10 Best Indoor PE Games for Middle School Students
By Catherine Morris
Managing stress, anxiety and mood swings is important for anyone—but it’s crucial for middle school students. These are the years when kids’ lives change significantly in so many ways: They’re entering puberty, and their social landscapes are shifting. Responsibilities at home are mounting, while school is getting harder and team sports more demanding.
This is why movement and play are still so important for middle-school students. Tweens and brand-new teenagers are still kids, after all! They need a fun outlet for their abundant energy. Regular, vigorous physical activity is also one of the proven best ways to regulate emotions, build confidence and succeed in academics.
With that in mind, Marathon Kids has compiled 10 of the best indoor PE games for middle-school students. These are great options for getting your middle-school students moving when it’s too wet, hot or freezing out to head outdoors. Don’t forget, Marathon Kids counts 20 minutes of heart-pounding exercise as equivalent to one mile! And every sweaty activity session helps kids build their endurance and PE skills while boosting their moods and confidence levels.
- Indoor Free-Play Stations
Even when middle-schoolers are playing, they need to feel like they’re in charge. It’s part of riding that line between childhood and growing up. Giving them some free choice is a great way to affirm their inner young adult—and making the choices fun affirms the little kid who also still dwells within.
A great way to accomplish this balance? Set up free-play stations around the gym, or wherever you’re meeting with students. Have them cycle through activities of their choice. These can include activities that develop their persistence as well as their spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination, such as hula-hooping or underhand throwing with bean bags; plyometrics activities, such as jumping rope, jumping-jacks or long jumps; strength-training activities, such as pushups or planks; or cardio endurance builders, such as burpees, high-knees or running in place.
- Fitness Bingo
Make up Bingo-style sheets for your students with exercises listed in the squares, along with number of repetitions or length of time for each exercise. These might include 10 pushups, burpees or jumping-jacks; 20 seconds of mountain-climbers, jumping rope or running in place; and so on. Give each student a Fitness Bingo sheet and a marker to mark off which activities they complete as the teacher calls them out. The first person to call out “Fitness Bingo!” when they’ve marked off all their squares gets to be the leader who calls out exercises for the next round. This activity is great for middle-schoolers since it taps into their competitive sides while still being self-directed and tons of fun.
- Shark Zone
Lay out mats throughout the gym—blue like water, if possible!—and then set up a series of stable items on top of the mats. These are for students to stand on and move from one to the next without touching the mats. You might use balance beams, benches, chairs, pieces of plywood and so on. The mats represent shark-infested waters, and the items on top are the safe zone. Students divide into teams, and work together on how to move safely from one safe zone to the next without ever stepping onto the mats. Shark Zone helps middle-schoolers build teamwork along with balance and coordination. It’s also just good, silly fun on an indoor-PE day.
A little like tennis played with a Wiffle ball and large, wooden, ping-pong-style paddles, Pickleball is perfect for indoor play. It works with smaller classes or bigger ones. You can even get multiple games going at once, if you have a larger indoor space to accommodate them. Pickleball encourages teamwork and helps to develop students’ hand-eye coordination and strategy skills. There are lots of variations on the game that can be implemented to fit your particular class and indoor space.
- Hula Hoop Tic-Tac-Toe
This game requires nine hula hoops and ten beanbags—five of one color, and five of another. Lay out the hula hoops on the floor in a three-by-three square, like a tic-tac-toe grid. Then divide students into two teams, and have them line up at a starting point some distance away from the hoops.
When the teacher says Go, Player One from the first team runs to the hula hoops and drops a beanbag into the hoop of their choice, and then runs to the back of their own line as quickly as possible. As soon as that player returns, Player One from the second team does the same thing, running to the hoops and dropping a beanbag into another hoop before returning.
These games move fast, and the goal is just like that of regular tic-tac-toe: Each team is attempting to block the other team from filling a line of hoops with their bean bags by dropping their own bags strategically. Teams will likely complete multiple games before every player has had a chance to go. Players who are waiting in line can keep their hearts pumping with jumping jacks, high-knees, or running or marching in place.
- Cat and Mouse
Middle-school students may be growing up, but their love of chase games never wears thin. Cat and Mouse is similar to Flag Tag, except the flags are pieces of cloth or string tucked into students’ waistbands to represent tails. Depending on your class size, one to three students can be the cats that chase multiple mice; mice are “out” when the cats pull out their tails.
- Red Light, Green Light
This classic, simple game is not just for younger kids! Middle-schoolers love it too, in part because it’s a throwback to earlier grades and stages. It’s also a great indoor PE game choice for building cardio endurance, strength and flexibility along with skills related to listening, observing and following instructions.
Don’t forget to switch up the movements that students use to move toward the finish line. They can choose their own movements or the teacher can call them out. Running, skipping and dancing all work, as do jumping-jacks, high-knees, lunges and even burpees. The possibilities are nearly endless!
It’s also fun to add in a “yellow light” twist: When the teacher calls out “Yellow light,” students must move as slowly as possible. Then, when the teacher calls out “Red light,” they must freeze in place and hold their form or position until “Green light” is called out once again. The slow movements followed by holding a particular position can help students focus on form while building muscle and endurance.
- Wall Ball
Wall ball is usually played outdoors against an exterior wall, but it can also be played inside on an indoor PE day. Middle-school students love wall ball because it’s a simple game that taps into their teamwork skills as well as their competitive natures. It’s also a versatile game that can be played with nearly any size of bouncy ball, from tennis balls to the larger playground balls found in almost any middle school gym.
- Gym Laps
When you have to get a group of potentially sullen middle-school students moving indoors, sometimes it’s best just to get back to basics. When using the outdoor track isn’t an option, walking or running the perimeter of the gym makes a great substitute. You can also have them use the hallways (quietly, of course, when class is in session!). Make it fun by splitting students into relay teams or having them plot their distances the old-fashioned way, on a data chart. A fun variation is having students line up; the student at the back of the line moves as quickly as possible to the front of the line, and then the next student at the back runs forward, and so on. Together, they make slow forward progress as a group by taking turns all the way to the finish line.
- Yoga and Mindfulness
A yoga and stretching session is perfect for winding down a PE session and helping students get their heart rates back to normal. It’s also perfect for helping middle-school kids develop much-needed mindfulness, the benefits of which extend well beyond the gym. When kids have a few minutes during the school day to sit quietly and focus on their breathing, or on how certain stretches or poses make their bodies feel, they can develop mindfulness over time. This can improve their test scores and focus in class along with their mood and confidence levels.
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