How do you find “peace” in recess?

This year, I enrolled in the Foundations In Self-Regulation Course through The Mehrit Centre. The incredible discussions that are part of this course have me seeing almost everything through a self-regulation lens. It was actually with this course in mind that I’ve been thinking a lot about recess lately. As a Kindergarten teacher this year, all of my duties are outside in the Kindergarten “pen.” Depending on the time, there are two or three Kindergarten classes outside in this shared space, and usually this area is also full of bicycles, scooters, balls, Hula Hoops, a play structure, and multiple types of tag games. I realized today just how stressed I feel during this duty time. It’s almost like I’m on sensory overload.

  • There’s lots of bright-coloured equipment.
  • There’s tons of noise.
  • Space is restricted.
  • There’s lots of movement, but all in a confined area.

I know that outdoor areas and physical activities can help many students and adults self-regulate. I see the value in this movement for so many of my students, and many of them love recess for this very reason. But for me, recess time is a very dysregulating activity.

  • I don’t know where to look. 
  • I become overwhelmed in deciding what to listen to.
  • I find myself searching for a small space away from the action, so that I can really see and process everything.
  • I take a lot of deep breaths because breathing helps calm me.

I’m an adult. I’m an educator. At this moment in time though, I feel like the struggling student, and I wonder, am I alone? I look for the child that might be acting out. I look for the child that might be seeking out the same quiet area that I am. I search for the child that is struggling. I think, how can we help this child? I’d love to hear what you do. I can’t help but wonder if the answers to this question might help make for a more peaceful recess for everyone. What do you think


8 thoughts on “How do you find “peace” in recess?

  1. Hi Aviva,

    I feel the same struggles when both our K classes are confined to the K playground and we only have 22 children! It can be up to 44. Most of the playground problems happen when they are all together. It’s tough for the ones who find it all ‘too much’ like my son did 4 years ago when he was a group of 32 in the same area. Each year we have made changes. This year we made the changes earlier than ever. Our students are restricted to the K playground and small forest area for a 20 minute morning recess. At lunch recess they wear yellow pinnies and go out to the front of the school where they can play on the monkey bars, climbing spider, gravel field and undercover area. I think it makes a huge difference. They have more places to go and are still supervised and easy to find. In a perfect world I think they could have even more freedom into the larger forest. i will push for that after Christmas or March break for sure. My son and the grade ones I chat with always tell me the best thing about grade one is being able to go anywhere on the playground. As we work to provide a variety of learning spaces inside the building shouldn’t we provide a variety of play places outside?

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrea! I love your point about having various spaces to explore and play. I do think that “space” is a key for success. When there are too many students in too restricted an area, more problems happen. We actually have a fairly large pen, which is great, but the sheer amount of activity is overwhelming for me. I wonder if students feel the same way too. This may just be a case of me needing to be a bit “uncomfortable.”


      P.S. Your forest area sounds amazing! Our school doesn’t have any grass. Trees and grass are certainly wonderful to see!

  2. Aviva,

    I too am not a big fan of yard duty. I find it too loud, too wild and just plain too much – but I know the kids need it and love it. When I had yard duty on the primary yard I would often try and participate in some of the play that was going on. Whether it be as the “time out” spot for tag, actively participating in the game or doing yoga with a group of students, I always found that I was more settled when I was participating. When you are an outsider looking in it is hard to really understand the dynamics of the activity that is happening. Now don’t get me wrong, I was still on high alert for potential problems on the yard and I was still responsible for my “area”, but what often happened was that all the kids in my “area” we’re participating with me, thus easier to keep track of.

    Now on the “big kid” yard it is a whole other story. I found those duty times even more overwhelming. Perhaps that was because I did not know those students as well, or because the yard was so much bigger and watching was more of a challenge, but these were my least favourite duties. For me to stay focused and engaged I did a lot of walking around and breathing. Sometimes students would join me in the walk. We would talk for a few minutes and then they would return to their activities. As I got to know more of the students on this yard things were easier to manage. As the students got to know that’s I would always be moving around and watching, that I would stop and talk with them if I was wondering what they were up to, they seem to engage in fewer “banned” behaviours.

    I saw that many students (little and big) struggled with the unstructured nature of recess time. They did better when engaged in an activity of some kind (tag, soccer, basket ball etc.). Those students who wandered or gathered together in groups talking, were often the ones that struggled the most.

    There are many countries in Europe that have totally unsupervised recess times, yet they have very few instances of issues on the yard. I wonder are we putting too many restrictions on the students? Should there be more unstructured play? Do teachers need to hang back and just let things happen? I can see the pros and cons of both sides and can’t quite make a decision about what might be best. Can’t wait to see what others think.


    • Thanks for your comment, Sarah! I love your questions. I really struggle with this one as well. This year, I’ve taken to letting students climb up the slide, use the equipment in various ways, and have a little more freedom in our playground area. I’ll admit that this is easier to do when just one class is out there, versus many. I do find though that many students just do what they’re able to do safely, and this is a great opportunity for risk-taking. I find myself biting my tongue a lot. For me, this is uncomfortable, but for the kids, this different set-up, works. I guess that I wonder about those students that feel like me. Maybe we do need to have some more structured options, or games going on in smaller areas, where students feel more secure. As teachers, being more involved in the play can be good as well. It can also let us build relationships with students. This could be a case of what works for one, doesn’t work for all. I guess that we always need to be attuned to student needs (as well as our own), and try to find options that might work for everyone. I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this.


  3. I’m wondering if you’ve asked the children individually or in small groups what they love or find frustrating about recess. We try to find times to explore the big yard when the big kids aren’t out. I ask the children what rules we need to be safe and we have great chats about what rules are actually necessary. We have over 80 kids in the pen so we need different rules when we are all together.

    I find this frustrating too. Many years ago I had kindy recess at a different time of day and the kindy classes rotated between kindy yard, big yard and a community walk. The people on kindy duty stayed in class with children and we had yard to ourselves when we went out. I find the issues seem to go away when it’s not so busy.

    Good luck. I’m excited to hear your next thinking on this. You ask great questions as always.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Heather! If the students can articulate their concerns, I think that having this “student voice” piece is great.

      Smaller numbers definitely seem to help. I take my students out a couple of times a day in addition to the recess time, and when we’re out alone, the problems that exist at recess time don’t exist anymore. I think of the years when we used to have “flex recesses” at school. Classes chose when to take their students outside for a break, and with fewer students on the playground, problems decreased. I think there’s value in “space.”

      I’d be curious to hear what others think about this and what they do.

  4. I often feel that way at recess. Now that I teach grade 3 I supervise in a large area with grades 3-6, but have a section that is “my area”. In kindergarten we had a small area with two k classes and a pre k class. Recess is very overwhelming for many kids and adults. I have one student this year who just can’t cope with the sensory overload. As a child I remember very limited adult supervision at recess, if any. We had some swings & slides, plain metal, a basketball area. Some painted games on cement, a huge field and access to the bush, where teachers NEVER entered. We raced to the roots of a giant cedar and made our own games. I think that in the interests of safety and supervision we have eliminated all refuge places on our playgrounds. Looking forward to reading more about this.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Melva! You make a great point about the supervision piece. I know that we want to keep students safe, but there’s also some value in “risky play.” How much risk is too much risk? Sometimes it’s hard to know. I would be very curious to know how many students feel overwhelmed at recess time compared to how many adults. Do our own reservations impact on the students? I never really thought of it this way before, but the more that I learn about self-regulation, the more that I wonder.

      Thanks for giving me more to consider!

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