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I’m really not sure whatever happened to just having fun, running and playing with our friends. Think about your childhood and how much fun it was to be able to “let loose” and play. This was one of the only times when kids could be kids. Now, as school districts provide the guidelines and rules for this activity, “recess” has turned into a more formal “structured recess”. Even though there seem to be more cons than pros against this type of play, for our students with autism, it actually provides an opportunity to increase social skills and participate with their classmates.

So, what exactly is “structured recess”?

By definition, structured physical recess is an activity or game that is planned and intentionally directed by an adult. It involves a variety of planned, inclusive, and actively supervised games. Examples of structured physical activity include a teacher directed game, follow the leader, and even something as simple as tag.  This may require a school to provide additional playground equipment or outdoor games. Even when students are climbing and sliding on the playground equipment, “structured recess” includes the teacher as the “leader” and to participate in close proximity with praise for a child who is playing with a peer, or is even choosing to play at all. Sound familiar? Yes, as teachers of special needs children, we do this on a daily basis!

What are the benefits of “structured recess”?

Even though I love to see my students running, climbing, and playing together, I also see how difficult it is for some of my kids to join in, or sadly, be excluded. There are some children who circle the perimeter of the playground, pace, or choose not to do any physical activity at all. Recess should be a time for kids to run, play, and burn off that extra energy. Structured recess has encouraged one of my least active students to get more physical activity in his day. 

While I have heard the grumbles from some teachers about organizing games or keeping the kids contained in a safe area in order to get everyone involved, it can be done. Have your classroom assistant take a few kids to do an activity (even Ring-Around-The-Rosie), while you supervise the others. There are several benefits to structured recess. Feedback has shown that students have increased physical activity, improve social skills, and it reduces exclusion and bullying.

What types of games should we play?


Again, this can include time on the playground, but the teacher must be physically involved, even if it’s just clapping for kids who are playing together.

This year, I teach children in 1st – 3rd grade, with varying social and physical abilities. I think it’s great when I’m able to incorporate some learning into their play activity, too! It pleases administrators, as well.  Take a cue from your students by observing their interests in the classroom. With a class filled with boys (and one girl!), anything that makes noise and moves seems to be a hit. With that in my mind, and a recently taught lesson on transportation, I decided to try a game about flight, and include some activities that related to our lesson. Here are my students “taking off” with their very own airplane wings attached! Each child designed their own wings, chose a destination and wrote it in their passport, told me how many people would travel on their airplane, and how long it would take to get there. This was such a fun game for them that they ask to play it over and over again! Here are some other games that we love to play!

Fossil Hunt – This is easy to do! Is your school located in an area in which you may find shells, rocks, or pebbles? If so, lead the students in a fossil hunt. Describe what they need to look for. It can be by color, shape, or size. If you have some magnifying glasses, that makes this activity all the more fun! Don’t forget to let the “dinosaurs” run around earth! This activity provides a reinforcement of academic skills, as well as getting exercise.

Commuter Train – All aboard! This train can be led by you, or you can choose a conductor and a caboose. This train can move as fast as you want it to, until it is time for a passenger to get off at their stop. You can provide strips of paper for readers, or a visual for non-readers, and hold it up, as the teacher determines the sequence of “stops”.

Detective – This activity follows an “I Spy…” format, as the children form a circle. The teacher may provide a direction, such as; “Look to your left…what do you spy?” When each child has had a successful guess, he/she goes in the middle of circle, claps two times, turns two times, and sits until everyone has had a turn.

My Observations

During our structured recess games, I began to see ALL of my students participating. No one was excluded and my least physical child began to run and have fun. The child who never, ever played with peers, joined us for 5 minutes! Just think about those IEP goals that activities like these can touch upon! Please click on the link below to get your kids started with some “structured” play. I have included the wings, a passport, and pilot’s hat. Use sentence strips to attach the wings (as shown) and pilot’s hat. Enjoy!

Wings on and ready to fly!



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