Last year I attended a conference called ‘The Creative Brain; Learning and the Brain‘ in Washington DC. At this conference I met John Ratey, and saw him speak about exercise and the brain, specifically in regards to children in school.
The insights made through his research are amazing, and I believe it is especially critical for those with ADD / ADHD to read and understand as the benefits of incorporating regular play into school are profound.
- Through his research, Ratey has shown that children with 30 minutes of recess have more attention and less behavioral problems. It was critical that the recess does not have much material, is unstructured, and allows kids to be creative with what they do during the time.
- In Naperville, IL there is a program called PELife that they participate for 45 minutes in every single day. There are 19,000 kids in schools, and only 3% are overweight, as compared to the National Average of 30%. They score #1 in Science and #4 in Math.
- In a Texas Cooper Study, 2. 1 million kids were studied. The study showed that the kids have less discipline problems, and better academic performance.
- One of the best schools in Europe has 45 minutes of work, and 15 minutes of exercise per hour.
The amount of research done and what it shows is astounding. Exercise works on the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which has a major role in executive function. When we exercise, we have more nerve cells, more connections, more receptors, more neurotransmitters, and more brain volume. Exercise and play is a crucial part of activity, yet unfortunately today only 6% of high schools offer a daily physical education class.
While this research does not address ADHD / ADD specific students, my guess is the impact of exercise and play on performance is even more profound. Think about putting a child in a room without exercise when they inherently have a lower attention span, more energy, and a harder time focusing. Where does the energy go? How can they focus it?
Then think of putting them then outside to play with a ball, not using directions, rules and structure to dictate how they play. Bring them into the classroom now and try to teach them. My guess is that giving those with ADHD unstructured play time that the effects on the mind is even more profound and freeing, and that they come back to class even better able to focus, learn, and study.