Recess Important for Children with ADHD

Health Writer

During recess time, children get a short respite from academic work. They have a chance to exercise and socialize with classmates. In recent years, there has been a great deal of research on the benefits of exercise, for example, it increases cognitive function and helps children pay attention. But, according to the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, 40 percent of elementary schools across the United States are opting to eliminate recess. [1] This, in part, is due to the stringent testing requirements schools face - every moment of the day is instead focused on academics so schools can improve standardized test scores. Elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods have even shorter recess times so teachers have more time to teach. In addition, holding a child back from participating in recess is often used as punishment.

The Benefits of Recess

All children, not just those with ADHD, benefit from recess, according to a policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) and published in the Dec. 2012 edition of Pediatrics. "Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits"The APA believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child's development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons." [2]

Recess for Children with ADHD

The benefits of recess may be even higher for those with ADHD. One study showed, "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," [3] Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale Prevention Research Center, helped develop a program called ABC for Fitness which allows for intermittent activity throughout the school day, whenever kids need a break and matches aerobic activities to age level and subject matter. After instituting the program in many schools, the developers found that those children participating in the program had significant declines in medication for ADHD and asthma. [4]

What Parents Can Do

According to the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, parents can help to advocate for recess within their school district. Some of the suggestions for parents include;

  • Talk with your child, other parents and your child's teacher to find out if, when and how often the children have recess time. Ask specific questions such as if recess is held inside or outside and what is involved in the decision as to whether the children can go outside. Ask if there are situations that would prevent any children from participating in recess, such as acting out in class or not completing work.
  • Get involved in your local parent association and request that their resolutions include mandatory recess during the school day. Attend school board meetings to be sure your district has recess included for every child every school day. Set up a meeting with the principal of the school to discuss your concerns.
  • Provide information to school newspapers, local newspapers, radio and television studios about the importance of recess. Ask them to make the public aware of how important recess is to children's development and how it helps to improve academic performance.
  • Coordinate fundraising drives, and include the children, to raise money to purchase new playground and recess equipment.

As parents of children with ADHD, you know how important exercise is. Studies have shown that symptoms of ADHD often decrease with regular exercise and time spent outdoors. If your child is being held inside during recess time for misbehaviors, chances are those misbehaviors will increase during the afternoon. If your school has simply reduced or eliminated recess time, your child's behaviors may be worse because of it. Work with your school district to make sure all children, especially those with ADHD, get to take advantage of recess time.


[4] "Attention Deficit Disorder: Ritalin or Recess," 2010, May 7, David Katz, M.D., Huffington Post

[1] "Become a Recess Advocate," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, American Association for the Child's Right to Play

[2] "The Crucial Role of Recess in School," 2013, Jan. 1, Robert Murray M.D., Catherine Ramstetter, Ph.D., APA Policy Statement, Pediatrics, Vol 131, No 1

"Promoting Recess," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, American Association for the Child's Right to Play

[3] "Recess: Its Cognitive, Social, Physical and Behavioral Effects on Children, Andrea Ridgway, 2004, August, Dissertation, Louisiana State University