I was once in a teaching workshop with a woman who was raised in Alaska. I remember asking her if it was hard as a kid to not be able to play outside at recess or after school for so much of the year. I clearly remember her answer: “Oh, we’d still play outside until it was 20 below.” I still don’t think I’ve recovered from the shock of hearing that.
Having grown up in California and spent most of my teaching career here, I can’t fathom kids playing outside in that kind of weather. Luckily, we have such mild temperatures for most of the year that the kids can be outside just about all the time. That being said, we are not well equipped for the more inclement weather that winter tends to bring. The only protection the schools have are overhangs extending from the classrooms. The kids eat their lunches outside every day of the school year, rain, shine, or otherwise. And there’s nowhere for students to go when it rains at recess, except back into the classroom.
When I was teaching, rainy days usually brought eye rolls and emissions of “Ugh” from the teachers. The kids tended to be positively squirrelly with pent up energy and noise levels tended to increase exponentially throughout the day. Perhaps that’s why I always thought it was funny that one of my students’ favorite indoor games was Silent Ball.
Silent Ball entails all the students sitting on top of their desks while a ball is tossed from one student to another in random order. The object of the game is to stay as silent as possible and not drop the ball when it is thrown to you. Anyone talking must sit down in their seat and is out of the game. The last person left sitting on their desk wins. The teacher monitors to make sure that all students are getting equal amounts of chances to catch the ball, and to make sure students are staying quiet. (I never had to monitor that much because students who were already out were happy to point out if anyone else was talking.) Surprisingly, this game could keep them entertained for quite a while.
Another simple game the students loved was Four Corners. One person is picked to be “it” and must close his or her eyes. The rest of the students choose one of the four corners in the room. Once everyone is in a corner, “it” calls out North, South, East, or West (or for littler ones: 1, 2, 3, or 4.) The students in that corner are out and must sit down. “It” closes his or her eyes again and play continues. Once there are four students or fewer, they must each pick a different corner. The last person who is left without his or her corner being called wins, and is now “it” for the next round.
Heads Up Seven Up is a game I loved as a kid, and students still love to this day. (It seems the simplest ones are always the longtime favorites.) Seven students are picked to stand in the front of the room while the rest put their heads down on their desks, close their eyes, and stick one of their thumbs in the air. The seven students each then quietly tap the thumb of one of the students and then return to the front of the room. Then they say “Heads up seven up!” and the seven students who were tapped have to try and guess who touched his or her thumb. If he or she guesses correctly, they replace the student who tapped them. The game begins again once all the students have had a chance to guess.
One game I learned from another teacher didn’t have a name, but is similar to I Have Who Has? in that students have to be listening to cards being read in order. It requires a few minutes of prep time the first time, but after that the game plays itself. It’s a great sponge activity as well. Write out a direction on an index card; have at least as many cards per students in your class. These can be very simple, such as When the teacher says START, stand up and say GO! The next card read would then read, When someone yells GO, stand up and open the door. The card after that would read, When someone opens the door, stand up and shake the teacher’s hand, and so on. Pass out all the cards and then say “START.” The students have to be listening and observing what’s happening. One rule I had to institute was that everyone had to wait until the person before them had sat back down in their seat, otherwise it was too confusing to try and follow multiple students doing activities at the same time. Keep the set of cards to play over again at another time; the students don’t get bored of it!
Most of the above-mentioned games are for younger students, but I was surprised at how much my older students loved the games too. Of course, rainy days are also a great time to play curriculum-oriented games as well. If there is a game you’ve played in the past with your students, feel free to bring it back out, even if the subject has already been studied. It’s great for review! They may even forget that they’re doing “schoolwork” at recess.