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Indoor Recess Ideas and Brain Breaks for Preschoolers

When inclement weather prevents outdoor play, keep your children energized and engaged with indoor recess activities and short brain breaks throughout the day.

Indoor Recess Ideas and Brain Breaks for Preschoolers

Indoor Recess Ideas and Brain Breaks for Preschoolers

Preschoolers are full of boundless energy and curiosity, and as educators, it's important to provide them with opportunities to release that energy and engage in activities that support their overall development. And, as winter approaches, inclement weather may keep your children inside most of the day. That's where indoor recess and brain breaks come into play.

These short breaks not only give little ones a chance to recharge but also enhance their cognitive abilities and promote a healthy balance between structured learning and active play. In this article, we will explore the benefits of indoor recess and share some exciting brain break ideas for preschool-aged children.

Two children crawling on colorful foam puzzle pieces on a green carpet.Source

Why is recess important?

Free play, also known as unstructured play, is child-led play that isn’t influenced by adults and doesn’t have a predetermined desired outcome, and is essential for children's cognitive, social-emotional, and motor development. Recess gives children opportunities to engage in free play, relieve stress, process what they’ve learned in the classroom, use their imaginations, and interact with each other without rigid classroom structure and expectations.

Supports cognitive development

Recess helps children relieve stress and pent-up energy and gives them opportunities to solve problems through play. Taking breaks to participate in unstructured play helps children process what they've learned in the classroom and reduces disruptive behavior.

Running, jumping, and other forms of physical activity that children engage in during recess help to improve memory, attention, and concentration, and helps them stay on-task and focus when they return to lessons.

Improves social-emotional development

Recess helps improve children's social-emotional development by giving them opportunities to learn how to share, respond to other people’s emotions, resolve conflicts, and negotiate group dynamics.

It also allows children to form new friendships with children they may not interact with in the classroom. Socialization during recess can also reduce disruptions in the classroom by giving children an appropriate outlet to interact with their peers.

Promotes physical development

Participating in physical activities such as running, jumping, and throwing balls during recess helps to improve children’s coordination, balance, range of motion, agility, and motor skills.

Children's physical activity during recess also improves their overall physical health. It helps to promote a healthy weight, decrease stress, and strengthen the immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems.

Indoor recess ideas for preschoolers

When outdoor play is not feasible due to weather conditions or other limitations, indoor recess becomes a valuable alternative. However, indoor recess doesn't have to be boring or limited in scope. With a little creativity and planning, you can transform any indoor space into a vibrant and dynamic playground for preschoolers.

Indoor hopscotch

This indoor version of hopscotch uses bean bags and numbered foam puzzle mats. This activity helps your children improve their gross motor skills, cognition, and balance. Indoor hopscotch can also help children practice identifying colors or numbers.

How to play indoor hopscotch:

  • Set up the foam puzzle mats in the shape of a hopscotch board.
  • Have a child toss a bean bag onto the hopscotch board and say the color and number of the mat that the bean bag lands on.
  • Have your child hop from mat to mat until they reach the mat that the bean bag landed on.
  • Have them pick up the bean bag, turn around, and hop back to the first number mat.


Scavenger hunt

An indoor scavenger hunt is an easy and fun way to get your children moving during indoor recess. Simply give your children clues that will lead them to items in the classroom. For example, you could ask your children to find an object in the classroom that's blue and round. Encourage preschoolers to work individually or in teams as they search for treasures. This activity promotes problem-solving, critical thinking, and cooperation.

Hot or cold

In this activity, one child will search for an object while the rest of the class gives them directions using only the words "hot" or "cold." This activity develops children's listening skills, coordination, and communication.

How to play hot or cold:

  • Choose one child to be the searcher. Have the searcher turn away and close their eyes as you hide an item in the room. Make sure the other children know where you are hiding the item.
  • Once the item is hidden, have the searcher turn back around and open their eyes.
  • Explain to the children that everyone will say "cold" when the searcher is far away from the item, and everyone will say "hot" when the searcher is close to the item.
  • Have the searcher look for the item while you and the rest of the class guide them by saying "hot" as they get closer to the item or "cold" as they move farther away from it.

Pipe cleaner art

Give your children construction paper, glue, and an assortment of colorful pipe cleaners. Have them bend the pipe cleaners into different shapes and glue them to the construction paper to create pictures. This activity develops children’s fine-motor skills as they bend and shape the pipe cleaners.

Movement memory

This activity develops children’s memorization skills and motor skills. 

How to play movement memory:

  • Have your children stand in a circle. Have one child step into the middle of the circle and make a movement, such as clapping their hands. Then have them step back to their place in the circle. 
  • Have the child to their left step into the circle, repeat the first child’s movement, add another movement, and step back to their place in the circle. 
  • Have the next child repeat the movements of the two previous children and add their own movement.
  • Continue going around the circle and adding more movements until each child has added a movement to the sequence. 
  • If a child forgets a movement, have the next child make a new movement to start a new sequence.

Sensory play

Set up sensory stations that stimulate multiple senses. Create a sensory bin filled with materials like colored rice, water beads, or textured objects for tactile exploration. Incorporate visual stimulation with art activities or provide a cozy corner for quiet reading or calming sensory experiences.

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Brain breaks for preschoolers

Similar to recess, brain breaks are activities that give children a chance to reset and refocus their attention. Preschoolers have shorter attention spans compared to older children, and incorporating brain breaks into their daily routine helps prevent restlessness and promotes better concentration. These breaks allow children to recharge their minds, leading to improved memory retention and enhanced cognitive function.

Set aside two to three minutes after each lesson in your daily schedule for brain breaks. Brain breaks can help your children transition between lessons or prepare to learn after a long break, such as lunchtime.

Freeze dance

A freeze dance activity helps children release their pent-up energy and practice their listening and gross motor skills.

How to freeze dance:

1. Have your children stand in an open area of the room with no obstacles.

2. Play music for your children to dance along to.

3. Have your children dance to the music. Encourage them to wiggle or jump around to release their excess energy.

4. Pause the music at random and have your children freeze when the music stops.

5. Resume the music and have your children start dancing to the music.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5.

Simon Says

Playing "Simon Says" helps children develop their gross motor and listening skills. 

How to play "Simon Says":

  • Say "Simon says" and give your children an action to complete. For example, you can say, "Simon says, touch your toes."
  • Occasionally, give your children an action without saying "Simon says" first. For example, you can say, "Reach for the sky."
  • Any child who does an action without being told "Simon says" is eliminated from the game.


Craft stick shapes

Give your children craft sticks and photos of simple shapes. Have them recreate the shapes with the craft sticks as quickly as they can. This brain break activity helps children learn to recognize shapes and develops their fine-motor skills.

Counting workout

Children can strengthen their motor skills and practice counting while doing quick exercises. Have your children do five types of exercises in succession, increasing the number of actions for each exercise. For example, have them do one squat, two jumping jacks, three hand claps, four toe touches, and five arm circles.

Balloon volleyball

All you need for this brain break activity is a balloon. Have your children take turns tapping a balloon into the air and passing it to each other without letting it touch the floor. Encourage your children to communicate with each other and say when they will try to tap the balloon up. This brain break activity helps children develop their gross motor skills, language skills, and cooperation.

A child looking up at a floating balloon while surrounded by colorful balloons. An adult sitting on the floor behind her tosses a balloon into the air.


Yoga adventures

Introduce preschoolers to the wonders of yoga through imaginative storytelling. Take them on a journey to the jungle, the ocean, or outer space as they explore animal-inspired poses. Yoga promotes flexibility, balance, and mindfulness in a fun and interactive way.

Final thoughts

Indoor recess and brain breaks are vital components of a preschooler's day. These moments of active play and relaxation not only allow children to release energy but also support their cognitive development and overall well-being. By incorporating engaging activities, you can create an environment where preschoolers can thrive, learn, and have fun.

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