children craft sticks and photos of simple shapes. Have them recreate the shapes with the craft sticks as quickly as they can. This brain break activity helps children learn to recognize shapes and develops their fine-motor skills.

Counting workout

Children can strengthen their motor skills and practice counting while doing quick exercises. Have your children do five types of exercises in succession, increasing the number of actions for each exercise. For example, have them do one squat, two jumping jacks, three hand claps, four toe touches, and five arm circles.

Indoor recess ideas for preschoolers

When inclement weather keeps your children inside for recess, it can be difficult to keep them occupied. However, you can use these indoor recess ideas to bring the fun of outdoor recess into the classroom.

Indoor hopscotch

This indoor version of hopscotch uses bean bags and numbered foam puzzle mats. This activity helps your children improve their gross motor skills, cognition, and balance. Indoor hopscotch can also help children practice identifying colors or numbers.

How to play indoor hopscotch:
  • Set up the foam puzzle mats in the shape of a hopscotch board.
  • Have a child toss a bean bag onto the hopscotch board and say the color and number of the mat that the bean bag lands on.
  • Have your child hop from mat to mat until they reach the mat that the bean bag landed on.
  • Have them pick up the bean bag, turn around, and hop back to the first number mat.

A young boy standing on colorful numbered foam puzzle pieces in the form of a hopscotch board.


Scavenger hunt

A scavenger hunt is an easy and fun way to get your children moving during indoor recess. Simply give your children clues that will lead them to items in the classroom. For example, you could ask your children to find an object in the classroom that's blue and round. The prompts will often lead to each child returning with a different item that fits the clue. Scavenger hunts encourage children to think creatively and problem-solve. They're also a great way to teach children colors and shapes.

Hot or cold

In this activity, one child will search for an object while the rest of the class gives them directions using only the words "hot" or "cold." This activity develops children's listening skills, coordination, and communication.

How to play hot or cold:
  • Choose one child to be the searcher. Have the searcher turn away and close their eyes as you hide an item in the room. Make sure the other children know where you are hiding the item.
  • Once the item is hidden, have the searcher turn back around and open their eyes.
  • Explain to the children that everyone will say "cold" when the searcher is far away from the item, and everyone will say "hot" when the searcher is close to the item.
  • Have the searcher look for the item while you and the rest of the class guide them by saying "hot" as they get closer to the item or "cold" as they move farther away from it.

Pipe cleaner art

Give your children construction paper, glue, and an assortment of colorful pipe cleaners. Have them bend the pipe cleaners into different shapes and glue them to the construction paper to create pictures. This activity develops children’s fine-motor skills as they bend and shape the pipe cleaners.

Movement memory

This activity develops children’s memorization skills and motor skills. 

How to play movement memory:
  • Have your children stand in a circle. Have one child step into the middle of the circle and make a movement, such as clapping their hands. Then have them step back to their place in the circle. 
  • Have the child to their left step into the circle, repeat the first child’s movement, add another movement, and step back to their place in the circle. 
  • Have the next child repeat the movements of the two previous children and add their own movement.
  • Continue going around the circle and adding more movements until each child has added a movement to the sequence. 
  • If a child forgets a movement, have the next child make a new movement to start a new sequence.

Final thoughts

As we enter the winter months, recess will probably need to be moved indoors more often. But an indoor recess doesn’t have to be boring or disappointing for your preschoolers. Use these recess ideas and brain breaks to make inside activities fun and engaging.

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