Taking Away Recess and Alternatives That Work

by Andrea Wackerle

We have heard and seen from parents online, that taking away recess or free time has become a common consequence for inappropriate classroom behavior/not finishing assignments or tasks, or this time is used for students to receive extra help or guidance. In the moment, this may seem like an effective strategy, but for kids with ADHD recess may just be the most effective behavior management strategy in their entire day!

More and more research is being done that suggests that “green outdoor activities” can reduce symptoms of ADHD including inattention and impulsivity. Even students who are not diagnosed with ADHD are prone to suffering from “attention fatigue” and need a break, but for students with ADHD recess is a crucial time for “attention restoration” and can result in better classroom performance among return.

Some Alternatives

Be Proactive

  • Spend more time outside before and after school! Simply spending time in outdoor, natural environments can help reduce some of the challenges your child may be facing in the classroom. If it’s warm out, consider eating breakfast outside. If you live within walking distance of your school, by all means, walk to school! Encourage your child to join an after school activity or sport that is outdoors (i.e. soccer, frisbie golf, baseball, softball, cross country, etc.) Spend time in your backyard as a family. There are so many ways to be outside with your child, and hopefully you will be able to see subtle changes over time!
  • If impulsive behaviors in the classroom are resulting in a loss of recess for your child, talk to your child’s teacher and let them know how you handle this at home. Whether it be a non-verbal cue or a simple touch on the arm, this will maintain consistency and should be simple and easy for your child’s teacher to follow. Also encourage your child’s teacher to acknowledge your child’s positive behaviors. By acknowledging the good things your child does far more than the bad, your child will begin to exhibit those positive behaviors more frequently.
  • To help your child stay on task and complete assignments, ask your child’s teacher to help them break the task down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This can be done quickly and quietly after the larger assignment has been given. It will only take minutes but could save your child a whole hour of recess!

Logical Consequences

Even when teachers are proactive, there are still going to be days when your child’s behavior may need to be addressed through a consequence. Logical consequences are defined as consequences that are created by adults but that logically relate to the behavior (e.g., a put down – child must give three put ups). If the issue is behavior related, try to encourage your child’s teacher to take the following three steps.

  1. Make your child aware of the inappropriate behavior – often children are unaware of the rules or are unaware their behavior is inappropriate.
  2. Address your child again regarding the behavior and inform them that if they choose to continue, it will result in a consequence.
  3. If the behavior continues, a consequence should be instituted. It is crucial that consequences be instituted immediately (when possible) and fairly. Consequences are intended to correct inappropriate behavior – not punish a child or exact revenge.

Here are some simple examples of behaviors that may occur in the classroom and logical consequences that can be instituted AT recess instead of taking away recess all together.

  • Behavior: Hits another student Consequence: Separated from group. Must sign written contract with teacher to prevent behavior in the future.
  • Behavior: Can’t keep hands off other students Consequence: Keeps hands in pockets during recess
  • Behavior: Continually gets up from desk without permission Consequence: Must walk with teacher during recess

Extra Time

If your child needs extra time on an assignment or additional instruction on a subject, it is ideal to do this before or after school, not during recess. Talk to your child’s teacher to decide what will work best for your child. Your teacher may also consider letting your child work on incomplete assignments at home to turn in the next day.


For more information on the effects of nature and the outdoors on ADHD, check out these articles!
Treating ADHD with ‘Green Play’

A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study


Kuo, F. E., & Faber Taylor, A. (2004). A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study. American Journal of Public Health, 94(9), 1580–1586.