November Math Centers for 1st grade and 2nd grade

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Written by: Krys Warstillo

Indoor recess, am I right? As a teacher, those two words either make you groan or smile. If you take a look at the comments in our Facebook Groups it seems like most teachers are on the groan side of the spectrum. No matter how you feel, having indoor recess plans is necessary – and depending on where you live – can be something you have to think about for months out of the year. So here’s a list of 10 fun indoor recess ideas broken up into two categories (student-led & teacher-led) to make your life a little easier:

Student-Led Indoor Recess Ideas

For this list, I’m going to categorize an activity as student-led if you can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or catch up on a few emails while your students are engaged in an activity. 

1. Cup Stacking

There are a ton of fantastic indoor recess toys and games you can buy but honestly, it can add up quickly. That’s why this is the first tip on this list. All you need is one of those big packs of party cups. You can grab about 100 of them for less than $10! There are some great videos teaching kids what speed stacking is and if you want to get fancy you buy official stacking sets. However, in my experience students just like building castles and walls and forts and any other structure! So cheap, simple, and open-ended.

2. Free Art Time

All classes have those kids that just like drawing or coloring and when given the opportunity to do something artistic they jump at it. I’ve found using indoor recess as free art time makes a lot of my students happy. Try using:

  • Coloring Books – cheap coloring books can be found at places like Dollar Tree or you can find free-to-print pages online
  • Minibooks (my students love making these)
  • Watercolors – these can be messy but with good procedures in place I’ve found them to be a wonderful indoor recess activity
  • Directed Drawings – printable pages with step-by-step direction make these easy for students to complete independently or you can project the videos included in the bundle to make it a whole class activity.

3. Indoor Recess Ideas – Building Toys

Most experienced teachers have baskets or buckets of “indoor recess” toys. If you’re looking to add more to their collection or if you’re just starting a collection of your own try these:

  • Keva Planks– These are basically simple wooden building blocks that students can use to build whatever they want.
  • Legos– They’re an old standby for a reason. Kids love them. If you don’t feel like spending a lot on Lego sets you can buy off-brand sets at Dollar Tree or Amazon or search your local Buy Nothing group for parents who are ready to let them go! 
  • Magnatiles– These are so cool! Translucent plastic blocks with magnetic edges that kids can use to build rainbow-colored masterpieces. They can be expensive but are sturdy and long-lasting. 
  • Tinker Toys, K’Nex, Straw & Connectors– All of these are wonderful building toys that keep your kids busy and using those engineering brains! 

4. Math Manipulatives

If your students are anything like mine, the phrase “these are tools, not toys” is often repeated during math instruction. Rulers become helicopters, unifix cubes become swords, metric weight sets become cities, and pattern blocks become mosaics. It’s cute but not on-task behavior. This is why students in my class are offered the chance to explore math manipulatives in a creative way during indoor recess. If it happens during lessons I can always say, “you can do that during our next indoor recess but for now, let’s stay focused.” 

5. Desk Drumming

This activity comes highly recommended by a lot of teachers in our Facebook community. All you need is some pool noodles and the ability to project videos for your class. There are tons of playlists of videos on YouTube dedicated to cardio desk drumming. Check out these routines created by Mr. Hamilton PE or watch the video below for a sample. It’s so fun and gets the kids moving while you get the chance to sit back and take a break.

6. Dance Videos

If you haven’t had the chance to try out the GoNoodle Indoor Recess videos, take a look. If you’re feeling a little burned out on GoNoodle videos there are a lot of great dance routines for kids on YouTube. The GoNoodle videos are great because they’re a mixture of smaller videos in compilations of different lengths. This makes it easy to select one that is the length of your recess. 

Teacher-Led Indoor Recess Ideas

For this part of the list, you’ll need to be a little more involved. This means you’ll be the one running the activity or you’ll just need to be up and monitoring your students to make sure everything stays indoor friendly. There are a lot of classic teacher-led activities like Four Corners and Heads Up, Seven Up that are wonderful but aren’t on this list because most of us already have the rules of those games burned into our brains from childhood. (Hey! Stop peeking at people’s shoes!)

7. Hide The Flag

This was a Facebook recommendation from Jen T. It sounds so fun and costs nothing!

“You just need a small strip of fabric. One student gets to hide it somewhere in the room making sure that a small piece is showing for students to see. The other students have their heads down during that time. When the student is done hiding it they step away from the location they hid it, and then the other students open their eyes and search for it! My rule is they have to look with their eyes until they see the fabric then they can grab it! They cannot use their hands to move things out of the way. That way they aren’t ripping your room apart looking for it! The flag can be anywhere in the room. The person who finds the flag gets to hide it again! If two people find it at the same time then they do Rock, Paper, Scissors for it! Everyone loves it!”

8. Night At The Museum

This game is a spin on red light, green light. One student is the museum guard. Everyone else has to pretend to be a statue in the museum. If you want, you can give them a theme for their statues. To begin the game have all the “statues” spread out and freeze. Once they’ve all chosen their first pose, have the museum guard walk around the classroom. Statues must remain frozen when the guard is looking at them. When the guard isn’t looking they should move. If a guard catches them moving, they’re out. The last statue standing wins! Ms. Goss does a great job explaining the game in a bit more detail in the video below.

9. Knockout

This is a math game but it’s a game that students seem to never get tired of. You can check out Erin Water’s post all about it by clicking here. Students are broken into two teams and they race to answer math questions as quickly as possible. It gives them an opportunity to move while building math fact fluency and valuable sportsmanship skills.

10. Theme Days

This suggestion comes from one of the awesome members of the Lucky Little Learners team. (thanks Lynda!) She uses theme days to keep indoor recess from getting too repetitive. Grab her slide deck here to take a look at the themes she uses in her classroom!

Indoor Recess Ideas

Too hot, too smoky, rainy, foggy, snowy, hail the size of golf balls- whatever may be the cause, indoor recess is an inevitability of school. Don’t let that “rainy day schedule” announcement ruin your day! Use the ideas on this list to give your students (and YOU) new and fun ways to give those hard-working brains a break.

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Welcome, I’m Angie!

Hello there! I’m Angie Olson- a teacher, curriculum developer, educational blogger and owner of Lucky Little Learners.

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