9 DIY recess ideas for distance-learning families

Everyone needs recess.

This fall, when I registered my kids (ages 9 and 13) for online distance learning, I knew two things. Number one: outdoor recess would be an essential part of our day. Number two: I was now in charge of it.

My boys’ daily distance learning schedule provides two 40-minute breaks, intended for eating and “free time.” Our goal is to get outside for some physical activity every day. If you’ve also found yourself in the new role of recess monitor, I’ve got some road-tested ideas that you can try with your kids.

1. Nature hike

We’re lucky to live near a secluded forest trail. After a stressful morning of online learning, a walk on the quiet wood-chip path has an instant calming effect.

Tip: Kids are naturally drawn to interesting terrain, so encourage them to explore hills, ponds, or large rocks. If you own a GPS watch, strap it on someone to measure the distance you covered that day.

2. Traditional sports

I’ve typically relied on my kids’ recess and phys-ed experiences to provide exposure to a variety of sports, activities, and movement patterns. Now, with home-based recess, I’ve got a lot of balls in the air—basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, and more.

Tip: Usually, getting started is as simple as tossing them the ball, but I may suggest a cooperative game. I’ll ask: “How many turns will it take you to score a combined 10 baskets/goals/touchdowns?” or challenge them to a “boys against Mom” showdown if necessary.


Related read: How to become an active homeschool family


3. Hot wheels

My kids have bikes, but maybe yours have scooters or rollerblades. As long as you’ve got wheels and a helmet, a short ride or roll around the block can be invigorating.

My kids are not experienced riders, so I’m continually trying to coach them to adjust their speed to match their surroundings. Similar to math, they’re learning by trial and error and figuring it out. We recently discovered that one of our neighbours is doing home-based school too, so we’re planning a future bike adventure with her.

4. Random equipment

We tested this on a weekend visit with the cousins, but it would work during a nutrition break as well. I scoured the basement for neglected, unused sports equipment and toys, and threw a bunch of them in a bag. I left the bag in plain sight, and the kids took the bait. Minutes later, there was a Frisbee golf course at one end of the yard and a badminton game at the other.

5. Terry Fox run

This is a classic school activity that I knew my kids would miss this year. Instead, we reviewed Terry’s inspirational story, as well as some photos and stats (5,373 km in 143 days!), and completed our own mini run/walk in his honour.

Tip: Kids who aren’t used to running may get quickly winded, so borrow one of Terry’s strategies and run to an object in the distance, such as a telephone pole or stop sign. Once you’ve arrived, take a walk break and choose a new target.

6. Skipping class

Jump Rope for Heart is another well-known tradition at our school, so dig out the skipping ropes and see how many tricks you can do.

Tip: Because skipping is a high-intensity activity performed in short bursts, it’s an ideal choice if you only have a few minutes.

7. Walk and talk

My kids like to chat. Usually, it’s nonsensical, goofy stuff that’s clearly funny to them but a little tedious for me. I’ve learned that the best solution is to take the show on the road—or in this case, the sidewalk. They walk ahead and giggle at their silly jokes, while I trail behind and let my mind wander.

8. Yard work

At this time of year, there are leaves to rake and yard waste bags to fill. It’s a bonus if the kids help out, but they’re more likely to disappear into the shed or garage and emerge with some long-forgotten outdoor toys or sports gear. Embrace this and let them play, even if they do trample your leaf pile once or twice.

9. Pumpkin patch or farm trip

Search online for a pumpkin farm, petting zoo, or apple-picking site near you. Since there’s travel involved, this may need to happen after school (or on a sunny day where you wrap up the “asynchronous learning” a few minutes early).

Our local farm arranges its pumpkins in rows, which my kids joyfully treat as running lanes. Move at your own pace around the property, which may include a play structure, corn maze, or walking trail.

DIY recess? Totally do-able

I’ve found do-it-yourself recess can be surprisingly do-able. All you need is some initial enthusiasm and whatever sports equipment, toys, or some random object you have lying around. Your kids’ energy and creativity will take it from there. They’ll appreciate the much-needed break, and frankly, so will you.

Photos courtesy of Kristi York.

One response to “9 DIY recess ideas for distance-learning families

  1. Love these ideas. They are simple yet fun and easy for someone not too knowledgeable in fitness or sport activities. Covid times and home learning is keeping our kids inactive. Without school daily physical education and organized sport participation, Covid is going to create more health issues for kids. It is scary. So thank you for these physical activity ideas.

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