I did my student teaching in a 2nd grade classroom, back before I knew much about children's sensory needs. In that classroom, sitting off to the side all by himself, was a boy named Ben. I must have said Ben's name 100 times a day. Sit down, Ben. Get back to work, Ben. Stop talking, Ben. Leave him alone, Ben. I think of him every time I read my own children the No, David! book. Poor Ben must have been sick of his own name.
Inexperience and a lack of knowledge about ADHD and the sensory needs of some children led to a less than fun experience for both Ben and me. But today teachers and parents alike have a better understanding about how important movement is in the classroom. Kids who fidget need to fidget. Think of fidgeting like your morning cup of coffee. The caffeine helps you stay alert through your less-stimulating work activities. Fidgeting is how some kids stay alert in the sit-still-and-listen learning environment.
Before we knew better, fidgeting kids got in trouble for poking their neighbors, rattling their papers, or tipping back in their chairs (four on the floor, Ben!). But today there is a myriad of simple products to help kids get their wiggles out without leaving their seat or disrupting the learning process.
Therapy balls make terrific chairs and give bouncy kids just enough movement to keep them happy. But as we learned at The Office, in the wrong setting those big balls can be disruptive. A therapy cushion is a good compromise. It sits right on your child's chair and provides small but constant movement opportunities all day long.
Allowing children to stand at their desk is another way to give kids an opportunity to move during the day. Unlike the therapy ball, a cushion can also be stood on, allowing for another option on days when a kiddo just can't sit still.
I keep a fidget toy on my own desk for those long afternoons at my computer. These toys are small and quiet and easy for children to slip in and out of their desk as needed. They provide sensory input, but aren't so stimulating that they draw a child's attention away from the lesson.
Does your child chew all the erasers of her pencils or snack on her hair, shirt collar or sleeves during the day? Chewelry provides a safe outlet for oral stimulation and—to younger children, at least—looks like a fun piece of jewelry. If your older child feels too self-conscious to wear chewelry, there are chewable pencil toppers available. Or talk to her teacher about allowing gum or hard candy. My daughter still talks about the one time in her entire six years of school that she was allowed to chew gum during a test.
I love a solution that's so simple and cheap a teacher can provide it to an entire classroom of kids. Simply wrap a resistance band around the front legs of a student's chair. Kids who need a little "heavy work" (sensory input) can tuck their legs behind the band and stretch it with their feet. Kids who don't need it can just ignore it.
The deep pressure provided by weighted products such as vests and blankets releases chemicals in the brain that soothe and calm. You can buy a weighted lap pad for your child to pull out of his desk when feeling antsy, but you can also make your own weighted lap pad. Pick out fabric in bright and beloved characters for your little guy, or something cool for your older kiddo.
Savvy teachers know that kids need plenty of movement throughout their day. I'm amazed at the amount of work my 4th grader gets done in a day, and I know there's no way that she could accomplish that if her teacher didn't understand the importance of movement. Dancing to music, Brain Gym exercises, extra gym time, daily walks—all of these can settle a classroom of wiggly kids. But when a child needs a little more support, these simple, inexpensive techniques might do the trick.
Has your child struggled with sitting still at school? What worked for you?