In Barry McDonald’s Boy Smarts February 2014 Newsletter’s feature article “Beware Of The Chair”, he cites research that is finding the more the child moves, the better the functionality of the brain. And that there is a positive link between physical activity and thinking skills including concentration, attention, working memory, flexible thinking and inhibition control. The article further states that there is no evidence that sitting facilitates learning (find out more at MentoringBoys.com).
What can we do in the classroom to help children stay at their desks and learn?
Here are 5 things teachers can do:
1. Ensure the student has proper positioning at their desk. This means they can sit on a chair that allows them to have their bum at the back of the chair so their back is supported on the back rest while their feet are flat on the floor. Their desk should be at a height that is approximately 2 inches above their elbow when their elbow is resting at their side at a 90° angle.
2. Give movement activities they can do at their desk. Provide stretchy band around chair legs to bounce feet into, an air-filled cushion, a wiggly seat such as a hokki stool, T-stool or therapy ball that allows them to wiggle on the spot. Allow students to stand at their desk to do work. Provide simple body breaks they can do with their arms, bum lifts from their chair, or pushing their hands into each other or onto the desk. Some students may benefit from having a standing station which is a higher level shelf or table that they can stand to work at. Other students may prefer to have an area in the classroom where they can lie on their tummy to complete work activities.
3. Provide fidgets. Occupying their hands might just be enough movement that they need. Some simple and inexpensive examples include: a string of beads, a few pieces of yarn taped to the desk, some scratchy Velcro stuck on the underside of the desk, a piece of rough sandpaper, silly putty or clay, a ruler with raised lines, a dinky car, an elastic band, and my new favourite, elastic band bracelets.
4. Give something to chew or suck on. Healthy snacks are best such as crunchy raw vegetables and fruit. But you can also use chewy foods, gum, straws and stir sticks. Sport water bottles that are hard to suck are great too.
5. Offer large movement breaks to break up sustained sitting. Remember the rule that children can sit for the same number of minutes as their age +2. Therefore, a 9 year old can sit for 11 minutes before they need a movement break. Offer students the option to run around the school or run up and down the staircase a few times, find errands students can do within the school or classroom and/or suggest a student walk to the farthest water fountain for a drink. Large movements in the classroom can also be offered by having a mini trampoline, exercise bike, mini stepper or a designated pacing area available at the back of the classroom.
Set your classroom up for success by having the ideas listed above available for your wiggly students. Implement and assess what strategy(s) works best for the specific student.
As always, persevere and good luck!