Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and recess

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, say researchers. And Jack will concentrate better with some down time in the natural world. A Pediatrics study found children 8 and 9 years old behaved better in class if they had more than 15 minutes of recess a day. From the New York Times:

Although disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size.

Thirty percent of elementary students have little or no daily recess time, the study found.

A small study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder last year found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas, according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better.

I visited two schools that let children with autism or hyperactivity issues take an exercise break to calm themselves.

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  1. Well it’s nice that there’s now some research on this.

    Out of curiousity, why did those two schools limit exercise breaks to children with autism or hyperactivity issues? Or didn’t they?

  2. Charles R. Williams says:

    If the kids get more recess they won’t get enough coloring time.

  3. Duh…sorry to be snarky, but did we really need a study to tell us this? Everybody needs downtime- it’s common sense. Anyone with a child knows this…

  4. Tracy, the schools — both of which had significant numbers of special ed students — offered scheduled recess time to all students. Kids who tended to get overwhelmed at times (most with ADHD and autism issues) were told to signal an aide when they needed to leave the classroom to walk, run, lift heavy objects and otherwise burn off excess energy. In one case, a boy (on the autism range) was allowed to leave on his own when he thought he was about to lose self-control. He’d jump on a mini-trampoline outside the door, run around the building once or twice and return quietly to class.

  5. Long ago, I read that as a child, Niko Tinbergen was allowed to do spontaneous dances in class. This conflits with my impression of Dutch schools. He later won a Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine. No one beleives he was autistic.

  6. Lightly Seasoned says:

    I’m not sure this is a real study of “recess” then.

    Having autistic children engage in large motor sensory experiences is a very well-established and traditional therapy. So, I think all they actually tested was the therapy in looking at these kids, not recess per say. There’s a huge difference between a directed activity like jumping on a trampoline and simply being out in the school yard (which freaks some autistic kids out).

    That said, I think we’d see a remarkable decline in behavior issues if children just walked to school again.

  7. These studies deal with mainstream children and with normal recess periods.

  8. I’m with Jay. This finding is just common sense.

  9. I agree, it’s common sense. On the other hand, too many schools, particularly those educating low-income students, have cancelled recess in order to “concentrate” on academics. Kids with behavioral difficulties frequently get less recess, not more (because someone is always taking it away for things that they did wrong). I love the trampoline story, but I am also aware that there are schools who use the “time out room” instead–locking kids into cells for ever longer periods of time in order to somehow deal with their “anger issues.”

  10. Thanks Joanne for explaining further.

  11. Brandyjane says:

    We have a twenty minute recess after lunch, and on most days we have a ten-minute break around mid-morning. If I can’t fit in a full morning break, I at least take them all outside and let my kids run around the track one time to burn off some extra energy and clear their heads.

  12. This is politically incorrect, but I can’t help wondering about something not mentioned in the NYT article or the abstract: Could recess be especially important for boys? On the average, of course.

  13. When my older sons (gifted, no LD, no ADD/ADHD) were 3-6 grade, their classrooms had doors to the playing field and it was not uncommon for their teachers to tell a kid to take two laps, then come in and sit still. It was usually boys with no real problem; just lots of energy. They were the kind who, at age 10, would run a 42 minute 10k race, then play a whole game of travel-level soccer, then go home and play outside for the rest of the day.

  14. I have an ADHD child. If she can run 2-3 miles during the school day, she can focus, behave and learn.

    If it rains and she doesn’t get to go outside, everyone, teacher, child, parents, siblings have a VERY bad day.

  15. My 5 year old granddaughter has a hard time just sitting still for long periods of time. She has a wiry body and is several years advanced in her body control–after approx. 10 lessons, she can ski down blue slopes, even though she prefers greens. She also enjoys gymnastics.

    When we have her over for dinner, we let her stand to eat at the table, and whenever she feels the need, she just walks around the house for a few laps and then returns to the table to continue eating.

    She doesn’t have ADHD or ADD or whatever they’re calling it these days. Some kids just naturally need to burn off their energy through constant movement.

  16. During the first week of school, an 8th grade girl in my class pulled my chair out from under me, causing me to smack my head on the chair and elbows on the tile floor. She wasn’t trying to be mean, and in fact liked me–she was just ADHD and had too much energy. The teacher (my mom), had her run 4 laps around the building. This became a regular occurrence and really helped her focus. When she felt antsy, she was allowed to go run a few laps and always came back more focused. I believe she was still doing this up through 10th grade.

    I actually had a decent “recess” even as a teen because of our small school structure and closed campus policy. We had 50 min. for lunch and would scarf down our food so that we could play football, basketball, giant 4-square, dodgeball, etc. The middle school students I taught this year have a similar length period, but are so obsessed with food that must be microwaved that they rarely have time to play anything, or choose to just sit and talk if they do have time. I know they would concentrate better in the afternoon if they got some exercise, but it’s hard enough to make them even work at it in PE!