*First published at www.southwestmums.com
Does your child have difficulty sitting still? Are they constantly “on the go”? Have they been labelled as fidgety, hyperactive or even defiant? Maybe their classroom teacher has mentioned that they are constantly wriggling and jiggling on the mat, swinging back and forth on their chair, or running, jumping, hopping or skipping at any opportunity to do so?
If this sounds like your child, I want you to take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Kids are expected to sit for long hours in their school chair and are supposed to “sit still and pay attention”. But this isn’t what their little bodies were designed to do. They were designed to move!
Suppressing a child’s natural tendency to move will not make the situation any better. In fact, it could potentially get worse. If a child doesn’t satisfy their sensory needs they will become more irritable and more distracted, and for obvious reasons learning and paying attention will become extremely difficult.
We must get out of the mind-set that fidgeters are ‘naughty’ kids or ‘just being difficult’ and embrace a new way of thinking and approaching the issue. Instead of punishing or restraining a child’s innate desire to move, I challenge you to see their fidgeting as a sign that their body needs to move in order to stay alert, pay attention and be ready for learning.
I like to encourage teachers and parents to “feed the need”. This means giving a child MORE opportunities in the day to move their body – before school, during school and after school. And what a difference this can make!
Here are 5 ways that I like to encourage more movement opportunities during the school day:
1. Encourage Physical Activity
Encourage your child to spend 10-20 minutes before school doing some sort of physical activity. Anything that involves heavy work of the muscles can have really positive self-regulating effects, for example: pushing, pulling, lifting, running and jumping. I take my daughter to school 10 minutes before the first bell rings to give her some free play on the monkey bars. You could also encourage your child to jump on the trampoline, punch it out on a punching bag or even vacuum the house (if this is up their alley!).
2. Whole Class Movement Breaks
Discuss with the classroom teacher opportunities for whole class movement breaks during each transition (for example: from mat time to desk work). This could include a dance, animal walks, yoga, star jumps or gym-like activities such as wall push-ups and sit-ups.
3. Try A Wobble Or Vibrating Cushion
Try your child on a wobble or vibrating cushion while they are sitting on the mat or at their desk. This gives your child the movement input they crave without actually getting up and moving from their spot. Genius! It means that they can be included in the class activity and at the same time ‘feed their need’.
4. Use Of A ‘Break Card’
Discuss the use of a ‘break card’ with your child’s teacher. A break card is a card that your child can access throughout the day and gives them the opportunity to exit the classroom into the fresh air and go for a walk (hop, skip or jump!) to the bubbler for a drink of water. This is a strategy that they can use to self-regulate and re-focus.
5. Create Opportunities For Multi-Sensory Experiences
Children learn best through ‘doing’ and multi-sensory experiences. Maths, handwriting and spelling can all be made more fun by incorporating opportunities to move the body. It can also increase the likelihood of your child retaining the information.
So next time your child is having difficulty sitting still in class, I encourage you to see their behaviour as an indicator that their body is craving movement. Have a conversation with your child’s classroom teacher and create practical strategies to support them to succeed…. and remember “feed the need”!