In order for children to learn, they need to pay attention. In order to pay attention, they need to move.
A perfect stranger pours her heart out to me over the phone. She complains that her 6 year-old son is unable to sit still in the classroom. The school wants to test him for ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder).
This sounds familiar, I think to myself. As a paediatric occupational therapist, I’ve noticed that this is a fairly common problem today.
The mother goes on to explain how her son comes home every day with a yellow smiley face. The rest of his class goes home with green smiley faces for good behaviour. Every day this child is reminded that his behaviour is unacceptable, simply because he can’t sit still for long periods of time.
The mother starts crying. “He is starting to say things like, ‘I hate myself,’ and ‘I’m no good at anything.’” This young boy’s self-esteem is plummeting all because he needs to move more often.
Over the past decade, more and more children are being coded as having attention issues and possibly ADHD. A local primary teacher tells me that at least eight of her 22 students have trouble paying attention on a good day. At the same time, children are expected to sit for longer periods of time. In fact, even kindergarteners are being asked to sit for 30 minutes during circle time at some schools.
The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and see-saws are a thing of the past.
Break times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.
I recently observed a year 5 classroom as a favour to a teacher. I quietly went in and took a seat towards the back of the classroom. The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.
This was not a special-needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a state primary school. My first thought was that the children might have been fidgeting because it was the end of the day and they were simply tired. Even though this may have been part of the problem, there was certainly another underlying reason.