According to Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, in her article "Why so many kids can't sit still in school today," published in The Washington Post on July 8th of 2014, the up-tick in ADHD diagnosis can be attributed to the decrease in free play time children have these days. She says that children today, compared with children from the 1980s, have decreased core strength, decreased balance, and underdeveloped vestibular (balance) systems - all due to the restricted movement children face these days. She writes:
"The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society."
This makes sense to me and I see it daily in my family and my classroom. My own children are constantly flipping over, hanging upside down in their chairs, bouncing around, moving in odd fidgety ways, and just moving their bodies significantly more than adults do. Sometimes it drives me crazy, but I try to be patient and remind myself that they NEED that movement. They need to develop their balance and core strength. Probably the adults could benefit from more of that as well!
In the classroom the kids often fall out of their chairs, run, skip, hop, and move in ways traditionally considered not appropriate in school. At the Montessori school the children have extended recess time and go out in most any weather. They are allowed to roll, climb (on the play structure), and run. In the classroom we do expect them to move quietly and in control of their bodies, which some children can do and others definitely struggle with, but the Montessori philosophy incorporates movement naturally into many of the materials and children are rarely asked to sit for extended periods of time without movement.
In a follow-up article published in The Washington Post on October 7th, 2014, Hanscom touches on the many ways teachers are trying to incorporate movement into the classroom, including yoga balls and movement breaks. She says that while these small steps don't hurt, they really don't address the ultimate problem either. Children need extended periods of time to move freely, as their minds and bodies dictate.
The solution she seems to be getting at is more and longer recess time. Many schools struggle with this solution because while it seems obvious, it is difficult to fit extended recess AND extended academic and test preparation into the same day. There are only so many hours. It can be argued that children can have higher quality learning in a shorter period of time (quality of quantity) if allowed more time for movement. I haven't seen published data supporting that, but it's probably out there.
If you take a look at the map in her article you'll see there are significant differences in the rates of ADHD between states. I wonder if schools that do have more recess time have lower rates of ADHD diagnosis. I wonder if communities that promote healthier living (safe, quality playgrounds, bike baths, "walk to school" programs, etc.) have lower rates of ADHD diagnosis. I wonder if communities could make the case for increased recess time, but also I wonder if more parents made free play a priority if we could together reduce the rates of ADHD diagnosis. Instead of driving kids from one organized activity to another, instead of giving them iPads in the car and game systems in the house, instead of worrying about all the dangers of the world... if we just sent them out to play. Or at least organized extended playground time with friends. (All of my questions could probably be solved with some quality time on Google, but I don't have that time right now so for tonight they will remain questions.)
In the meantime, I think we can incorporate more movement and more understanding in the classroom. Perhaps the kids can stretch our their legs or lay down during circle time. Perhaps more walking around the room, or somersaulting, or skipping could be allowed. I know it depends on the child, the teacher, the class, the room, and the school, but I also know that we can make steps in the right direction if we try.
I think we as parents, teachers, and caring community members need to work together to support our children's biological need to move, to develop their own bodies, to grow, and to thrive.