Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss tackles the importance of children's movement in her article "Why So Many Kids Can’t Sit Still in School Today" (2014). Strauss begins by citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control that show a steady increase in the number of children who get a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Of course, there are many factors that may contribute to this diagnosis; the inability to sit still in school is one of them. In examining this dogged question about sitting still, Strauss offers information from "The Real Reason Why Children Fidget" by Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist. Inundated by calls from parents worried that their children have difficulty sitting still in school, Hanscom reflects on possible causes. She questions whether it is lack of attention that makes children unable to sit, or lack of movement.
Alarmed by the number of hours students spend sitting in the classroom coupled with the growing numbers of children evaluated for attention deficit and hyperactivity because of their inability to sit still, Hanscom founded a program structured around outdoor play. In her blog posting, Hanscom reasons that many children have difficulty sitting because they do not get enough movement in school. They need movement to develop a strong core and balance system, and neither their home lives nor their school lives provide enough of it. She explains that their fidgeting stems from their need for movement; when asked to stop fidgeting, they may comply, but they stop paying attention as well. To remedy the problem and meet students’ needs, Hanscom recommends extended recess and outdoor play immediately after school (2014). Unfortunately, in many schools, recess is often abbreviated because of the time constraints of a short school day.
As a teacher, you can probably relate to Hanscom’s observations because you witness firsthand how fidgeting looks on a daily basis. You recognize some students’ discomfort when they are asked to sit but are unable to do so for more than a few minutes. This restlessness can be problematic for the student, for the teacher, and occasionally for other classmates, too. So, what can you do to help your students?
First of all, anticipate. Whether you are a veteran or a new teacher looking forward to your first classroom, remember that students learn differently. Realize that many children are probably not getting as much movement as they require, and recognize that some need movement a whole lot more than others. Schedule brain and body breaks into your daily routine, and be alert to when students need a break, even if it is before the planned time. Apply learning from brain research as you teach whole- and small-group lessons that correspond in minutes to the children’s ages. When the lessons go longer, students will find it very challenging to maintain attention and engagement (Boushey & Moser, 2014, p. 28). Know that you will have those students who need—really, really need to find the position that is best for their bodies before they can learn.
It’s no surprise that this position may not involve sitting on a chair with two feet firmly planted on the ground. Many children find that it is easier to concentrate and work when they stand, kneel (with one leg folded under them or even two!), sit cross-legged on the floor, or lie on their stomachs. Keeping the needs of those students at the forefront of your thinking, you can turn to classroom design for some possible solutions.
Classroom design is so important to how well children can learn and function. Download and read all of Janice's article for ideas on classroom must-haves, the function of furniture, providing comfortable seating, and how to best consider active students when designing your classroom.