The Recess Equipment Dilemma: Part 1 – Frustration

Why I love recess:

I strongly believe recess provides elementary-aged students a brilliant balance to their school day. It’s an opportunity for students to freely explore and socialize while developing and boosting emotional, physical, and social growth in an unstructured environment.

But wait! There’s more!

Recess also throws in a bonus lesson of responsibility for the students, and grants educators an opportunity to reinforce student accountability.

What? Read on.

SOLVING MY RECESS RIDDLE: Where is everything?

Over the last 25 years, I have attempted to teach students to be accountable for recess equipment, and I know I’m not alone. I’ve witnessed teachers with recess captains, leaders, and helpers toting out baskets, bins, and bags, filled with their gear, only to return empty.

Personally, I have meticulously developed plans, charts, and strategies to ensure all recess equipment would be retrieved and accounted for following each recess session. Initially, the designs worked flawlessly, however, much like the shoes we trip over that were never put away, forgotten equipment was strewn across the playground, waterlogged, faded, and over-heated. Ultimately, the playground balls in particular, would be lost, stolen, flattened, or would simply disappear into the playground abyss. Plan after plan after inefficient plan, would end with the same fate. No recess balls, no student accountability.

I recently stumbled across the following email sent to the faculty and staff of a school where I previously worked. The date was September 13, 2006, and I was frustrated another “well-thought-out plan” was leading to failure. I was seeking assistance and guidance from anyone to help teach our students to be accountable. Therefore, I attempted to douse the dilemma with a little humor, and draw other teacher’s attention to my frustration…empathy anyone?

Anyway, here’s the email:

Ladies and gentlemen,

It brings me great sadness to announce the untimely death of our beloved soccer ball. As I braved the elements and journeyed across campus in search of our missing friend, I was horrified to discover our once firm, bouncy friend, completely flat under a butterfly bush.  As I placed my hand on his damaged polypropylene skin, and shook gently while asking,”are you okay?”, I immediately realized I needed to attempt to resuscitate with my air pump.  After several minutes of rescue breathing I realized the ball was dead.  The apparent cause of death was several puncture wounds to the bladder.  It is my belief our friend was taken outside to be happily kicked around.  Then, instead of being put back with his friends in his little white laundry basket home, he was abandoned. Being forced to face the elements proved to be too much of a challenge for the less than 24 hour-old ball.  Perhaps as he was bouncing around searching for his friends football, volleyball, basketball and kickball, he rolled into a pack of dogs.  It seams the punctures are a result of dog teeth.  Dogs are NOT balls best friends. Hopefully DNA can narrow the search for the killer by presenting the breed responsible. There will NOT be a public viewing of the ball since I already threw it away. 

Please be gentle with the remaining balls as they are in a state of grief. Inform the children the balls may not bounce as high and far as usual since they’re feeling rather flat today. Kim is available for anyone who needs counseling.

Warmest regards,



Perhaps you’ve experienced similar challenges. Maybe you have a plan that has worked for your school. If so, please share. Several years ago, my team and I set up a meeting to brainstorm ideas for yet ANOTHER plan. What we devised was a system which included the PE team, the classroom teachers and assistants AND the students all working together. To be continued…

Stay tuned for The Recess Equipment Dilemma: Part 2 – A plan that works. 

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Recess Duty: Are you Qualified?

I am a HUGE advocate for unstructured recess.

I firmly believe a 30 minute recess should be a mandatory part of every child’s day, in addition to a supplemental fifteen minute brain break either earlier or later in the school day.

As a teacher, I have a unique opportunity while on recess duty to witness the emotional, physical, and social growth of children in an unstructured environment. This is a time when plan books are stowed away and learning is piloted by children’s imaginations and creativity.

Recess is a necessity

Olga Jarrett, professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at Georgia State, states when children have recess they are: less fidgety and more on task, have improved memory and more focused attention, develop more brain connections, learn negotiation skills, exercise leadership, teach games, take turns, and learn to resolve conflicts, and are more physically active before and after school.

In a previous post titled, Recess Lessons From the Playground, I discuss how unstructured recess is a student’s outdoor classroom where the following lessons are presented daily:

  • CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND PATIENCImage result for recess duty learning

Also, check out SHAPE America’s Top 10 Reasons for Recess.

Unstructured Recess Does NOT Equal Unsupervised Recess

In some instances teachers confuse unstructured recess with unsupervised recess. While students are being challenged by the real life lessons recess naturally provides, teachers must be present. For teachers, recess is NOT time for a break, to grade papers, sit and chat with colleagues, or catch up on social media.

Too often, adults on recess duty forget their purpose or simply don’t understand how vital their role is during a child’s free and unstructured play time.

What is the teacher’s role while on recess duty? Top 10 tips to guide you



1. SPREAD OUT  – Supervisor zones

Teachers need to spread out and observe. Much like lifeguards at a busy beach or water park, adults on recess duty need to separate themselves from other adults and keep their heads on a swivel. We need to resist the temptation to sit or stand in a group socializing throughout recess.


Every school should have a clear set of recess expectations and boundaries. Teachers on recess duty must not only know them, but also consistently enforce them. It can be frustrating for teachers and students when some teachers adhere to the recess rules while another group of teachers have loose interpretations, barely enforcing them. As teachers, we need to be consistent and fair.


There’s no doubt conflict runs rampant during recess. Whether it’s a heated football game or a group of students excluding someone from their tribe, conflict is inevitable. It’s also necessary. It helps foster resilience and assists in developing problem solving strategies. It’s important for recess duty teachers to allow students the opportunity to resolve conflict on their own.

On some occasions, a teacher may need to step in to facilitate and give students the tools necessary to resolve the present and future issues.



While on recess duty, there are always areas on the playground that need more of a watchful eye than others. For example, if the majority of a class is playing in the Gaga pit, then obviously this area needs direct supervision. One, because of the volume of students, and two, Gaga ball tends to be a game which challenges student integrity (stay tuned for a future post called, Gaga! Welcome to the Integrity Ball!). 



Scan the playground from your post. Even if you’re on fifth grade recess duty, be prepared to assist students from other grade levels on different parts of the playground as needed. Just because students aren’t under your direct supervision, doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for their well-being.


Hypothetically speaking, let’s imagine a group having difficulty playing football on a daily basis. They can’t agree on teams, and the games are out of control.

Teachers can become frustrated with the students and ultimately ban them from playing. A better idea would be to monitor the games daily and give the students ample opportunity to resolve conflict.

When and if necessary, provide them with the tools to make teams and strategies to resolve conflict during the games. It may not be easy, but it’s a teachable conflict that will take time a patience.


Take advantage of your recess duty to learn something new about each of your students. You may already know a certain student loves to read, but struggles in math. However, did you realize the same child enjoys running and catching insects? Use this knowledge to build connections with your students.


Punctuality is a must. Never give the students an opportunity to be unsupervised. Whether picking up your students from a classroom or meeting them on the playground, students deserve the entire allotted time to run, play, and explore on the playground. When recess is over, make sure all your students have safely lined up and make their way back into the school.

Diane Swings


Kids are inquisitive. Many, if not all, have an innate desire to explore, even if it pushes beyond the recess expectations and boundaries. In many instances, children are so engaged and hyper-focused on what they’re doing, they don’t realize they may be doing something wrong. You might find a group of students organizing a soccer game in the middle of a preexisting football game. After giving the two groups ample opportunity to resolve the overlap, you may have to help the soccer players find another safe place to play.

It can be easy to assume bad intentions when you notice a child or children breaking rules or overstepping boundaries. Take a deep breath, and calmly approach the situation.  Have a conversation to discover the true intentions. If necessary, redirect them to appropriate activities. Often, the original idea can be tweaked in order to make it acceptable for recess.


Student and teacher safety is of utmost importance during recess. All teachers need to be ready to react to any given situation.

Here are my top 7 Emergency Readiness Strategies:

  1. Know the protocol for minor and serious injuries.
  2. Memorize your nurse’s phone number and/or program it into your phone.
  3. Keep your CPR and First Aid certifications up to date.
  4. Be able to locate or direct another person to your school’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
  5. Study your school’s emergency guidelines in regard to severe weather and intruders.
  6. Be sure your colleagues are on duty with you, appropriate student to teacher ratio is a must.
  7. When an emergency situation presents itself, be proactive.

For teachers, recess duty is a job in itself. I’ve been extremely fortunate to currently work in a school where recess is taken seriously. All students in all grade levels receive  recess daily. Our administrators begin each school year with a reminder that all recess duty teachers must spread out and supervise the outdoor classroom.

So next time you’re on recess duty, remember “duty” isn’t just a word that makes your kids laugh (like mine). It is a critical responsibility to ensure children are safe and given an opportunity to blossom in their outdoor playground. Make sure you’re qualified, follow my 10 tips, and keep those kids in motion!

This post is dedicated to Maryellen Berry. An amazing teacher, administrator, friend, and yes, recess monitor. Maryellen, thank you for consistently reminding us about that education happens everywhere, even/especially on the playground. Recess

“Recess Makes Kids Smarter | Scholastic.” Scholastic Publishes Literacy Resources and Children’s Books for Kids of All Ages,

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MAY the Force Be With You – JEDI Fitness Challenge

It’s time to take the JEDI Fitness Challenge called MAY the Force Be With You! Follow Yoda as he encourages students, teachers, and parents to strive to become a JEDI Master.

The training consists of two different workouts, each guaranteed to help build the strength, endurance, and wisdom necessary to be a JEDI Master. Each day you complete the exercises, log the level completed on your JEDI fitness calendar.

My school is finished on May 25. Therefore, you’ll notice that the challenge ends on May 18. Other schools end in June. In this case, simply edit the directions and continue the challenge throughout May.

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I’m attaching a link to the challenge in two formats. The PDF link includes the “Star Jedi” font, which I had to download. Unless you have that font, the document will not present properly. This link will not be editable.

I’ve also attached an editable document with the “Gill Sans” font. Most computers include this font. It still looks good but doesn’t have the same authenticity as the “Star Jedi” font. You can easily download this document and apply any Star Wars font. Click “Star Jedi”.

Click may challenge PDF for the PDF version of the challenge. May Screen

Click may challenge EDITABLE for an editable copy of the challenge.

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April’s JUMP INTO SPRING Fitness Challenge


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Click JUMP ROPE for an editable copy of the challenge!

Choose a level that’s comfortable yet challenging for you:               

Level 1 – Perform the number of jumps listed each day followed by the 1-minute speed rope challenge.

Level 2 –  Double the number of jumps listed each day followed by the 1-minute speed rope challenge.

Level 3 – Triple the number of jumps listed each day followed by the 1-minute speed rope challenge.

The 1-minute Speed Rope Challenge

Count how many times you can successfully jump your rope in one minute. Jumps do not need to be consecutive. Calculate your daily total on the calendar.

What if I don’t have a jump rope?

No problem at all! Simply perform the challenge by jumping with an invisible rope. Pretend to turn the rope as you jump.

What if I can’t jump rope?

Each of us are at a different level when it comes to jumping rope. Try to perform the minimum number of jumps each day with the rope. For the 1-minute challenge, stretch the rope out on the ground. Count how many times you can jump back and forth over the rope in one minute.

What is the goal of April’s Jumping for Fitness Challenge?

This challenge has multiple goals. The first is to improve cardiovascular endurance. Secondly, jumping rope improves dynamic balance and coordination, reflexes, bone density and muscular endurance.

Complete the Jump Into Spring fitness challenge throughout the month of April.  At the end of the month, add up the total number of days completed, have your parents sign the bottom of the calendar and return it to your PE teacher for a certificate of completion and a shoe token.

Click JUMP ROPE for an editable copy of the challenge!

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10 Simple RELAY RACES for YOUR Students

Relay Races are be a quick and easy way to promote teamwork, active participation, integrity and fun. One of the keys to a successful relay is group size. Depending on the relay, limit the number of students per team to maximize movement and excitement. Of course, fast-paced relays can have more students than some of the slower relays where students are waiting for a turn.

Throughout any unit, I will sometimes take a quick “relay break,” even if it doesn’t directly relate to the topic. Other times I’ll incorporate a skill related to a unit into a relay race. For example, here’s one called The Hiking Relay I did with my 5th grade students.

Most of our relay races have a time limit, rather than the first team that finishes wins. A time limit allows students to continuously participate no matter how fast they are.

Here are three common ways we challenge our students when participating in a relay race:

  • “How many times can your team pass the ball down and back in two minutes?”
  • “How far can you team travel in one minute?”
  • “How many repetitions can you and your teammates complete in three minutes?”

Overall, relay races are a cost-effective, high energy way to boost the excitement level in PE class. Many relays can be done with large groups in smaller spaces with limited equipment.

Check out some of our favorite relay races. I hope you can use them. Please comment on relay races you use with your students!

The following relay can be adapted for multiple sports.

Thank you to everyone on Twitter who has contributed to our growing list of relay races.

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Blowing off S.T.E.A.M. in PE: Design a Kicking Tee for Football

How this video and the process my sons’ took to create a kicking tee inspired this challenge!

It began one morning in January when my sons wanted to go to the soccer field in our neighborhood to practice kicking field goals with an American football. Instead of an actual field goal post, they would use the soccer goals measuring about six feet high and ten feet across. I always admire the way kids can improvise.  *Click Blowing Off Steam – Football Tee for an editable copy of the challenge.

“Has anyone seen the kicking tee?” I didn’t have the heart to tell the boys that one of our dogs had used the tee as a chew toy several months back.

The Typical Kicking Tee

Typical Kicking Tee

A kicking tee is used to hold the football in place, allowing the kicker to kick the ball. The alternative is having a brave sibling or friend (or father) hold the football between the ground and index finger, often resulting in a kicked digit. I’ve been there on many occasions. Ask Charlie Brown what else can tend to happen when someone holds the ball for you.

After several minutes of searching, rather than giving up, they began to once again improvise. They tried balancing the football on a large bottle cap but alas, it kept tipping over. Next, they attempted to balance the ball on the ground by digging a small divot. This had limited success and they didn’t want to keep digging every time they needed to increase the distance of the field goal attempt. Back to the drawing board!

How about a roll of duct tape? The football stood perfectly in the roll, however, too much of it was covered. Each attempt resulted in the roll being kicked, rather than the football.


Duct Tape Tee

Their minds began to shift from a traditional kicking tee to a football holder.

Football Holder

Football Holder

“Why don’t we try a stick with a “v” shape on one end.”


My son’s diagram

For the next fifteen minutes, the boys searched the wooded area for a stick that fit their description. No luck!


The Tinker Tee

Just when I thought they were about to ask me to sacrifice my fingers, they took another trip back to the lab (playroom). They pulled out the Tinker Toys and began to design a functional football holder through trial and error. Back and forth they travelled between the playground and their lab, making subtle tweaks to their design. Finally, they had it! They created the perfect apparatus for their mission. Check out their creation, the “Tinker Tee,” in action.

Witnessing my sons’ take on this dilemma, inspired me to create the latest “Blowing Off S.T.E.A.M. in PE” Design Challenge. I hope you and your students can find it fun and challenging. Good luck!

Click Blowing Off Steam – Football Tee for an editable copy of the challenge.

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Lucky Leprechaun’s MARCH Fitness Challenge


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Lucky Leprechaun’s March Fitness Challenge consists of three different workouts focusing on endurance, upper body, and lower body strength. As the month progress, the time and number of repetitions for each exercise gradually increases. There is a built-in rest day every fourth day. Each rest day includes an additional challenge.

Each student’s fitness level varies. Therefore, the guidelines on the calendar are not set in stone. With help from an adult, each of the exercises and/or repetitions and times can be adapted to appropriately challenge the student. For example, if a student doesn’t have a jump rope, he can jump with an “imaginary” jump rope. This will allow him to reap the healthy benefits of continuously jumping for the given amount of time. Never hesitate to contact the physical education department with any questions or comments regarding the challenge.

Click March fitness challenge  for an editable copy of the post!

Don’t forget to turn in your calendar at the end of the month!

 Mark each day a workout (including the “rest day” challenge) is completed with a check mark. At the end of the month, students count up the total number of checks, then write that number on the bottom of the calendar where it says, “Total Days Completed.” Students complete the rest of the information on the calendar before asking a parent to sign it.

 Calendars can be turned in to a PE teacher any day after March 31st.  All students who take part in Lucky Leprechaun’s March Fitness Challenge and return their calendar will receive an award certificate and a toe token. The names of the students who complete the challenge will be proudly posted outside the gym.

Students do NOT have to complete each day to receive a certificate. We understand that our students have busy schedules, or sometimes just forget to complete a workout. That’s being human.

Parents are encouraged to help and even participate in the workouts.

 Your child may need a little guidance. We encourage parents to assist with form and necessary adaptations based on fitness level. Finally, students get so excited when parents and siblings participate in the challenge with them. What better way to lead by example and promote lifelong fitness!

Click March Fitness Challenge for an editable copy of the post!


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