Ask the Experts

No Recess for Recess

For children with ADHD, the endangered school recess is an essential activity that improves focus and behavior in the classroom. One expert explains why it needs to stick around.

A boy plays at recess because movement is a great strategy for helping ADHD students learn.
A boy plays at recess because movement is a great strategy for helping ADHD students learn.

Ask most grade-school children about the best parts of their school day and they’ll probably say, “Lunch and recess.” Ask children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and they’ll almost certainly shout out those same answers. Why? Because “the teacher doesn’t get mad at me if I get out of my seat, walk around, or if I don’t pay attention.”

Playtime or recess is more than just fun. “Kids need a break,” says Stewart Trost, assistant professor of kinesiology at Kansas State University. “They can focus better in the classroom when given that break.”

I believe that these observations are especially true for children with ADHD. Sitting quietly in a seat, staying focused on work, and remembering to raise a hand before speaking takes effort – more effort than for students without ADHD. If we told union workers that they had to go from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. without a break, they’d go on strike.

[Why Taking Away Recess Is a Counterproductive Punishment]

I was distressed to learn that, according to a recent report from the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists, nearly 40 percent of the nation’s school districts have either modified or deleted – or are considering modifying or deleting – recess from their elementary school schedules. The reason? To provide students with more classroom time for reading, math, and science.

According to Trost, however, some research suggests that kids who have recess display an improved ability to stay on task, are less fidgety in the classroom, and are better behaved. He adds that movement is essential to the physical and social development of all children.

Recess is even more important for students with ADHD. For them, recess isn’t an extra activity; it’s an essential one. Physical activity is healthy and relaxing, and provides focus and clarity of mind. But the benefits of recess go beyond reducing the fidget factor: Kids learn social skills on the playground, and teachers can learn a lot about their students by watching them play, by noticing who is being isolated, teased, or bullied.

[Free Download: What Every Teacher Should Know About ADHD]

I urge school administrators to recall their elementary school days. Don’t take recess away. To parents I say, let the school know how critical recess is for your child.

Yes, reading, math, and science are important, but play and exercise are also necessary school-day components. If you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, don’t give up recess without a fight. Join with parents of all students and say no to such proposals. Your child will thank you.