One of the greatest puzzles facing teachers and parents today is how to teach students who can’t seem to keep still, either with their bodies or their voices. There is a spectrum of this high-energy behavior, most of which falls within the realm of normal childhood behavior. I myself would like to have a word with the person who thought it was a good idea to have kids (or adults, for that matter) sit at a desk for hours at a time and call that education.
One piece of the puzzle that we work with is integrating body-based activities into all our learning. When we were studying maps, I had each child choose a continent or ocean to be and we spread out around the room, trying to understand where we belong in relation to the others. Our study of trees involved many instances of acting out trees, individually and as a group. It can be a challenge to figure out how to include body-oriented learning into each day, but it’s important in order to meet the needs of all the students.
The other day, as we were settling down to practice our handwriting, one of my students raised her hand and calmly said, “Rachel, my feet feel like they need to move”. I was impressed with her body-awareness and her calm confidence in trusting the message her body was sending her. I sent her outside to run a few laps outside the classroom, and she returned calm and focused, ready for handwriting.
We also have a “calming corner” in the classroom. This is a comfortable space where the students can go to practice calming exercises. They know breathing exercises, yoga poses, and other body work strategies that they can use to calm themselves down, and they can go to the calming corner anytime they need to.
Most of the body and breath work they practice in the calming corner can be used anywhere in the classroom, too. I have a few students who really need to be moving and talking, and sometimes it feels like it never stops. Rather than continually remind them to sit still or be quiet, I’ve been working with them to do a calming exercise. It shifts the focus from their behavior to their inner state. The shift to inner calmness can be remarkable, and is a relief both for me and the students. It can take a lot of reminders, but the hope is that eventually, they will notice how good it feels to be calm in their bodies, and will want to go there as soon as they notice they’ve lost it.
What to do with un-centered and powerful energy (our culture prefers the term “hyperactivity”) in our kids remains a puzzle. We are working to put together the pieces in different ways.