Create a quality recess for Virtual learning and In-School

Recess at Home vs Recess at School – Let the games begin!

Last month's blog discussed the recess definition consisting of two factors: (1) a break from work and (2) a child's choice of play. In most cases, adults assume (or prefer?) that recess is a very active time for children.  If that happens to be the child's choice of play, then the planets align, and all is good!  However, in the real world, recess is like the mysterious Black Hole.  As we enter that ample gravity-sucking space, we have no idea what we will encounter, or for that matter, if we will even make it through to the other side!

The Black Hole of Recess

In 2020, a new learning model was introduced with various names: Virtual learning, remote learning, or distance learning.  We would be remiss if we did not point out that we cannot confuse Virtual learning with Traditional Homeschooling. Homeschooling has an established track record of learning from home and, in most cases, is a lifestyle choice.  Parents take responsibility for their child's education, perhaps due to religious, cultural beliefs, or social problems that occur at a traditional school.  Homeschooling parents take their job as an educator very seriously.  From research and speaking with Homeschooling parents, I am confident that Homeschoolers are given a quality recess break.   We will not include them in this comparison.

Does the location of schooling dictate if a child should be given recess?

Both In-School and Virtual Learners follow a scheduled timetable set out by the school and both groups of students are permitted a recess break.  For In-School learners, you may have your teacher present when they take their cohorts outside to play in a zoned area.  Virtual Learners can walk away from their screens and what they do for recess is determined by a parent/caregiver.   Is the parent working from home?  Is going outdoors easily accessible?  Many factors complicate a Virtual Learner experiencing a similar recess to a traditional school environment. 

One such 'complication' may be a solitary existence.  Who will play with you?  Day after day, throwing a ball against the wall by yourself can become rather tedious. The lack of face-to-face (albeit a masked face) interaction and game playing can take a toll on someone's mental health.

In speaking with a variety of principals and teachers, the one consistent thing found is inconsistencies.  While COVID has exposed many inequities, it is challenging to find a one-size-fits-all statement.  Not all children in low socio-economic areas are sedentary, or all children in mid to high socio-economic regions are active.  For our purposes, we will compare In-School and Virtual recesses.  The chart below considers some recess factors in the two types of learning environments:

Recess Factors

In-School Learning

Virtual Learning

Scheduled recess break

Yes, on the school time table

Yes, on the school time table

Outdoor active recess

Typically, with cohorts in zoned area, children may be able to run on blacktop or grassy area if school permits

Elements that play into an outdoor recess:

the age of child, easy access to outdoors and if parent/caregiver is available.

Options for other patterns of play (creative, narrative, etc.)

Not typically unless it is an indoor recess but options are still limited due to COVID restrictions.

More options are available at home for this type of recess.


It depends if the school allows children to play with equipment or if they are allowed to bring personal equipment.

Limited to what they have at home to play with outside and if their outdoor area is suitable for balls, etc.

Connections with other children

You have your cohort that you are with for the day.  Every day.  All day!

If you have siblings or others in your ‘bubble’ you are fortunate.

Social, emotional learning opportunities

Children play within cohorts (understandably).  Exposure to traditional games and a wider variety of peers are limited, and therefore, so is social/emotional learning.

If other children are present and unstructured play is offered, learning happens. When playing with adults, children are not presented with the same social/ emotional learning experiences.

Snacks and hydration

Yes, however in some cases, these cannot be taken outside.



What children say about recess . . . have you asked?

Teachers KNOWS what kids want to play.  NOT!

Many schools consider options for recess through an adult's lens.  Schools make a genuine effort to create the recess they think children would like, and these efforts are with the best of intentions!  Because adults and children can view the same concept differently, asking the children specific questions around recess will garner critical information to help improve recess choices.

A couple of years ago, I worked with a school district and public health to survey a number of students at several schools about recess.  One of the prevalent takeaways from this anonymous survey was that social connections are critical!  Children need the social interactions that recess provides.  Does a cohort recess provide the whole recess experience? And what will the result be for those children who are learning virtually?  Can they 'catch up' with the social/emotional aspects they have been missing in a school setting?  Over the next number of months and years, the research and observations will be most interesting!

Recess is always better outside

Any recess . . . every recess is better outside!  Whether you are In School or a Virtual Learner, the numerous benefits to being outside outweigh an indoor recess any day.  Here are just a few:

Improved health

  • Happiness and Calmness, especially when nature (trees, etc.) are visible
  • Increased activity for extended periods
  • More significant gross motor skill development
  • Improved mobility, cardio, etc.

Improved social and cognitive skills

  • Increased school readiness
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased problem-solving abilities
  • Relationship building with more peers
  • Developing leadership skills
  • Evolving executive functioning skills
  • Fosters experiential learning
  • Developing conflict resolution skills


    There’s nothing to do at recess! 

    What a play deprived world would look like

    Whether you are learning from home or school, playing games is a fun way to move, create, and have fun with others (many connections).  When a child is provided with the opportunity to create their own game, many vital developmental aspects are practiced.  With our free Create-a-Game web app, you will create a game that is suited to your needs.

    Think of making a game the same way you would use a recipe for cooking. 

    The web app Create-a-Game has the instructions you need to select options and create a game that works for the number of people you have, the age of the players and the space you are playing in.  Decide how you will incorporate your ingredients (option selected) into your game.  Like any recipe, you do not need to use all the ingredients simultaneously or in the same quantity.  Decide when and where they appropriately fit into the game.  If it doesn't work out the first time, step back and take another look.  What part can be changed or shifted? It's your game and you are in control!

    Teachers, if you want to use this for a class cross-curricular project, contact me for more details. 

    Parents, design a personalized family game to create awesome memories!

    Recess is critical to physical, emotional, social and cognitive well-being no matter where your classroom is.  Caring adults who support this type of applied learning know one of the most important questions to ask a child is “What would you like to play?” 

    I would love to hear what schools and parents feel are critical recess ideas/topics for now and for September 2021.  Email me . . .

    Recess is learning beyond the classroom walls!