Thursday, 7 August 2014

Fidgets and wrigglers in the classroom

A number of years ago I attended a Teachers Matter conference where I heard Dr Rich Allen speaking. During Dr Rich Allen's presentation he stated the following "If the bum is numb the brain is the same". This little statement has stuck with me and I have quoted it numerous times in the years since.

Last night I was having a read of various things and an article about the Real Reason Why Children Fidget caught my eye and it seemed to fit with that little statement from Rich Allen

The article suggests that many of our children are not moving as much as they used to or need to and this is impacting on their learning and even the development of their balance and core strength. I think some of the following school based and lifestyle factors contribute to this area of concern:
  • in many education systems we take young children (5 and 6 year olds but sometimes younger) and set them up in classrooms where they are expected to sit for significant periods of time, often listening and concentrating... that is hard work for the brain 
  • we know that developing gross and fine motor skills supports development in reading and writing and yet we often expect them to learn to read when perhaps physically they are not ready to do so 
  • physical movement increases oxygen supply to the brain which aids concentration and eases weariness and yet in our curriculum overloaded days physical education and opportunities for movement are scheduled into specific time slots which lacks the flexibility to fit with the needs of our learners
  • the school day is long, it is divided into periods of concentrated work with usually 2-3 breaks during the day for self directed movement but not all children choose to be active in those break times either  
  • after school many children have homework which is again sitting down and often reading and writing based 
  • after school many children are coming home to sit down and watch TV or play with/use other digital devices that involve little varied movement 
  • through heightened health and safety measures children are not having the same opportunities to climb trees and take other 'responsible' physical risks where they get to develop balance and core strength in natural play 
So let's go back to Rich Allen's statement. If children have gotten to the stage that they are fidgeting then perhaps as teachers we need to consider that this is a signal that learning is being impacted and we need to change tack for a moment. I used to do a lot of observations of teaching and one thing I did as a norm was to sit on the mat with the children, one reason being it helped me identify how long was too long and pass that feedback on to the teachers I was observing. As teachers we are often sitting on more comfortable chairs or moving around more than our students as we stand to explain something or walk around engaging with different children while they sit at their desks working so we may not truly appreciate just how long our students have actually been sitting. It is worth considering. I know I get really uncomfortable when I have to sit for too long and when I am thinking about how uncomfortable I am, I am not concentrating on what someone else is saying to me! 

There are many ways to address this, some easier than others to be sure, and here is a small list for a starter (I am sure that you will have a whole heap to add and would be keen to hear ): 
  • have regular brain breaks or energisers within your day, a quick one I used with some of my classes was calling out two body parts and we had to get them to touch i.e. knee and nose, elbow and hip, ankle and elbow, toe and nose etc... this often involved us moving and stretching our bodies in all sorts of shapes to try and make it work! Another one was balancing on different body parts i.e. bottom and 2 elbows, 1 knee and 1 elbow, 1 foot and 1 knee etc. 
  • if you see some children getting edgy and fidgety do a quick energiser to shake it off, get the blood moving and then get back into it 
  • when doing partner chats or think/pair/share why not encourage the children to stand 
  • allow the children to lie down to hear a story 
  • when doing fitness or physical education think of encouraging movement in lots of different way like rolling and swinging and hanging upside down as well as balancing
  • think about how we teach, are there different ways we could help the children engage with the topic of learning that isn't based on sitting and listening, reading or writing? That is not to say that literacy isn't important, I am just suggesting that we explore different ways of working. Even walking around and reading could help or writing spelling words with different parts of your body might be a useful alternative  (and movement can support memory as an aside) 
  • I used to do a short yoga session with one class I had every morning before we did maths, I think it made the maths sessions calmer for us all, I know it helped me anyway 
  • stand, stretch and shake regularly 
  • and here's a wee tip from Karen Boyes that works to support those children then really need to move a little bit... give them a piece of bluetak to have in their hands and fiddle with, I used this recently for a couple of little gentlemen and it seemed to work in terms of reducing distracting behaviour for other students 
A good friend was sharing some of her learning with me recently and commented that one of the key things she took from a recent course was that 'all behaviour is communication', it's another favourite statement to share. If fidgeting is behaviour then as teachers I would suggest we need to consider what it may be communicating and if there is something we could do about it that could help our children to get more out of the learning opportunities they have. 


  1. So many students would learn better if they were allowed to move- our systems don't account much for kinesthetic learners.

    1. This would appear to be the case. I know I am shifting and changing my programme a lot allowing much more freedom of movement as part of it. I am aligning more strongly with play -based philosophies which helps frame the learning.