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

Ready to feel nostalgic?

Examples of old school recess games including kids playing hula tag and helicopter jump rope game.

A lot has unquestionably changed in schools in the last few decades, but no matter what changes, go-to games to play at school are a must. Despite the many technological advances like personal devices and online textbooks, some things don’t need any improvement. So put down those tablets and Chromebooks and get some fresh air—it’s time to go old-school! Sure, most students know popular recess games like tag and hopscotch, but what about Kabaddi and Ship to Shore? There are also a number of fun games to play indoors on rainy or snowy days. The next time your class needs to blow off a little steam, try one of these 38 classic recess games.

1. Parachute/Popcorn

Oh, the nostalgia of walking into gym or recess during your childhood and seeing that bright-colored parachute! Kids will love shaking their arms wildly while watching the balls dance around the parachute. Laughter will surely ensue!

2. Crab Soccer

A fun twist on a timeless sport, all you need to play is a ball and some cones. Crab Soccer is just like regular soccer but in a silly crab-like position that will be sure to get your students laughing.

3. Bubbles

Bubbles will certainly be a hit with the littlest recess participants. While bubbles are fun on their own, they can also be used in a number of fun activities and recess games.

Learn more: The Inspired Treehouse

4. Duck, Duck, Goose


Before starting, have all your students sit in a circle. First, one player walks around the circle, tapping everyone on the head and saying “duck.” Whenever the player chooses, they can tap someone on the head and say “goose.” The goose then stands up and chases the player around the circle. If they are tagged, they start over again. However, if the goose fails to catch tapping player before they reach the open spot and sit down, the goose now starts play.

5. A Tisket, A Tasket

Recess games can include props like this white envelope with a small red heart on it with a folded paper in it.
Let’s Play Kids Music/A Tisket, A Tasket game via letsplaykidsmusic.com

A duck-duck-goose variation that involves a basket with a letter in it and this nursery rhyme.

Learn more: A Ticket, A Tasket at Let’s Play Music

6. 44 Home

Recess games similar to hide and seek include this one in which a little boy is seen covering his face against a tree while another child runs away in the distance.
XiXinXing/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

A more active version of hide-and-seek, 44 Home is extremely popular on elementary school playgrounds across the world. One person is the finder and counts while others hide. The finder finishes counting, yells “44 home!” and then tries to find where everyone is hiding before they make it back to base.

7. Marbles

A classic among recess games, marbles work equally well inside or outside.

8. Ship to Shore

Several people stand facing an instructor outside.
Playworks/Ship to Shore via playworks.org

Also known as Shipwreck, this fun Simon Says variation has students “hit the deck” and imitate a “man overboard.”

Learn more: Ship to Shore at Playworks

9. Horse

All you need for this classic game is a basketball hoop and a ball. Kids will have fun coming up with crazy shots for their opponents to take!

Learn more: Horse at Jr. NBA

10. Zero 1, 2, 3

Recess games can use jump ropes like the one shown being used by three girls.
Playworks/Zero, 1, 2, 3 via playworks.org

Recess games that involve jump ropes are some of our favorites! Using one or two jump ropes, kids jump once, twice, three times (and so on) when it’s their turn. Once they have the hang of it, you can add complexity by requiring kids to do tricks as they jump.

Learn more: Zero, 1, 2, 3 at Playworks

11. Kabaddi

A woman is seen with arms and legs oustretched playing a game.
Kid World Citizen/Kabaddi via kidworldcitizen.org

This tag variation has been played for over 4,000 years in India and is also frequently played in Japan, Nepal, and Pakistan (among other countries). Why not add it to the recess games played on your playground? It will surely be a hit.

Learn more: Kabaddi at Kid World Citizen

12. Sardines

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

Learn more: Group-Games

13. Elastics/Jumpsies

This three-player game requires the skills of hopscotch and jump rope with some of the patterns from the game Cat’s Cradle.

14. Hula Tag

Kids are shown on a school blacktop playing with hula hoops.
Playworks/Hula Tag via playworks.org

As far as recess toys go, it doesn’t get much more classic than a Hula-Hoop. Hula-Hoops are fun on their own but when combined with tag, the fun never stops!

Learn more: Hula Tag at Playworks

15. DIY Chalk Twister

Three pictures are shown. Two of a child with chalk and one that reads Chalk Twister.
Kids Activities Blog/DIY Twister via kidsactivitiesblog.com

Outdoor Twister? Sign us up! The best part is that you don’t even need any extra equipment.

Learn more: Chalk Twister at Kids Activities

16. Four Square

Similar to the classic game kickball, but there’s no kicking. All you need is four large numbered squares and any rules you can come up with. Break a rule and you’re out, and the next player in line is in.

17. Red Light, Green Light

A line of kids are on a playground blacktop facing a teacher.
Playworks/Red Light, Green Light via playworks.org

This is a perfect recess game since it engages all of your students at once. Red Light, Green Light is fun yet easy to understand—go on green, but don’t get caught still moving on red!

Learn more: Red Light, Green Light at Playworks

18. Limbo

A simple game that requires just a pole or rope, limbo will test the limits of your students’ flexibility. Oh, and it’s fun too!

Learn more: How To Play Limbo at NY Metro Parents

19. Red Rover

While fun, Red Rover, where you run headlong into a wall of peers, isn’t a game for the faint of heart.

20. Jacks

We love games to play at school that can be played alone or in small groups, like jacks. Jacks are a versatile option since they can be played indoors during rainy day recess or outdoors for more bouncy fun!

21. Knockout

A boy is seen holding a basketball while another plays defense. More kids are seen in the background on the basketball court.
Dick’s Sporting Goods/How To Play Knockout via dickssportinggoods.com

Since most recess areas have a basketball hoop, this is a perfect game to blow off some steam in between classes. Kids will have fun while also working on their foul shots.

Learn more: How To Play Knockout at Dick’s Sporting Goods

22. Museum Guard

Also known as Statue, this game doesn’t require any running or a lot of open space (unlike its counterpart Freeze Tag/Dance). As a result, it is a particularly safe and easy option for both outdoor and indoor recess.

Learn more: Fern Smith’s Classroom Ideas/Pinterest

23. Kick the Can

Recess games like kick the can use a can like the orange one shown with a yellow targe and the word kick in yellow on it.
Dukes & Duchesses/How To Play Kick the Can via dukesandduchesses.com

Breathe new life into an old classic with a fresh can. Using a bright color will undoubtedly make the can impossible to miss and extra exciting to play with.

Learn more: Kick the Can at Dukes & Duchesses

24. Mother, May I?

This game will appeal to some of the bossier students in your class. First, students request to take five steps forward, hop forward on one foot, etc., and then are granted permission (or not) by one student who calls the shots, until they get tagged.

Learn more: Group Games

25. Blind Man’s Bluff

A boys is seen wearing a blindfold while other children are shown in the background.
Kidspot/Blind Man’s Bluff via kidspot.com

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

Learn more: Blind Man’s Bluff at Kidspot

26. Seven Up

A classroom is shown with children with their heads down on their desks. One student walks around the desks.
Memory Glands/Seven Up via memoryglands.com

Since there are sure to be rainy and snowy days, a good indoor recess game or two is a must. This game is such a classic it was even included in one of Mark Twain’s stories!

Learn more: Seven Up at Memory Glands

27. Capture the Flag

Kids run toward a cone with a flag in it.
Chandler, Arizona/Flag, You’re It! via chandleraz.gov

Few games are more beloved than Capture the Flag. It’s best for slightly older kids and is a great way for them to exercise both their physical body and competitive nature.

Learn more: Flag, You’re It! at ChandlerAZ.gov

28. Doggy, Where’s Your Bone?

Another classic, in this game, whoever is it gets three tries to guess who took an eraser, or another object that stands in for the bone, from under their chair. (Here’s an example of young students playing the game while listening to the corresponding tune.)

Learn more: Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls

29. Guard the Queen Dodgeball

Markedly similar to traditional dodgeball but with a fun twist, you can even play it outside with your class without worrying about runaway balls.

Learn more: Guard the Queen Dodgeball at Grandma Ideas

30. Snake

Another fun take on jump roping, snake involves one or more kids shaking a jump rope while other kids try to jump over it. Whatever you do, don’t let the rope hit you!

Learn more: Snake at Playworks

31. Piggy in the Middle

This old-school game can be as simple as keeping the ball away from the person in the middle, but this video shows some fun spins you can add, including using different objects in place of the ball.

32. Hopscotch

Some games to play at school are oldies but definitely goodies! Generations of kids have been playing hopscotch because it is relatively easy to play and requires little more than a piece of chalk.

33. Rock, Paper, Scissors

This game is perfect for indoor or outdoor recess since it requires very little space and no equipment. It can also be used to settle disputes! Read all about Rock Paper Scissors Relay if you are looking for something more active.

34. Helicopter

Kids are seen playing jump rope.
Helicopter/Playworks via playworks.org

The kids swinging the jump rope chant, “Helicopter, helicopter over my head, I choose a color and the color is … (insert color)” while the rest of the kids wait nearby. Whoever is wearing the color called must hop in and start jumping.

Learn more: Helicopter at Playworks

35. Wall Ball

All you need to play this classic recess game is a ball, a wall, and some friends! Avoid getting three strikes or you’re out of the game!

36. Telephone

Everyone needs some games to play at school on rainy or freezing-cold days. This classic will certainly have everyone in stitches by the end!

37. Leap Frog

Every adult probably remembers playing leap frog at some point during their childhood. Add a little competition by making teams and having them race to the finish.

38. Who’s Missing?

Every teacher needs some good indoor recess games at their fingertips and this fun game fits the bill. A student or two stand with their back to the class while the rest of the students rearrange where they are sitting. Finally, one student leaves the room. The student with their back to the class must then figure out who’s missing.

What are your favorite recess games to play with your class? Come and share in our We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, check out our favorite team-building activities for the classroom.

The next time your class needs to get outside to let off steam or build teamwork and physical fitness, try one of these classic recess games.