Somewhere along the way, we got this idea about what attentive students should look like. Imagine perfectly still students sitting at desks arranged in neat rows, their hands gently folded and both feet flat on the ground.
As any teacher knows, though, this is not the real world. We’ve even come to accept and understand that student movement can be good—and should even be encouragedin the classroom. However, managing student movement can still be a challenge. So what can you do for even your wiggliest students? Here are some ideas.
1. Let them wiggle and squirm.
First and foremost, it’s impossible for children, especially young children, to sit perfectly still. Developmentally, it’s just not something they can do, so we need to stop expecting it.
Students need physical movement, beyond recess and P.E, to support focus and learning. I’m thinking about my fourth grade student who benefitted from a wiggly seat cushion and a small ball to hold in his hand. We didn’t hit on this solution right away—it took some creative trial and error—but the result was a more attentive and engaged student. Once I gave my students the freedom to move, it actually made my job easier, not harder.
2. Create spaces for roaming.
Another key strategy for wiggly students is to provide multiple spaces in the classroom where they can move around.
Allowing a student to stand when he or she needs to, whether in the back of the classroom or to the side of the class meeting rug, gives them an outlet for their wiggles. Similarly, allowing students to stand at their desk (or sit on a yoga ball) to do math problems means more focus on the task at hand.
Every room I’ve taught in over the past eight years has had at least one swivel chair for students to get some steady movement when needed. When a student gets a little squirrelly, especially during a lesson, I’ll say, “Go swivel.” Five minutes of swiveling is often enough to get a student back on track.
3. Set clear limits and rules.
Now, you are probably thinking, “My classroom will be chaos if I allow my students to wiggle, stand, and move around all the time.”
Yes, but only if you don’t set clear limits. Make sure students know when and where they can stand, wiggle, and/or swivel. Set a rule that they cannot distract other students or themselves. Oh, and no full turns in the swivel chair.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Fidgets are for your hands and not your eyes.” A student should be able to manipulate the fidget in their lap while looking up at what is happening in the classroom. If a fidget gets a student’s full attention, including the student looking down at it, then it becomes just another toy.
4. Switch up your seating frequently.
If you see your whole class getting antsy at certain times of day, then consider what I call “preventative seating.” Instead of waiting until students are literally all over the place before offering a seating alternative, make sure you plan your lessons so students switch up their seats and move around often.
Aim to have elementary students switch from desks to the rug or from the rug to small working groups in the library at least once every 30 minutes. Younger students should move seats more often.
It’s important to remember that older students benefit from moving around, too. You might only have them in your class for an hour, but movement is good. Think about how you can make your lessons more active. Have students switch their seats around to work with partners or get up to answer questions on the whiteboard.
5. Help your students build awareness.
Work with wiggly students to better understand their own needs. When students learn to identify for themselves when they need to stand in the back of the room or sit on a yoga ball, they are more focused and less likely to disrupt the rest of the class.
What are your tips for dealing with wiggly students? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook.
Plus, get our tips for classroom management, according to the wonderful Mary Poppins.