We all know that kid – the one who can’t sit for a single moment without drumming, tapping, wiggling, or fidgeting. For those who have learned to control these impulses, these kids can be distracting and sometimes outright irritating! Even as a teacher, I find myself leaning towards the old-school way of thinking—that learning can only happen when the body is still and the mind completely focused on the task at hand. But for many kids, this couldn’t be farther from the truth! Movement has a valuable place in learning.
With the growing number of children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, it is critical that we learn to move with them, rather than bind them to our less active ideals. This also applies to kids who don’t have ADD/ADHD, but have these tendencies. And don’t worry; fidgeting by itself is not an indication that your child has this disorder. As parents we don’t need to have medical diagnoses to understand our child’s needs. Your observations are a powerful tool in helping better design an environment that maximizes learning potential. But we also have to step out of the way. That’s another topic entirely, one I could devote an entire article to writing about; but we often teach how we ourselves learn. We also tend to project expectations on our kids to be like us. You might find yourself frustrated that your child doesn’t have your penchant for being still, or paying attention the way you do. But be patient and willing to try something new.
During the learning process we are engaging our working memory. For some this comes easily, for others that floating attention can get the better of them, and the fidgeting and wiggling start. But it’s not a bad thing! Outwardly it appears that these children aren’t paying attention. But the truth is, for these kids the act of fidgeting or moving can aid the working memory. Mindless tasks can quiet the floating attention and give it something to focus on while simultaneously completing the task at hand. In fact, the more challenging a task is the greater the need can be for physical activity.
So what do we do about this? How do we incorporate movement and fidgeting into the learning process? The first step is to know your kid. Are they a doodler, a fidgeter, or do they need large movements? Their natural tendency tells you what sort of activity they need.
The Doodler: This can be incorporated into the learning process quite easily! This is a quiet task that doesn’t require a lot of space, and is not a great distraction to other around them. This can be a coloring book, doodling in the margins of the paper, or even encourage them to doodle about the topic they are studying! This can actually be used as quick anecdotal assessment tool to monitor their comprehension on the subject.
The Fidgeter: This can look like a lot of things. Pay close attention to the way your child fidgets. Is it rhythmical or sporadic? Do they like different textures or shy away from certain ones? Simple solutions for this can be a Koosh ball, Silly Putty, a soft fabric square, or a “fidget toy.” There’s a whole market out there dedicated to making small hand-held items that are designed for kids to fidget with. At the end of this article you will find links to websites where you can purchase these items. Pinterest is also a great resource for ideas on home-made fidget items.
The Mover and Shaker: For these kids having wiggle stools, seat cushions, yoga balls, or exercise bands across the chair legs are all helpful items. Trampolines are invaluable for many reasons. If you can put a small indoor trampoline in the room, these are great while listening to read-alouds, lecture style teaching, or while learning through rote memorization (math facts, spelling words, vocabulary words, etc). They are also helpful for burning off excess energy!
Additional tips for working with active students:
Taking frequent breaks in which the child can move around, and get out of their chair helps prevent the build up of too much energy. You also might need to incorporate more than one of the items or strategies listed above. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try things. And as always, seek input from your child. This will not only help you find the right solution, but it builds a sense of autonomy, and validate that they are perfect just as they are!
Where to find these items:
This site has tons of great items! https://www.therapyshoppe.com/category/8-fidget-toys
This shop also has a variety of seat options that are fantastic for those who need movement
And as always, there’s www.amazon.com You can do a search for “sensory toys” and many different things will come up.