7 ways your kids can have 'recess' while distance-learning from home

Everything from chatting on Facebook Messenger to some time with a jump rope or trampoline—let kids have their space, and chat with their friends.

kids on trampoline
Pawel Loj / Flickr

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How do you take recess during a day of distance learning? By breaking down recess into its component parts, and figuring out how to do each.

A day’s worth of Zoom calls and online worksheets can take its toll on anyone, including adults, let alone wiggly first-graders and world-weary teens. On-campus recess offered students a chance to run around, chat, and hang out with their friends. If you think about recess in that way—as a chance to chat, and as a chance to run around—you can get close to recess in spirit, if not in reality.

I have two boys, one in middle school and one entering third grade. In our state of California, our district has gone back to school, entirely by distance learning. Here’s what we’re considering as recess options as we go back to school.

1. Facebook Messenger Kids

I have grave misgivings about Facebook as a tool for disinformation, but there’s no denying that Facebook Messenger Kids is a great way for kids to talk to each other. The app can run on phones and tablets, even relatively inexpensive options like the old Amazon Fire tablet we keep around. All contacts have to be facilitated by an adult, which limits the opportunity for a stranger to begin interacting with my kids. My third-grader can either text-chat or “call” his friends for a video chat, trading GIFs and other funny images. It’s quick, easy, and fun—but you’ll need the contact information of the child’s parent to get things started.

2. Trampoline

Forget playing kickball or foursquare right now. But what kid doesn’t love a trampoline? We bought our eight-foot trampoline used, but it offers all of the features that this $200 SereneLife trampoline does: safety webbing on the outside, a comfortable surface, and weatherproof material. We’re lucky enough to have a back yard, and a shade tree. But whenever the kids are getting squirrely, we send them outside to jump and get their energy out for a few minutes. It’s good, fun, intensive exercise in a limited space and a limited time—and it can support adults up to 264 pounds if you need a break, too.

3. Jump rope

Riding a bike may be more of a traditional way for a kid to get exercise, but not during a “recess” period when they have to get back to their virtual classroom soon. Bicycles (and trampolines) also cost money, and not everyone has a backyard. An old-school jump rope provides a great cardio workout, and of course there are numerous jump-rope videos to train and inspire your kids. Jumping rope is a fun solo activity, but a brother or sister can also hold one end (tying the other to a branch, fence, or some other connector) and double the fun. You could buy high-performance jump ropes on Amazon, but why? Just $5 gets you a top-rated one

4. Play Minecraft

With Minecraft: Education Edition now capable of running on Chromebooks, you might find that your child’s teacher has already considered it as a “recess” activity. Any opportunity to allow the entire class (or even grade) to gather, pair up as they choose, and wander away by themselves isn’t a bad option, as long as there’s some supervision. While teachers may not be aware of the Chromebook option, kids love Minecraft—the base game, of course, but also the realms and mods that open up the platform to vaster possibilities. Opening up a Minecraft world to the class might be a subject to broach with your teacher—even 30 minutes of play would be a treat.

5. Lunch over Zoom

You do it—why can’t your kids? A private Zoom call requires parents to specify which child gets invited, which can be a bit cliquey. A class-wide Zoom call can also dissolve into chaos if left unchecked (especially with kids!). That’s one reason why “breakout” rooms are one of the hot new features in fall’s online classrooms.

My middle-schooler has participated in online “murder mysteries,” where kids roleplayed various characters and moved from “room to room” within a virtual mansion (which, of course, were just different breakout rooms). Moving required the permission of the teacher, but “it worked surprisingly well,” he said. Still, a Zoom lunchroom might require supervision, and a group of kids who know not to talk over one another.

6. Take a walk

It’s easy, quick, and free: the lunchtime walk. Stretching your legs every so often can feel great, and a quick stroll around the neighborhood can be a chance to connect with your kids and clear your head at the same time. No, your kids can’t be with their friends, but a bit of family time can be a blessing, too. Some teachers may ask students to share something found in their yard or nearby for show and tell, or just for fun.

7. Fortnite, Roblox, Skyrim, and other multiplayer games

It’s doubtful that any school districts would ever allow a game oriented around guns and killing into the classroom, and probably for good reason. But online games are evolving into virtual hangouts as much as entertainment. Playing Roblox with their friends might be more of an “after-school” activity for a third-grader as anything else, but it’s been a lifesaver to keep my kids connected to their friends during the summer months...until we can all safely play in person again. 

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