17 Old-School Recess Games Your Students Should Be Playing Now

How many of these recess games do you remember from childhood?

17 Recess Games

Put down the phones. It’s time to go old-school. Sure, there’s tag and hopscotch, but what about SPUD and Ship to Shore? The next time your class needs to get outside to let off some steam or build teamwork and physical fitness, try one of these classic games.

1. Steal the Bacon

Part patience and listening, part sprint and tag. You can find out more from this class of second graders or read the rules.

Steal the Bacon - 17 Recess Games



You can sit back and watch your students scatter over and over again—just hope that the students with the most energy aren’t the ones who get SPUD first (rules here). This video explanation could be used to teach your students the rules.

Spud - 17 Recess Games


3. A-Tisket, A-Tasket

A duck-duck-goose variation that involves a basket with a letter in it and this nursery rhyme. (This blog post has variations on this game for preschoolers.)

A Tisket, a Tasket - 17 Recess Games


4. Ship to Shore

A Simon Says variation that has students “hit the deck” and imitate a “man overboard.” (Get all the commands here.)

Ship to Shore - 17 Recess Games



5. Crack the Whip

This game is the best for those days when everyone really needs to let loose, and when you have enough room for the students to get some speed. (Read the directions here or watch a video example.)

Crack the Whip - 17 Recess Games


6. Zero, 1, 2, 3

Using one or two jump ropes, kids jump once, twice, three times (and so on) when it’s their turn. Add complexity by requiring kids to do tricks as they jump.


7. Sardines

Think of this game as reverse hide-and-seek. Whoever is “it” hides while the other players count, then try to find (and join) “it.” The last player outside the hiding spot is the new “it.”

Sardines - 17 Recess Games


8. Pickle

This game seems simple enough—two bases, two soft balls and two “its.” The trick: run from one base to another without getting caught. (Get the full directions here.)

Pickle - 17 Recess Games



9. Four Square

The classic kickball game you play without kicking. Four large numbered squares and any of the rules you can come up with. Break a rule and you’re out, and the next player in line is in. This game is so classic, it has its own official website.

Four Square - 17 Recess Games


10. Red Rover

Red Rover, where you run headlong into a wall of peers, isn’t a game for the faint of heart. (Here is a video of a group of older students playing Red Rover.)

Red Rover - 17 Recess Games


11. Charlie Over the Ocean

Another duck-duck-goose variety, in this version students sing this tune, then choose someone to chase after the song is over. (This video shows how to sing the song and play the game.)

Charlie Over the Ocean - 17 Reess Games


12. Cat and Mouse

The goal is for the cat to tag the mouse while they’re jumping rope in a figure eight. (Directions here.)

Cat and Mouse - 17 Recess Games


13. Mother May I

A good game for the bossy students in your class—students request to “take five steps forward” or “hop forward on one foot” and are granted permission (or not) by one student who calls the shots, until they get tagged. (Group Games has variations—bunny hop, etc.—that kids can request.)

kids running field

14. Blind Man’s Bluff

If you can find a quiet, safe area and get permission to use blindfolds, this tag variation adds a new level of challenge when “it” has a blindfold on.

Blind Man's Bluff - 17 Recess Games


15. Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

Sitting in a circle, one student walks around the outside of the circle and deposits a button in someone’s hand. The trick is for whoever is “it” to hide the button in the circle, and for the kids to find it. (Games Kids Play has the rules, and variations.)

Button Button Who's Got the Button - 17 Recess Games


16. Doggy, Where’s Your Bone?

“It” gets three tries to guess who took an eraser (or object that stands in as the bone) from under his chair. (Here’s an example of young students playing the game with a little tune.)

Doggy Doggy Where's Your Bone - 17 Recess Games


17. Murder

Sounds ominous but it’s really fun! Where? Your classroom. How? A flick to the palm of the hand. (Read the full directions here.)

Murder - 17 Recess Games



17 Old-School Games

Samantha Cleaver

Posted by Samantha Cleaver

One Comment

  1. […] Ideally: Students used this hard space to draw with chalk, play basketball, bounce balls, or play hopscotch. […]

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