October 9, 2018

#ReimagineRecess: 3 Tips for Building Empathy Skills

This blog is part of a series on fostering social and emotional development at recess, in support of our campaign, “Reimagine Recess”, presented in partnership with Red Nose Day in School and Laureus USA


Kids’ physical, emotional, and social well-being are inseparable. Children with a strong social and emotional foundation are more likely to graduate high school, go to college, and fare better on measures of overall wellness.[1] 

We don’t always think about non-traditional learning environments as places for developing knowledge and skills in children, when in fact, places like the playground, cafeteria, afterschool programs and recess are the perfect settings! That’s because where and how we learn matter to social and emotional development.  

Recess provides the time and space in which kids can learn social awareness skills, giving them the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. At recess, kids can play games and activities that support social awareness, cooperation and teamwork


Ready to reimagine your recess to support empathy skill-building? Here are three tips: 


1. Add Cooperative Games to Recess 

Cooperative games are fun activities that promote inclusion, teamwork and problem solving. Try the “Freeze Challenge”: 

  1. Students move around in a designated area.   
  2. The leader* shouts “FREEZE.”  
  3. When all students are frozen, the leader calls out a number and a shape or activity (circle,       square, rectangle, jumping jacks, squats, etc.). 
  4. Students must quickly form a group of that number and then begin the activity or form the object. While forming groups, students must quickly use their social awareness skills to practice inclusion, respect others and work with a diverse community.  
  5. Leader congratulates all groups as they complete the task.   

*Have a recess supervisor teach the game by participating as the “leader”. Assign students numbers for the role of leader to discourage competition. 


2. Build in Time for Reflection 

After the Freeze Challenge, or an activity of your choosing, build in time for reflection. Reflection time is a great way to allow students to summarize and share their experiences with an activity. Staff can use this time to encourage positive behaviors they saw throughout the game and encourage students to do the same. It’s also a good time to check for any “pinches” or “crunches” that may have come up for students when inclusion was not practiced.   


3. Incorporate Conflict Resolution 

By practicing empathy during recess, conflicts are less likely to arise, but it still can happen! When conflicts do arise, consider some conflict resolution techniques


How will you incorporate these tips into your next recess? Share a photo of your reimagined recess on social media using #ReimagineRecess. Learn more at www.reimaginerecess.org 


Want to take your recess a step further?

Visit RedNoseDayinSchool.org for additional resources to help foster social-emotional learning and empathy-building in the classroom.



[1] TSTF: http://talkingisteaching.org/assets/public-files/HHS-SED-Research-Background.pdf 

*CASEL (https://casel.org/core-competencies/