By Jennifer Dyer
Have you spent much time with elementary-aged students? Do you have an active school-ager who is frustrated during the school day or often in trouble? Back in my days as a full-time speech-language pathologist, I worked in a few different public schools, one of which had a plethora of children with behavior problems. As I watched the kids, I yearned for a way to address the attention and behavior issues without destroying the children’s spirit or by yelling.
My classroom, full of special needs preschoolers, featured little ones who couldn’t sit still. When I tried to make them sit in circle time, the lack of movement drove them to distraction. They fed off each other and bounced off the walls (literally). So, I sought help. My first solution was to shorten seated teaching times, put up a clear rotation schedule that kept the activity changing every ten or so minutes, and work where the child seemed to do best: sometimes the floor, sometimes in a bunch of pillows, sometimes at a table, or in a quiet corner. I used singing and music during story time. I gave the kids little objects, like toys, that went with the stories and songs we chose so they could participate while moving, and we increased our gross-motor activities ten-fold. The kids started learning more while the behavior and stress in the classroom decreased.
A few years later, I tried out what I had learned about types of learning and movement with my young Sunday school class. It worked like magic. When I incorporated music, rhythm, little manipulative objects, movement, and more child participation rather than just me lecturing, the kids got involved, negative behaviors decreased, and fun, along with information retention, increased.
After having my own autistic child, I increased my study of movement and its effect on the brain and learning. I discovered Brain Gym and other therapeutic activity/sensory programs. Many people–such Carol Kranowitz, who has written several books including the Out-of-Sync Child–have worked for years to connect learning and increased attention to gross motor movement.
When I started spending time with my “neuro-typical” daughter’s classes in elementary school, I saw the same negative behavior trends. Few kids flourish when forced to sit still and stare at a book or board all day. Recess isn’t enough. Kids need to move throughout the day, such as:
- Ten jumping jacks after a math activity can refocus the brain for the next subject.
- Bending over to look under their chair for a notebook or pen can help them reactivate gray cells for the next task.
- Pointing and flexing their feet or wiggling fingers can help release tension and increase concentration.
- When reading a chapter book aloud, keeping attention can be as simple as asking a question every few paragraphs, such as, “Raise your hand if you would feel the same way as that character.”
Some of the “trouble-makers,” I noticed, suffered from poor self-esteem and acted out to compensate. Those are the kids I gave jobs, such as passing out supplies or carrying the trash can around to collect scraps after an art activity. In addition to giving them more movement and reducing negative behavior, the kids felt needed, successful, and involved.
Why am I rambling about this? I want children to be successful. I feel sad when I see kids who are constantly berated for making trouble. Not all kids are wired to be academically successful—school work only taps a few of the many different types of intelligence. School doesn’t have to be a negative place. Also, I see so many parents and teachers frustrated by behavior issues.
If you are one of those parents, here are some things you can do:
- Encourage your child’s teacher to add more movement in the class.
- Instead of yelling to get attention, encourage teachers to use a slide whistle (thanks to Carol Kranowitz for this one) or a train whistle to refocus the class.
- Ask the school counselor to arrange for an in-service regarding movement and behavior.
- Buy the school a copy of the Out of Sync Child by Carol Cranowitz or Brain Gym.
- Volunteer to read to the students and implement some of these behavior and movement activities. Yes, your pleas may fall on deaf ears, but there is always the chance that some of your efforts will improve the life of at least one child.