Beyond Recess: Games for Emotional Resilience

Playworks recess

October’s PDX Parent features an in-depth look at recess in two very different schools. As parents, we already know that how much recess, what kind of games are played, how much adult interaction takes place – these all vary wildly from school to school.

We also know about the benefits of recess. The physical may be the most obvious, but there are also emotional components to recess, and to group play in general.

We asked Playworks, which brings the power of play to recesses across the country and to Portland, to provide us with examples of some games that not only help kids get their wiggles out, but that also teach them important emotional skills. Next time you’ve got a playdate at a local playground and things start to fall apart, try one of these and see what magic happens.

I want to… practice kindness

Try playing “I Love My Neighbor.” Have everyone stand in a circle next to a cone, stone or other marker, with one person in the middle. (There will be one less cone than people playing.) The person in the middle begins the game by saying “I love my neighbor, especially my neighbor who…” The person completes the sentence with something that applies to someone in the group – for instance, who has a pet, who is wearing blue, who likes pizza. Once the person finishes the sentence, everyone who the sentence applies to runs to a new cone. Whoever doesn’t have a cone moves to the middle and comes up with the next sentence.

I want to… teach conflict resolution

Try playing “Switch.” With five players, have four stand at each corner of a four-square court, or set out cones or other markers for four corners. The fifth person stands in the middle. When the person in the middle shouts “switch,” everyone moves to a new corner. If two people arrive at a corner at the same time, the winner is declared by a game of rock, paper, scissors. The person without a corner moves to the middle and gets to be the one to shout “switch” for the next round.

I want to… develop cooperation

Try playing Shipwreck. The leader gives specific commands to the “crew” – like swab the deck (where players act like they’re mopping) or drop anchor (everyone drops to their backs with legs up). Crew members who don’t follow directions correctly or who are the last to follow the command sit out. The last one standing wins. Read the full instructions here for more fun piratey commands.

I want to… build community

Try playing Ants on a LogHave everyone line up on a line, and number them from one to five (or however many are playing) from left to right. The goal is to have the order switch – so number five will be in number one’s spot – without falling off the line. At the end of the game, the order of players should be exactly how it was before but in reverse.

Playworks has many more games for building emotional resilience here. They also have a list of literally hundreds of games to play with kids here.

Ali Wilkinson
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Ali Wilkinson

Online Editor at PDX Parent
Ali Wilkinson is the Online Editor for PDX Parent, and is one of the founders of PDX Kids Calendar. She loves exploring Portland with her three small children, especially when the explorations lead outdoors, to music or to ice cream. You can read more from Ali at
Ali Wilkinson
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