For the average child, it can be difficult enough to sit still and concentrate in class. But for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, this difficulty is multiplied tenfold.

Yes, recess helps students with ADHD

However, recent research into children with the condition has shown one thing to have a significant impact on the control and behavior of children with ADHD: the level of exercise they are getting. When it comes to school time, there’s no better way to implement that exercise than in classic recess time.

In the past, a great deal of research has gone into improving the attention span of those with ADHD utilizing cognitive control building to improve upon focus. This cognitive control can be developed using specialized software and games, in addition to similar ‘gamified’ methods of improving the ability to focus on one significant task. The concept of exercise for ADHD comes from the same sort of place; the idea that working on that ‘mental muscle’ provides the cognitive control needed to improve brain function and encourage focus, without the need of complex games or extra time out of class.

A significant improvement in their cognitive performance

A study published in the Pediatrics medical journal found that children who regularly took part in physical activity programs showed a significant improvement in their cognitive performance, as well as their overall brain function. According to researchers at the University of Illinois, these findings could indicate that physical activity plays a prominent role in helping a child achieve better control over their cognition, in addition to improving their health.

For many years, it’s been reported that for children with hyperactivity disorders or behavioral issues, such as ADHD, exercise can make all the difference. This latest research backs up those claims and provides further evidence to the concept that exercise programs are vital for children to succeed in their school curriculum – especially when it comes to those in need of a little extra help with their focus. While many schools have yet to implement effective regimes of exercise for children, recess is one time that teachers can actively promote children to get up and move, leading to better results in the long-term when it comes to behaviors and ability to focus on a single task cognitively.

The specific study featured in the Pediatrics journal didn’t just find that exercise was incredibly beneficial to ADHD students. In actuality, the results of testing showed improvements in working memory, inhibition in maintaining focus, and even cognitive flexibility. Over nine months, half of the children were placed in an exercise regime that led to vast differences in those areas of brain function, in addition to the health of all children involved. For children without access to exercise as part of the study, their results remained consistent; further proving the importance of active recess time for children.

Recess, research, and evidence

Further research papers have supported this argument, with a 12-week study showing that a clear and consistent exercise regime helped children to improve both their math and English test scores, with the most significant improvement shown in ADHD students out of all subjects.

With so much research suggesting that exercise is universally beneficial for students, it seems like an obvious conclusion that schools should be doing more to get children active. Not only does movement contribute to their overall health, but their cognitive function as well.

How can teachers help?

What exactly can teachers do to help students with ADHD, and students in general, to get involved in exercise and improve their overall ability to focus?

The primary way schools can encourage students to exercise is by implementing effective exercise programs during recess, to ensure all children are given the best advantage when it comes to learning. Of course, not all children are enthused at the idea of getting active, but by offering a variety of different activities, it’s possible to find something to suit all ability and fitness levels.

As a teacher, you want to provide the best for your students. Research has shown that exercise is instrumental to the success of ADHD students, so simply doing nothing isn’t the best approach.

For inspiration, here are a few ways teachers can easily integrate more exercise into recess:

  • Supplying students with different exercise equipment to experiment with, such as jumping ropes, soccer balls, hula hoops and even stopwatches for timing running
  • Introduce formal exercise clubs during recess, such as tennis, soccer, football or similar sports that can be played as teams or in small groups and pairs
  • Split recess in two, with one half as free time and the other as a teacher-followed exercise activity, such as dancing or follow the leader
  • Encourage moving and exercise with stickers, stars or other forms of positive reward for children that take part in exercise consistently and regularly
  • Make exercise a requirement for entering and exiting the playing area, for example jumping on one leg into recess and skipping out

For teachers, there are many ways to implement exercise programs into recess times without costing the earth. But for those looking for a more laid-back and less disciplined approach, simply encouraging children to move through playground paintings such as a running track or even playground equipment such as bars or climbing frames can provide exercise for students, helping to sharpen their cognitive skills and improve their overall focus over time.

Do you integrate exercise into recess time, or do you believe it’s more valuable to let your students do their own thing? For ADHD students, do you offer additional exercise regimes to ensure their focus is maintained throughout the school day?