‘Are they arguing over there? Look at the wild pushing and pulling!’ During an observation we are sitting on a picnic bench in the schoolyard. The students in the class we are observing are all running around the playground equipment. And their actions are so intense that we think they’re fighting. However, we don’t see angry looks and there is no angry shouting or crying. Apparently it’s a very intensive game.
This enormous urge to move is actually not that strange. Because these students have just sat still in class for an hour and a half. They had to concentrate at their table for an hour and a half. Listening to each other, doing assignments, having a conversation with the teacher and making even more assignments. The students had to listen a lot and be quiet. In between we saw some students performing beautiful ‘chair acrobatics’. It’s quite surprising what you can all do with a chair!
‘Yes, we regularly move in between assignments.’, the teacher tells us later during a conversation. We’re talking about Joshua. The teacher had asked us if there might be problems with his sensory processing. In the conversation we talk about alternating between moving and sitting still. The teacher has the idea that there are enough movement activities during the day: ‘The school uses methods in which learning is also based on moving and then there is recess and the PE lessons’. However, during the observation we noticed that according to the current morning schedule, the students only have lessons where they sit at their table. So although the teacher may think that the students are engaged in movement regularly, in practice this is sometimes different. Because the teacher themselves are moving around a lot, the long sitting still of the students is not always noticed.
Coming back to Joshua: he is excellent in math, his results show that. However, he very regularly comes to ask for help from the teacher. He walks up to her every few minutes. At his table in the classroom, he fidgets with an eraser or rubber band while listening to the teacher. And his buttocks are often found anywhere but on his chair.
It’s probably already clear to you. Joshua needs extra sensory input to pay attention. And when extra input, such as movement, is not part of the routine, he seeks this input himself. By walking to the teacher, even when he does not need help, by standing during instructions, by rocking his chair and fidgeting with an eraser and elastic bands. Judging by the creative postures – all but sitting straight- and movements of other students, they also need extra movement input. They often seek this themselves, but not always in the right way.
How can teachers activate or calm students so that they can pay attention and participate in the classroom? Our book Sensory solutions in the classroom helps to find (activating and calming) strategies. For example, stretching exercises when students get restless, or fidgeting with a shoelace so that you can concentrate longer on instructions.
Very useful for Joshua. He can now do something activating like chair push-ups on his own chair. Now he doesn’t have to go to the teacher as often.