Seven-year-old Scott, who has ADHD, can't go out for recess because he speaks up in class without raising his hand. Rachel loses two days of recess because she hasn't earned enough points on her behavior chart for completing classwork on time. Matt's teacher keeps him in the classroom because he gets out of his seat.
When recess is withheld as a punishment for misbehavior or incomplete academic work, teachers and children suffer. Teachers who know the benefits of recess for ADHD kids never withhold it.
Second, playing with classmates helps children develop and sharpen social skills. Recess is the pause that refreshes.
Activity for All
Recess shouldn’t have to be “earned” by kids with ADHD and other disabilities. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control, which analyzed dozens of studies about how physical activity affects classroom performance, found that recess and physical education contributed positively to the academic and behavioral performance of students.
A study that appeared in School Psychology Quarterly underscored the importance of recess for kids with ADHD: "Results showed that levels of inappropriate behavior were consistently higher on days when participants [with ADHD] did not have recess, compared to days when they did have it."
Instead of denying recess to children who underperform, school administrators, teachers, and parents should figure out the underlying reasons for their challenges and find strategies to address them. The culprit may be executive skill deficits or slow processing speed, or not enough medication.
Veteran teacher Jackie Minniti never takes away recess from a student with ADHD. In fact, she finds creative ways to increase activity levels during the school day. She assigns some students to go on "in-house field trips" to the supply closet or to another teacher's room. She also schedules five-minute activity breaks, during which children do jumping jacks or dance to music. These activities settle children down. Minniti rewards timely work completion with five minutes of extra recess time.
Talk with your child's teacher about trying these strategies first, instead of punishing your child by taking away recess. If she isn’t receptive to your suggestions, get a doctor’s note stating that your child must have recess each day.
And if that doesn’t work, tell her what the CDC says: "Exclusion from recess for bad behavior in a classroom deprives students of physical activity that can contribute toward improved behavior in the classroom." That might change her mind.
Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S., is the author of Teaching Teens with ADD and ADHD (Woodbine House).