Taking Away Recess as Punishment – Find A Better Way

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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. My son has learning disabilities and ADHD. He had an IEP for several years while in grade school.

My son became overly excited in school. He could not settle down after recess and got in trouble for “bad behavior.” He took meds every four hours. He took the second dose right after lunch and before recess. He was most likely to get in trouble when his morning meds wore off and his second dose had not kicked in.

The school punished him with in-lunch suspensions and no recess.

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

When the in-lunch suspensions started, we had several meetings with the IEP Team to discuss . . .. . . the type of punishment they were using. We also discussed his ADHD, his meds, and how these issues affected his behavior.

I made copies of articles and other documents by professionals and handed them out to the team. I read in professional books that 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 staff to come up with an alternative to taking away his recess. I suggested that he could stay after school to clean erasers, empty trash, or other work as “punishment.”  The school staff did not like any of those ideas. Finally, the Team came up with a plan that worked.

As we discussed his problem, we realized that the worst time for trying to settle down came after recess (before the 2nd dose of medication kicked in). The Team came up with this strategy.

  • Every day, after recess, my son would have job to do.
  • The teacher would give him a document in an envelope and he would take the envelope to the main office.

Some days, the envelope would include a piece of paper from the teacher. Other days, the envelope may be empty but my son did not know this.

He looked forward to doing this job. The fact that he was entrusted with the job made him feel important. The job gave him enough time to settle down so he was ready to get back to work when he returned to the classroom. .

Once my son started his job, he never got in trouble and was never punished by taking away recess.

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

Read the Research

Update:  In 2013, The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a Policy Statement on The Crucial Role of Recess in School that says in part:

“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.”

This Policy Statement is also available as an 8 page PDF. If your child’s school is withholding recess or PE, provide copies of the PDF to members of your child’s Team as a starting point for discussions to find creative and effective alternatives.

The Crucial Role of Recess in School

The Education Commission of the United States (2016). Find what states have passed legislation requiring recess or unspecified physical activity.

Read More

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.

Play Deprivation and Behavior Problems

Quiz: How Much Recess Does Your Child Get Each Day?

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.

Sharon enjoys sharing information with other parents so they can benefit from her experiences and is the author of If I Can Do It, Anyone Can: A Resource Book for Parents of Learning Disabled Children” and a member of the Learning Disabilities Association of America.

Sharon started a parent advocate group. Members shared ideas and strategies and provided information to parents and the community. For more information, please contact Sharon at helpgrouponline@twc.com.




Visit HELPgrouponline.com at


  1. Thank you for the timely article. I looked up our Alaska State law, and found that it, “recommends physical activity incorporated throughout the school day (e.g. classroom breaks, time for physical activity).”

    The school has been using recess as punishment to out son. We have asked that they give him some type of physical activity because it would behoove everybody involved, but they don’t. Our son is very active, and the school complains about his constant movement
    all the time.

    We have an IEP meeting coming up, any suggestions to get something in there? The word, “recommends,” isn’t very strong. I don’t want to be the “them against us,” parent.

    Thank you

    • Laura – consider yourself an equal member of the IEP team. I know from personal experience that advocating for your child can become very emotional. If this concerns you, look for a parent mentor or advocate to support you at the meeting.

      As for discipline, read page 88 of this: https://education.alaska.gov/tls/sped/pdf/Handbook/AK_SPED_Handbook.pdf (sorry, I don’t always get links to work right – just copy and paste)

      The note in italics, half way down the page is important. If your son has a diagnosis like ADHD it’s usually easy to get the IEP team to see the benefits of regular schedules breaks throughout the day. Regardless, it is important that you get an accommodation for this noted in his IEP, otherwise this situation will just continue.

  2. I’m a behavior specialist at a public elementary school. We understand the importance of recess. We have as much adult coverage as possible but sometimes a very excited or less socially aware student will be physically or verbally aggressive. I’m not saying that we go back to the old way, but I do want some parents to realize that we do a lot of advocating for those more excitable students. I think that one might want to not go into the school as an “us versus them” approach, it does make for a stronger team for a child. I’m disappointed that the word torture was used in this article. It is implying that teachers are engaging in torture. It is hard, it is difficult, it is wrong to hold a child in for recess. It is not torture. Please try to use kinder, more team-building language

  3. Is it legal to take away recess in order to comply with the “extra time to complete assignments” accommodation for a student with Dyslexia?

  4. I am trying to find out if it is illegal in Maryland to withhold recess as a disciplinary action. Can someone advise me.

  5. Many states have policies prohibiting the taking away of recess. Michigan: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Final_SBE_PE_PA_Policy_11_12_405423_7.pdf

    California law prohibits making a student stay inside the school during recess: https://govt.westlaw.com/calregs/Document/I6748E8B0FA2C11DE8C6E96BC63A3F6F5?viewType=FullText&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default)

    A great resource to find information about your specific state laws and policies is the National Association of State Boards of Education. You can search by topic or state. A gold mine of information all in one place.


  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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 🙂

  9. 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. 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. 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.”

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!!

  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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:

  23. 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.

    • Susan:

      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 https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/pe.index.htm – you’ll find a “print this page” feature at the top.

      Hope this helps.

  24. 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!!!

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