Battle ADHD Symptoms Promoting Free Play
Tim Walker was teaching in Finland, and he made a breakthrough discovery… or did he? While in his Finnish classroom, Walker noticed a boy nearly zombified and upset during the third day of class. When he pulled the student aside and asked him why, the answer became crystal clear. In Finland, teachers and students take 15-minute breaks for every 45 minutes of class where the students go outside and play and the teachers go chat and drink coffee.
Not seeing the point of all of these breaks, Walker chose to adapt a more “progressive” model, more similar to the hours kids are trapped in classrooms in the United States. Walker says that he felt “the Finnish way seemed soft,” so he kept his students inside the classroom for two consecutive 45 minute stretches of instructional time, then letting them have a half hour recess.
Walker admitted to himself that he really wasn’t sure the American way had ever worked very well, citing that his students in the States “had always seemed to drag their feet after about 45 minutes in the classroom. But they’d never thought of revolting like this young Finnish fifth grader, who was digging in his heels on the third day of school.”
However, Walker decided at that moment to adapt to the Finnish model of taking frequently scheduled breaks. And, just the mere incorporation of the breaks, added back into the classroom schedule, ended the “feet-dragging, zombie-like kids” in his classroom, according to Walker. He adds that what was even more important was that they were more focused during lessons.
He was amazed at the results, figuring he had made a “groundbreaking discovery,” that students remained alert throughout the day when given frequent breaks, but alas! The Finish have been using this method of taking breaks since the 1960s.
This model was based on a series of experiments in public elementary schools, exploring relationships between recess time and schoolroom attentiveness. Without fail, each experiment demonstrated that students were more attentive after a break than before one. Also, research concluded that students were less attentive when the timing of the breaks were delayed.
In Finland, this is the norm; primary school children are sent out, rain or shine, for frequent recess breaks. There are no organized activities; the children choose how to spend their time with only moderate supervision.
Walker explained that while he favors the Finnish model, it might be too large of a shift for Americans to adapt, at least all at once, letting fifth graders run free every 45 minutes. But, according to the research, breaks do not have to be held outside for them to be effective. Breaks conducted inside also lead to more attentive students. Kids who play sports can also gain a lot of important skills to help them deal with ADHD.
The location of the break was unimportant, but what did matter was ensuring that the breaks allowed students freedom from structured work. If the break-time was teacher-directed, the value of the recess was diminished. The benefit was “free-play.” There must be a balance between life and work.
Additional learning benefits of this time were also documented in the research, including the lessons students learned on their own about social skills: “they learn to cooperate, communicate and compromise, all skills they needed to succeed academically as well as in life.”
Walker concluded that, “As a teacher, I’m always trying to improve my classroom through experimentation. What I realized in Finland, with the help of a flustered fifth grader, is that once I started to see a break as a strategy to maximize learning, I stopped feeling guilty about shortening classroom instruction. [The study’s] findings confirm that frequent breaks boost attentiveness in class. With this in mind, we no longer need to fear that students won’t learn what they need to learn if we let them disconnect from their work for 10 or 15-minute periods, several times throughout the school day. And let’s be honest here, we teachers benefit from these breaks, too.”