Stacey Loscalzo

Nov 03

Could Recess Cure Our ADHD Epidemic?

by Stacey


This weekend there was a fascinating article in the New York Times titled, A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D.

Embedded within the article were some truly startling statics about the rise of A.D.H.D in our society.

For example, “The lifetime prevalence in children has increased to 11 percent in 2011 from 7.8 percent in 2003- a whopping 41 percent increase- according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 6.1 percent of young people were taking some A.D.H.D medication in 2011, a 28 percent increase since 2007.”

The article highlighted many interesting ideas. Of course, many of us have thought about the role that the pharmaceutical industry has had on the increasing diagnoses but have you ever thought about the fact that a short attention span was once very valuable when we lived in a hunter-gather society? The author also goes on to discuss the discrepancy that kids face between their highly stimulating digital worlds and the slower paced world of the classroom.

And then there’s my idea. I know it’s not really mine but I do wonder why we don’t hear more about it.

Recess. Could recess cure our A.D.H.D. epidemic?

I haven’t done the research and I don’t have the statistics but I know subjectively that our school aged children are moving far less than they ever have in the past.

I recently heard about a school that gives their children, through the middle school, two recesses a day. I was so shocked you would have thought they were getting diamonds twice a day. Two recesses per day sounded so luxurious.

Caroline, age 11,  goes outside for maybe five or ten minutes daily (independent of her P.E. time) depending on how quickly she eats her lunch and Katherine, age 8, is lucky if she gets twenty minutes of play time each day. I even hear about teachers who are taking away recess time for inappropriate behavior.

I can’t help but think that the increase in A.D.H.D. diagnoses has something to do with the change in how our schools and curriculums are structured. Younger children are learning harder skills while moving less. How can this not have an impact? And more importantly, when will more people ask these questions?


  1. Kaly says:

    I’ve been very lucky to live in communities that value recess. My sons currently have 20-30 minutes before lunch (so they don’t have to rush through eating to go play). And a 15 minute morning break that they take outside when the weather permits. In my last city, the parents pushed the school board to make recess a mandatory 30 minutes in elementary school and eventually got enough votes to put the policy in place. It is possible to change your districts policies but it takes a lot of work. Taking away recess as a punishment is my biggest pet peeve – it seems like more, not less, recess is the answer. Great post. More parents should be pushing for more recess! 

    • Stacey says:

      Wow! You have been lucky! And I love the story of the parents that worked hard for more recess and won! I so wish that parents didn’t have to battle for what seems to be common sense. And the taking away recess thing makes me nuts! As a former educator, I know it is the kids who are loosing recess are the very ones who need more, not less…

  2. My daughter gets a 15 minute recess every day, but some of it could be used to finish up homework. So ultimately, it only translates to a few minutes. I remember when I went to school, recess spanned 20 to 30 minutes everyday. I think we undervalue the gravity of free play and time for kids. As PE programs are being cut around the country, recess becomes even more important. 

  3. Allie says:

    It’s wroth a try! I’m worried about my little guy. And get this – when he wasn’t finished his classwork, because he was “distracted,” they kept him inside during recess to work on it!

  4. I firmly believe a lack of free time OUTSIDE is contributing to the rise in ADHD. I know that I need breaks in my day, and I can’t imagine that an eight-year-old needs those recharging periods any less.

  5. Tamara says:

    I worry with winter coming and knowing outdoors play is going to be limited!
    I took Scarlet to a restaurant last night and she wanted to run around the whole time! The whole time! Kids really do need to burn off energy.

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