A typical school year is 180 days long in the United States, and for many students, the elementary school day lasts between six and seven hours. The Pew Research Center estimates that an average 1st-grader receives a minimum of 943 hours of instruction during those 180 days. When considering all elementary students across grades K – 5, it’s safe to assume that the average number of instructional hours may increase or decrease depending on grade level. Still, 900 – 1000 hours seems like a lot and how on earth do students that are 5 to 10 years old manage to sit still for so long?
The answer is simple: they don’t. Children are often restless by nature and can find it very difficult to sit still for long periods of time. Observe any elementary school classroom and you will likely notice lots of fidgeting. For example, during journal writing time the kids pore over their notebooks while standing, swaying or even hopping. When watching students take a test, expect to see lots of shoes kicking and tapping the floor.
Kids need to be able to move around. Some experts think that movement helps improve focus, so allowing students to repeatedly lean back and forth in their chairs while reading or going over flashcards is possibly a good learning strategy. As a teacher, it is up to you to find creative ways to let your students fidget while not becoming disruptive.
Easier said than done, right? Consider the following ideas:
- Board game fun. When students play board games in groups, make a rule that players hop or do jumping jacks when their game pieces move. For instance, when a student rolls a 5, he or she moves the game piece and then does five real jumps.
- Your classroom probably already has centers scattered around the room. Allow the kids to visit the centers several times a day, even if sometimes it’s just for five minutes. Increased movement may create a decrease in disruptive behavior.
- Replace chairs with exercise balls. This practice can become a little distracting because of all the bouncing, so one option is to have the exercise balls available every other day. Another strategy is to use the exercise balls right after lunch a few days a week. Don’t use up all of your free time switching between the two options; have the kids help with moving the chairs and exercise balls (don’t worry–they can do it!).
There are numerous small ways to increase movement throughout the day and help keep kids calm and focused. Have your students get up from their seats and walk to a rug to hear a story. Periodically turn on some music for a one-minute dance party. Set up a basket in a far corner of the room that students will walk to and turn in work. Show the kids how to clean and organize the classroom at the end of the day.
Be willing to let your students move around during all those hours of instruction; there are many creative ways to allow purposeful, non-disruptive movement.