It even happens sometimes at my daughter's Waldorf-inspired, arts-integrated, amazingly wonderful public elementary school. Every time my daughter tells me about an instance, I sputter about it until she rolls her eyes.
Kids sometimes get held in from recess.
Maybe they didn't finish their homework. Or they acted up during art. So they give up those 15 precious minutes—time they could be making snow angels, kicking a soccer ball around, or hanging upside down on the monkey bars pretending to be bats.
You and I know which children are particularly likely to come to school without last night's homework or to jostle the next child over as he or she paints: the kids with ADD/ADHD. And if you've read a little about what helps those of us with ADD, you know where the irony lies: Exercise, down time, exposure to sunlight, and time in nature can help us focus, think, and behave better. Think of recess as part of a comprehensive treatment strategy for ADD. And of taking away recess as setting up a kid with ADD for further failure.
I suppose teachers see missing recess as a natural consequence for undesirable behavior. But the natural-consequences approach isn't necessarily the best way to help kids with ADD, whose brains sometimes do a poor job of connecting current behavior with future consequences. (Check out Think:Kids for more on this, including effective alternatives to the natural-consequences approach.) Exercise is likely to be a better intervention for a kid with ADD than a consequence is.
Those of us with ADD are often not the most socially adept kids on the block either. Children with ADD stand to benefit from time on the playground practicing all those confusing human interactions—words, postures, facial expressions, tone of voice, physical boundaries, ack!—and learning something about all those rules everyone but us seems to know already.
The New York Times has published an article and a blog post (both of which I highly recommend) about a recent study of recess and classroom behavior published in the journal Pediatrics. Not surprisingly, kids who got more recess time behaved better than the kids who got little to none. The article also covers links between school performance and fitness, nature, play, and attentional fatigue.
“Recess should be part of the curriculum,” says lead researcher Romina M. Barros, quoted in the New York Times article. “You don’t punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn’t be punished by not getting recess.”
OK, so maybe most of us don't need a study to understand that recess is a good thing—for all kids, not just kids with ADD. But here's the real shocker: About 30 percent of the third-graders studied got less than 15 minutes of recess a day, or even no recess. Whew. Sadly, those tended to be kids from low-income and minority urban families.
I still might contact my daughter's principal some day to suggest a policy of not taking away students' recess time as a punishment or a consequence. At my daughter's school, that means kids would typically get their three a day, if you include the 20 or so minutes of play time kids get after lunch (assuming they eat fast enough). That amount of recess always sounded so measly to me. Now, sadly, I know to be grateful for it.