Recess can be a difficult time for kids with special needs. Esther Leung offers 7 recess strategies parents can use to help kids interact more easily.

Recess can be a difficult time for kids with special needs. They may not have the physical abilities or social skills needed to participate in customary playground games. Their peers may not have skills or problem solving skills to include kids with special needs. Today, guest blogger Esther Leung offers seven recess strategies parents can employ to help their children interact successfully.

7 Recess Strategies for Success

by Esther Leung

Recess and lunch breaks are a time that most students look forward to.  It is the time of day when children get a break from all the academics and have time to play.  However, this may be one of the more challenging times for your child with special needs because of the lack of structure and supervision that happens.   There is increased stimulation and activity level in the recess playground.  Teachers and support workers will rotate for their breaks, meaning that it may be there may be someone less familiar to your child.

Recess is a great opportunity for your children to develop deeper social relationships with their classmates.  It is an opportunity to practice social skills.  Facilitation from adults is often needed to support a child with special needs within these interactions.    If children struggle with finding meaningful activities and peer interactions, this may impact on their behavior during class time and how they enjoy school overall.

Here are some suggestions to make the time more positive:

  1. Find out what activities are available.  Is there playground, equipment or games that are commonly played?  Are these activities that your child knows how to play?  If not, you can practice with your child on the weekend or take your child to the schoolyard during evenings and weekends so they become more comfortable in this environment.
  2. Have the school create a visual choice board or mini-schedule about the different activities that a child can participate in.  It may be difficult for them to jump into an activity with so many different things happening at once.  This is something that can be shown to your child at the beginning of recess.
  3. Find out the supervision schedule for the recess breaks.  If there are volunteers or lunchroom volunteers, ensure that they receive information about your child’s interests and needs.  The more information they have, the more comfortable they will feel interacting with your child.  This is also important for your child to learn, so he/she knows who to seek if they require assistance.
  4. Learn about what the transition in and out of recess looks like for your child.  This can be very noisy and busy as children are coming in and out of school, making it overwhelming for your child.  Find out if your child has uses a schedule or if staff can give additional warnings and cues to make the transition easier.
  5. Talk to the school about peer mentors or a buddy system on the playground.  Children learn from each other and want to do what their friends are doing.  Some children have difficulties approaching others if he/she wants to join an activity.  Ask teachers to look out for students that your child gravitates towards or talks about at home.  Partnering with a buddy can make playground time more enjoyable for your child and creates opportunities to deepen peer relationships.
  6. Talk to the school to see if there are any clubs or special interest groups that run at recess time.  Some children have more success in a smaller group and quieter setting compared to the large, open schoolyard.
  7. If your child is taking any social skills classes outside of school, share this information with educators so they are aware of what concepts and skills to reinforce.  Children may need some encouragement and practice in order generalize concepts across different environments.  Recess is a great opportunity to have an educator or support staff model and reinforce some of these skills for your child.


Recess and breaks are an important part of the school day.  They are not always included in your child’s Individualized Education Plan.  If possible, try to set some time to discuss this with the school team can help to ensure that there are the necessary supports to increase your child’s success and confidence at school.

Your Strategies?

Thank you, Esther, for giving us ideas to help kids be successful on the playground. I’d love to hear what you do to help your kids improve their playtime interactions. Leave a comment!

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