Taking Away Recess as Punishment – Find A Better Way

boy outside not taking partMy sixth grade son, 12, is diagnosed ADHD with anxiety. His current IEP does not include ADHD, only another disability. He has difficulty finishing his homework.  The school takes away recess as punishment.  This type of punishment never works for him, but it does cause undue stress and depression.

Is there anything we can do to stop this missed recess?

We had the same problem you are experiencing. The school was taking recess away from my son. He was on an IEP for several years while in grade school for learning disabilities. He was also ADHD.

My son became overly excited in school. He got in trouble for “bad behavior” and could not settle down after recess.  The school gave him meds every 4 hours. He took his second dose right after lunch and before recess.  His morning meds were wearing off and his second dose had not kicked in yet. This was the time of day he would be most likely to get into trouble.

The school responded with in-lunch suspensions. No recess.

Taking Away Recess – A Type of Torture for an ADHD Child

When in-lunch suspensions started, we had several meetings with the IEP Team to discuss the type of punishment he was receiving.  We also discussed his ADHD.

I brought in copies of documentation from professionals to hand out to the Team. I read from professional books that documented how keeping an ADHD child in from recess or not allowing him to take gym class was a type of torture for the ADHD child.

A Creative Solution

We wanted the school to come up with an alternative punishment other than taking away recess. I suggested staying after school to clean erasers, desks, or some other type of punishment.  The school did not like any of those ideas. But the Team did come up with a plan that worked.

We determined that my son’s worst time was trying to settle down after recess. The Team came up with this strategy.

  • After recess, my son would have job every day.
  • He would take a document in an envelope the teacher gave him to the office.

Some days there would be a paper enclosed from the teacher to the office. Some days, the envelope would be empty but my son did not know this.

Instead he looked forward to doing his job.  It made him feel important.  It gave him enough time to settle down and be ready to get back to work when he returned to the classroom.

Once my son started his job, he never got in trouble or got punished for recess.

Sometimes it only takes a simple thing like this to get a child back in line.  This solution may not work for every child. But, a creative team can help a child have a positive experience instead of a negative one.

Update: Policy Statement (12/31/12):  The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

The Crucial Role of Recess in School

Withdrawing Recess as Punishment – Does it Work? This podcast answers the question “Is withholding recess harmful?” and discusses how recess activities can improve behavior for children with ADHD.

Why Recess Matters, How to Defend It? This podcast includes a brief discussion of research about the importance of recess for an child with ADHD.


Sharon Lutz (Sharon L.) of Ohio is a parent of 3 sons with learning disabilities (ADHD and Dyslexia). Sharon is an advocate for her sons and has 25 years of experience working with school districts and the IEP process. She is a member of the Learning Disability Association.

Sharon is happy to share her information with parents so that others can benefit from her experiences in advocating for her children.

She started a parent advocate group that was successful in sharing ideas and strategies as well and providing information to parents and the community.

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21 Comments on "Taking Away Recess as Punishment – Find A Better Way"

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04/05/2016 1:55 pm

I wanted to chime in on behalf of the teachers out there. I work in a private school that has many excellent students, some of which are also ADHD. Each child works at her or his own pace, and homework only occurs when a child does not complete her or his daily goals. We give our kids a break in the morning and a recess break after lunch. Yet, parents have sent letters and complaints to our school to keep their children from recess so they do not have to deal with their ADHD child fighting them over homework. We have also had parents say “keep recess but stop sending homework home, it is not fair to us to have to force our children to do homework because they get angry.” It should never be about making a student/parent happy. It is about teaching them life.

01/19/2015 9:35 pm

My son is in 4th grade. He has trouble completing his school work. I think he may have ADD. He is disciplined by not getting any recess &/or his lunch break, just only enough time to eat. Do you have any suggestions?

01/13/2015 11:05 am

My family and I encountered the exact same problem. It seems after lunch as we all know that medicines suppress children’s appetite that have Adhd. It became a problem for him in the first years while trying to figure out which meds worked for him. My son who is now 9 had a rough time getting adjusted to the school he was in. He has been in two different elementary schools and in each one he had counseling services by in school service counselors and home counseling. Long story short once we as a family decided that he needed to be in a more private setting we are very pleased with his grades and behavior. I can tell you that it has been a long road but there are schools that work with kids with their disabilities instead of against them. Consider Private schools /w income based Christians 🙂

11/03/2014 10:15 pm

I am new to this topic and trying to make sure I understand what “Behavior” includes with respect to “Discipline” and “Manifestation Determination”.

My Child has an IEP for a learning disability and is allowed extra time to complete some work. When my child falls behind on completing the work schools solution is to withhold him from recess until he gets it done. This trends towards a downward spiral for a child that also has weak social skills and benefits from the interaction recess provides.

I see this as a punishment for the “disability”, not as a punishment for “behavior”. My initial searches on the topic suggest “behavior” relates to activities the child should be able perform per their IEP or instances where behavior is harmful/disruptive to other students. Am I missing something?

10/26/2014 12:22 am

When I was 4th & 5th grades, I had recess taken away from me as punishment for either forgetting homework, catching up on homework, or acting out for no reason. I had the same mean teacher in those grades, she was poorly educated about Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism because she didn’t know how to deal with me. What she did was wrong, and unfortunately she is still there at the school I went to 10 years after I left.

11/09/2013 9:51 pm

To Debra re 11/9/13 post abt discipline. The law you are thinking of is a federal law, originally known as Public Law 94-142, now known as IDEA 2004. It is on our website. The specific federal statute is 20 USC 1415(k). Look at that and also google the word “discipline” on our website and you will have a better understanding. If you are writing a book, I strongly recommend that you purchase both our law book and our FETA book. Your understanding of the law is incorrect. Such a child may be punished. The issue relates to “manifestation determination.”

11/09/2013 2:05 pm

There is a Virginia State Law prohibiting punishing a disabled child for his/her disability. Can you help me find the number of that law. I learned it in college but it’s been twenty years ago. It was something like Virginia Public Law 142/92. I am writing a book about my son who had ADHD and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and want to be sure of my research on this topic. I would appreciate your help.

03/10/2013 1:05 am

EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!! My daughter has had over 15 In School Suspensions and recess taken away, every single one for FORGETTING something or NOT paying attention. Once she lost her pencil, she got recess taken away, she lost her homework page, she lost recess, she didnt complete an assignment, she had recess taken to make it up, she forgot to get me to sign her planner , she had recess taken, its ridiculous and Im fighting with the school to stop it, any advice would be much appreciated!!! I guess thats how they handle things here. Help.

01/04/2013 6:06 pm

My PDD-NOS/ADHD son, during his 4th Grade year in an Inclusion classroom, had Field Day taken away from him due to his behavior in the classroom. We knew about the punishment, and while we disagreed with the teacher and said as much, we allowed the punishment to stand. However, in hindsight, this teacher should have known better to take away a physical activity – especially one that lasted all school day – and when we found out some other stuff that went on during his year in that classroom, we should have protested more strongly about this punishment.

As such, we NEVER allowed our son in another inclusion classroom. Perhaps it was just the lead teacher, but his behavior just deteriorated that 4th grade year. He is now in 7th grade, mainstreamed, and on the Honor Roll in the 1st Marking Period. Yay!!

01/03/2013 1:26 pm

I am reading many times a school has incorrectly identified the disability or used a wrong label of the disability on IEPS and RECORDS!!! This only leads to an ineffective IEP and harm to the child. Officials and parents should also closely monitor the child for possible grouping of other manifest of the original behavior. ADHD can sometimes be confused with Bi-polar! The reason/reasons for any disability should constantly be examined and stated clearly on all records and reproduced on each and every document pertaining to said child. If multiple disabilities then that is the statement. Each distinct behavior should be noted and tracked. Any discipline or decision should be measured and its effectiveness noted! For every action there is a reaction and reason for it. Asking questions of why and then searching for answers!

01/03/2013 1:03 pm

Parents have a legal right and should demand to see paperwork that supports any decision that is made concerning your child. This prevents careless decision making by all. I highly suggest to any parent that you ALWAYS ask for supporting evidence, research used, copies of said information in paper form, the signature of said individual responsible. Accountability should always be utilized in any decision made for a child by all parties involved! This information should also include the sources used and that said information is directly related to that child’s disability! The mental health of any child is equally important to the education and as such is protected by the law. Accountability is also a record of conduct for decisions and actions taken!! Use It!

01/03/2013 12:50 pm

Children should not be disciplined without fully understanding the results of said actions by staff responsible and to provide information of proven scientific results to support said decisions!. Some of these actions will and have caused damage that is unrepairable or/and presents additional manifest of behavior that is unhealthy and dangerous. When authorities are uninformed and have no expertise. One should ALWAYS learn, study and review numerous informational sources and expertise when making decisions that effect a child!! It is abusive and dangerous to assume that any decision will not negatively effect said child! The risk associated with some of these decision can lead to death in an extreme circumstance. Over a repeated amount of time the pattern and effectiveness becomes an issue that is and can be used for legal purposes!

01/03/2013 12:35 pm

This is an excellent solution and one we discussed at a conference this Summer at a training for dyslexia screening and tutoring. Please share this with your child’s IEP team.

08/09/2011 10:23 pm

The school tried to take away recess as punishment for my son who has PDD-NOS & was in 3rd Grade.What they failed to know,was that he tells me word-for-word everything about his day.I called a meeting and stated this is not to happen again.He was then allowed to have recess again.

T L Brown
07/08/2011 1:12 am

At some levels, recess is something that should be earned. What do the schools do with student’s who do not play well with others? Parents often times do not want to address their kid’s unacceptable behavior. I think it’s great that people group want to work with the schools to address some of these tough issues, but at the end of the day, it is the school personnel – that must deal with the students on a day to day basis. By the way, for the parents whose kids can’t go outside for medical reason, what should the school do with them? Is it o.k. for the teacher to have your child in at recess then. Taking away recess is as much as a punishment for the teacher as it is for the students.

06/26/2011 10:45 am

Our schools will not take away recess without parental permission, but they will make a child walk alone around the outer edges of the playground for the entire time as “punishment” for whatever infractions they deem applcable. This means they can say they don’t take away recess. They just restrict what the child is allowed to do with their “free time”. Sublties of language reign supreme in some districts.

06/26/2011 10:30 am

If a school in Calif. provides recess, CCR Title 5 prevents detaining a child in the classroom:

  §304. Every pupil shall leave the schoolroom at recess unless it would occasion an exposure of health.

  §352. A pupil shall not be required to remain in school during the intermission at noon or during any recess.

BUT school boards can undermine the regs:

EC §44807.5. The governing board of a school district may adopt reasonable rules and regulations to authorize a teacher to restrict for disciplinary purposes the time a pupil under his or her
supervision is allowed for recess.

 http://ftp.resource.org/codes.gov/ccr/ca.ccr.05.1.pdf (see pg. 4)


Other states:

06/24/2011 10:51 am

One state, and I believe it is Pennsylvania, in its education code, prohibits taking away a child’s recess. I’m sure that there are lots of school folks in Pennsylvania who are not aware of this, as are many parents.

06/24/2011 10:51 am

This is great. Our parent group is trying to handle this situation, but how do I print this out?

06/24/2011 11:09 am


Click on the title of the post (or click “read more”) to see the complete post. In your browser window, click print. This prints the post and everything else on the blog home page. If you click “print preview” you can see which pages contain just the post and tell your printer to print only these pages. (in my “print preview”, the post is on pages 1 and 2 of 7 pages, so I selected print pages 1 and 2 in my printer box).

If you clicked on the Wrightslaw Physical Education and Adapted PE page at http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/pe.index.htm – you’ll find a “print this page” feature at the top.

Hope this helps.

Linda F
06/24/2011 9:55 am

Our school has PE only TWICE PER WEEK! And by 6th grade, recess is phased out.

MY el-ed kids though have had recess taken away as punishment, and the school is not receptive to our requests not to do it. I suspect a legal precedent has been set there.

We have our kids in extracurricular swimming (they sleep now!) but … this is my one disappointment in our school — they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces!!!