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Reduced Recess Could Impact Attention in the Classroom

March 17, 2014
Original Author: Christa Bigue

Photo by Leonardo Augusto Matsuda / Creative Commons

Image Credit: Photo by Leonardo Augusto Matsuda / Creative Commons

This highly structured and disciplined classroom is a model that is very challenging for a child today.

Mary Doherty

second grade teacher at a K-8 school in San Mateo, Calif.

Whether it’s daydreaming or “bouncing off the wall,” every student struggles to focus in the classroom at some point.

Inattention may be a symptom of an underlying condition such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), however, there are other possible explanations for student off-task behavior.

According to Intervention Central, which provides teachers with resources to help struggling learners, children can be influenced by factors in their classroom setting, and a students’ level of attention is at least partly determined by the learning environment.

“Parents should be aware that classroom organization may be responsible for their child’s inattention and fidgeting and that breaks may be a better remedy than Ritalin,” warns two university researchers in a Science Daily report that claims school children since the 1970s have lost nearly 50 percent of their unstructured outdoor playtime. Thirty-nine percent of first-graders today get 20 minutes of recess each day — or less.

Prolonged classroom confinement diminishes concentration

Prolonged confinement in classrooms diminishes children’s concentration and leads to squirming and restlessness, according to a report in California Educator magazine.

Couple less recess and more classroom time in a world where everyone is multi-tasking, and it’s no wonder more teachers are finding that inattention in the classroom has increased over the years to a point where large numbers of diagnosed ADHD are popping up in every school.

“It seems very unreasonable that there are suddenly more cases of psychiatric and neurodevelopment disorders in children in the present day then there have been in the past 10 years,” says Mary Doherty a second grade teacher at a K-8 school in San Mateo, Calif.

As a result, students are losing the entire concept of “focused conversation,” she adds.

“For these reasons, teachers may be giving instructions to a child who is half-listening or not listening at all,” Doherty says. “Busy parents squeeze in time to talk to their children whenever they can. This can be while driving, cooking and shopping. Society does not place a heavy requirement for children to listen, to maintain direct eye contact and repeat back directions. It has become optional.”

Kids need extra time to move around

In addition, young students especially need extra time to move around in order to rev up the brain to learn. In a traditional classroom, students are expected to sit at a desk for a whopping 7 hours, says Doherty.

“This highly structured and disciplined classroom is a model that is very challenging for a child today,” says Doherty, in particular for those who are kinesthetic learners, also known as tactile learners.

“We have multiple intelligences in a classroom,” says Doherty. “Some children are visual and auditory learners and can therefore gather information through listening and seeing. However, after many years of teaching, there seem to be more kinesthetic learners. These learners are successful in activities which allow them to move around the classroom and engage in group activities.”

Fourth grade teacher Kristen Benedetti has also found through experience that prolonged confinement and extensive lectures and activities are not beneficial for students especially for students today who are “very active and kinesthetic learners,” she says.

In order to keep her current fourth grade class engaged this year, taking mental breaks throughout the day is key.

“This only requires a five-minute break to allow them to walk or jog around our school track,” she says.

Classroom organization helps a child’s concentration

Teachers who focus on making their instruction orderly, predictable, and highly motivating find that they can generally hold the attention of most of their students most of the time.

Classroom organization and management is essential, says Doherty. Students need clear and consistent expectations for listening, being prepared to learn, and following through on directions. Inconsistency, distractions, disorganization and poor classroom management wreaks havoc on a child’s ability to concentrate.

“I feel the No. 1 tool for classroom management is organization,” says Benedetti. “If the classroom is overstimulating with distracting posters or too much work, as well as unorganized, how can you ask a student to be organized and focused?”

 What can parents do at home to help a child’s concentration at school?

While no one helpful hint is a cure-all or expected to work every time, it helps to have a ready arsenal of creative ideas to initiate or regain a child’s focus.

“For students that have legitimate attention deficit diagnosis, exercise and nutrition is the most prescribed medication to increase attention and improve mood,” says Doherty.

In addition, “students need to participate in some sort of extra curricular activity after school regularly,” says Benedetti. “It helps students unwind, get their energy out, and find an area of interest that can be their outlet.”

Going home and sitting in front of television or computer doesn’t allow the child to exert all that extra energy they have built up from their school day,” she says.