Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder in which children display high levels of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsiveness. It’s quite a common disorder which affects, depending on which diagnostic method is used, up to 7% of UK children. ADHD can have a significant impact on sufferers, disrupting their learning and affecting their behaviour. Their behaviour can also disrupt the learning of others.
While coping with ADHD can be a challenge for both the child and the teacher, outdoor play has been shown to help, giving the child a break from studying, enabling them to socialise with friends and allowing them to let off steam by being physically active. Here, we’ll look in more detail at the benefits of outdoor play for children with ADHD.
Stops children feeling isolated and stigmatised
The tell-tale signs of ADHD are most noticeable in the classroom where quiet and stillness are often required to get on with work. Those with ADHD will be aware that their behaviour is different to others and this can make them feel like an outsider. The problem is exacerbated when everyone else becomes aware that their behaviour is different too. Regular reminders or telling off from the teacher, complaints from other pupils or constantly being withdrawn from lessons to work with the TA can make the child feel both isolated and stigmatised.
In the playground, where there is no need to be still and quiet, the differences in behaviour are less noticeable and important. This enables children with ADHD to feel more at ease in their surroundings and take part in social activities, lessening their isolation and helping combat feelings of stigmatisation.
The other key advantage is that children with ADHD can often take part in structured outdoor games better than they can in structured lessons. Because they can move around and display their hyperactivities while taking part in games, they can improve self-discipline and focus; skills which can be used elsewhere in their lives, including in the classroom.
A release for pent-up energy
Most children find it difficult to maintain long periods of classroom study without becoming restless. For those with ADHD, even sustaining short periods of concentration can be a struggle. To combat this, play has become an important therapy for ADHD, enabling children to be physically active and burn off pent up energy. This makes them feel calmer and better able to cope in classroom environments.
For the most benefit, schools need to offer children with ADHD the opportunity to take part in physically demanding activities, such as playing on climbing frames, taking part in sports or doing activities that involve running and jumping.
Helps children learn better
Taking part in regular, moderate to intense physical activity has been shown to have an important role in developing the cognitive abilities of all children. It can also reduce the symptoms of ADHD, at least temporarily. Regular outdoor play, therefore, is important and can help children with the disorder focus better on their lessons and improve the quality of their learning.
Importantly, this works better when breaks are at scheduled times and are rarely cancelled. As children with ADHD become familiar with the structure of the day, their knowledge that a break is around the corner helps them focus that little bit longer during the lesson. This is one of the reasons why schools should not cancel break times at the first sign of rain and why, if needed, those with ADHD should be offered an extra break if it helps them settle.
Additionally, schools that punish the disruptive behaviour of ADHD students by keeping them in during break times may find this approach worsens the problem rather than rectifying it.
Improves social skills
Besides impeding the academic development of children, ADHD can also affect their ability to develop relationships and acquire social skills. Aside from the feeling of isolation and being stigmatised, those with ADHD are often physically removed from their peers, either working in isolation with the TA or, in some instances, being taught in SEND rooms away from their classmates all together.
Separating children from their peers not only reduces opportunities for them to develop relationships and improve social skills; it can also build boundaries. Both the child with ADHD and their peers thinking of them as ‘different’.
Regular opportunities to take part in unstructured free play provides a more inclusive environment in which those boundaries can be taken down and in which relationships can flourish. Not only will children with ADHD acquire those essential social skills; they will also take them back into the classroom where they can help the children better manage their behaviour. This in turn can lead to fewer incidents of working on their own.
Creating a playground for children with ADHD
Children with ADHD need three things from their playgrounds: the opportunity to take part in active play, the chance to interact with their peers and a touch of calming greenery. Active play can be introduced by installing climbing equipment, such as Trim Trails and play towers, or with playground markings for games and sports, like football. Interaction can be encouraged in many ways, such as through messy or imaginative play as well as through climbing and sports. Adding a touch of nature is easy, too, and can be achieved with nature and garden equipment, like planters, trellises and artificial grass.
ADHD is a common disorder that can have a serious impact on the education of those children who suffer from it. Outdoor play allows those children to release pent up energy so they can focus better in the classroom and, at the same time, removes their feelings of isolation, enabling them to develop relationships and acquire social skills.
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