Lately, it seems like schools all over the United States are pushing parents to put kids on medication the moment they act out or misbehave. Even a shred of hyperactivity instantly raises suspicion that it may be Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). That’s why more children than ever are now prescribed drugs like Ritalin and Dexedrine even before they reach the teenage years – drugs that have serious side effects and long-term consequences like addiction, misuse, and even psychosis.
• One Texas school seems to be spinning the status quo. Instead of pushing parents to get a prescription, they’ve changed the school day to allow for more activity instead. Eagle Mountain Elementary allows students to take a total of four 15-minute recesses each day instead of just one or two.
• Tripling recess time may not seem like a big change, but the numbers don’t lie, here. The school reports a dramatic reduction in behavioral disorder diagnoses. They also say students are better behaved, have better grades, and are just plain less fidgety, distracted, and more engaged.
• Eagle Mountain structured the changes after deeply investigating the Finnish school system. Finland has the highest test scores in the world across multiple subjects, including reading, math, and science.
• What Finnish schools do most differently is give their students much more time to burn off energy through play. That’s a wise strategy according to many early childhood development studies; kids learn best through play and usually become restless if they aren’t given the option.
• The new program, called Let’s Inspire Innovation N’ Kids (LiiNK), was also adopted by a small selection of other schools throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and California. All of the schools will run the extended recess for three years, after which time they will re-evaluate its effectiveness.
• LiiNK claims its program is already showing benefits across nearly every area of concern. This includes attention, focus, academics, attendance, and yes, even lowered rates of behavioral diagnoses like ADHD and aggression. They also say schools using the program are seeing more creativity and an improvement in social skills development.
• While students do miss out on a small amount of classroom time as a result of the program, neither the schools nor the LiiNK program operates seemed concerned. In fact, the sharp rise in attentiveness and productivity likely makes up for the loss entirely.
• Bob Murray, from Ohio State University’s pediatrics department, agrees. “If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task — if you want them to encode the information you’re giving them in their memory — you’ve got to give them regular breaks,” he said. Murray also says that brain scans reflect the benefits of regular breaks on a neurological level.