Frigid temperatures and icy conditions in these bitter winter months cause undesirable and unsafe outdoor conditions for our school children. This results in an increase in the frequency with which school staff must do something many students hate: move recess indoors.
Outdoor recess is such an integral part of school-aged children’s daily routines. Changes to this routine may be disruptive and frustrating to a child. Being restricted access to fresh air and exercise is not the ideal scenario for a child who has been up since dawn and concentrating for numerous hours. These factors can lead to problematic behaviors during indoor recess, especially those with attention deficits, social delays, or a limited leisure skill repertoire.
What should you do when you receive a negative report from a recess monitor? How should you respond when your child complains “indoor recess is so BORING!”? Here are some ideas for how to help make an undesirable situation a little more tolerable, and successful, for your child.
Rehearse various leisure skills at home.
In order to be successful during indoor recess, a child needs to possess a diverse skill set in the developmental domain of leisure skills. It is easy for children to become hyper-focused on their favorite activities, whatever that may be: Pokémon cards, conversations about a favorite video game at home, hand-clapping games. A child can become stuck on one or two favorites. In order to prevent a restrictive interest from creating boredom and/or social isolation, take a mental inventory of what your child knows how to do during downtime. If you notice that his/her abilities are limited, teach your child some new skills. Dust off those old board games, coordinate a board game-swapping group with a few parent friends, and take your child to your local library to see what games they loan to visitors. Child-friendly card games (Uno, Skip-Bo, age-appropriate deck games like War) and the classics (dominoes, checkers, chess) are also useful skills. One of these universally-played games may become a new favorite of your child!
Encourage your child to show/share new games.
If your school will permit it, have your child bring in a new card game or board game to play with friends or classmates. The novelty of new materials in the indoor recess area may be a breath of fresh air for your cooped-up child. Additionally, teaching classmates how to play a new game is both great practice for appropriate social exchanges and a self-esteem boost. Is your child receiving social skills intervention and still learning how to share and play fairly? If games are a frequent trigger to problem behaviors, encourage your child to bring in and share non-competitive materials such as therapeutic coloring books or puzzle books. For schools that do not allow outside materials, you may be able to explain your rationale for sending a novel item. If your child has engaged in disruptive or maladaptive behaviors during past indoor recess, this strategy may be an effective antecedent strategy for the team to consider.
Model good leisure skills at home.
We parents oftentimes fall into familial routines at home that involve one common denominator: screen time. Our fast-paced lives combined with amazing advances in technology can influence us to spend countless hours with our gadgets. Our children then see this as normal, and imitate. As parents, it is important that we keep ourselves “in check” regarding how much time we spend on our Smartphones and tablets. When we turn off gadgets and TVs and get out board games and joke books to read as a family, we are teaching our children how critical non-electronic activities are to their lives. Subsequently, this can increase the value with which our child views non-electronic leisure activities.
If your child is struggling during indoor recess time, stay positive and encouraging. Reinforce any attempts they make at trying new quiet tabletop activities. Ask your child to share with you a time during indoor recess when his/her body was craving movement and energy-burning activities, but your child successfully controlled that impulse to play quietly. Follow up with positive reinforcement in the form of praise and maybe a nice surprise. Acknowledge how proud you are at their hard work in a less-than-ideal situation.