3 Tips for Transitioning Your Class Inside From Recess

Transitioning students from recess back to the classroom and to a learning environment can be one of the hardest transitions of the day. I think this is for one main reason: recess is super fun and reinforcing to students, and going back inside and working probably isn't as reinforcing as recess. So what do we need to do? We need to be strategic and make ending recess WAY more reinforcing for students!













1) Have a routine for lining up/ coming inside and heavily reinforce students for following it!
I know this might sound self explanatory, but keeping the routine for lining up consistent will really help your students! The next important step is reinforcing students when they're actually lining up. Many of our students can't wait until they go inside to get reinforcement, so they will likely need some sort of reinforcement right in the moment that they line up. It can be verbal praise, a cheer, a high five, a sticker, a token on a chart, a gummy bear, etc., but make sure that you're reinforcing students right in the moment!

I'd suggest having some sort of plan for reinforcement. For example, if a student starts to line up in less than 10 seconds than he/ she gets the most reinforcing thing, if the student takes 11-20 seconds to start lining up then he/she gets the second most reinforcing item, etc. You'd obviously need to know what reinforces your students or do a preference assessment, because what reinforces each kid is different. It's also important to make sure that all of the staff members are on the same page about what reinforcers are being used for each student and what line up behaviors earn specific reinforcers. Consistency is key here!

Here's the gist of how our end of recess transition goes:
  • Staff start cuing students before the school recess bell even goes off. We are briefly reviewing contingency charts and first/ then boards with students. We also do 3 and 1 minute warnings. Staff make a quick plan of who is going where when the bell rings. 
    • Important: Don't forget that you want to review contingency charts/ behavior plans with rewards BEFORE any negative behaviors start. This will ensure that you're using positive reinforcement and you aren't bribing students. For example, if you're using a first/ then chart with a student for lining up, you'll want to show the student the chart and remind them, "First line up/ then ___." BEFORE the student refuses to line up!
  • When the bell goes off, our staff split up like wild fire!
    • One staff member stays in our designated line up spot and holds the sign. This staff member is in charge of reinforcing students as they line up based on their needs. Some of our students will go straight to the line up spot and others just need a quick wave from a teacher. 
    • The other staff go to support students who need more support for the transition. We support those students by handing them their behavior charts or visuals and then giving reinforcement as they're lining up. 
    • Once the entire class is lined up, we might might do a little class cheer (I know this is really "elementary," but our class loves them!) and then we start heading inside! After we are inside, we use a transitional activity and then we do a gross motor/ brain break activity  (see below). 
    • It's pretty cool that this is our routine for the first few months of the school year and we are able to fade tangible/ edible reinforcers pretty quickly!
Tip: If you have numerous behavior charts/ visuals, reinforcers, etc., I suggest making some sort of bag (like below) to hold it all! Then at the end of recess line up, everything can go back inside the bag (so you won't forget or lose things). It can be a student's job to carry the bag inside, which might be reinforcing!

2) Plan a transitional activity.
After you've reinforced students for actually lining up, next you want to find a way to help students get EXCITED to go back inside. (The theme of this post is turning into one thing... reinforcement!)

I suggest scheduling a transitional activity between recess and any academic task/ lesson. A transitional activity is basically sandwiching a moderately preferred task (maybe technology time, blocks, or coloring time) between a highly preferred task (recess in this case) and a highly non-preferred activity (i.g. the next academic lesson you want to do after recess). This can be a very effective (and research based) way to motivate students to transition back inside and start getting ready to get back to work. If you want to read more about transitional activities, check out this blog post.

Our transitional activity after recess is technology time. Students use iPads or computers for 20 minutes of technology time and are only allowed to use academic apps or websites.

3) Schedule a meditation, breathing break or movement before work time.
I've found that using meditation, breathing techniques and movement breaks is a great way to help students ready to start learning again after the the excitement of recess! After our 20 minute technology transitional activity is over, we do a gross motor lesson that includes: exercising/ movement break, a gross motor game and a meditation.

Our gross motor lesson is about 30 minutes long. You could obviously shorten and change this based on your schedule and classroom needs, but this is how we run our gross motor group:

  • We do exercises for about 10 minutes
  • We play some sort of a gross motor game (like bowling, ring toss, etc.) for 10 minutes
  • We do breathing & meditation for 10 minutes

I do suggest ending this time with breathing/ meditation because it's a helpful way for students to be able to center, focus and settle their bodies for learning.

If you need ideas for gross motor/ exercise groups and some free printables, click here!

If you want to know more about how we do breathing and meditation in our classroom, click here.

What tips and ideas do you have for helping students to transition inside from recess? Share below!