Sunday, May 13, 2012

Teaching Wiggle Worms/ ADHD methods that really help

People need to move around to truly process what they learn.  Studies show that even adults who take a break and get up and stretch and walk every 50 minutes will fair better in their work efficiency than those who do not.  This time frame gets shorter and shorter the younger you are.  Of course, despite the scientific confirmation that most kids need to move to learn, children are still diagnosed with ADHD even at preschool ages.  I specialized in working with kids with ADHD and it is a condition.  However, some kids get diagnosed with if far earlier than one can realistically be sure about such a diagnosis. 

Allowing for movement in the classroom or home during lessons of almost any kind goes against the grain of what most of us have been taught, "Sit still and be quiet" (and other less polite versions).  Historically, before the institution of schools as institutions, most learning was done by doing.  Kids were taught through modeling behaviors in their play, apprenticeship and learning from helping one's family with day to day work of making a living.  It is still true today that most kids need some movement throughout a lesson to fully appreciate what is being taught.  As we are forced to become more efficient and teach the ever-growing population the ever growing amount of information that must be retained in an equal or lesser amount of time, we must acknowledge this fact and make a few changes. 

As a teacher, as often as I could we had labs, hands-on-activities, lessons that incorporated "dramatic" portions, time for individual practice and response etc.  Most good teachers these days are avoiding lecture and trying to impart information with a variety of experiences that include bursts of lecture interspersed with related activity.  Even when lectures are necessitated, the best teachers make sure their students get up and do something physical half way through for a couple of minutes.  For many of my students, even this wasn't enough (they were "severe ADHD cases" that needed more motion).  To this day, my 35 year old husband can't have a conversation with a client while sitting still at his desk.  He has to pace and move to best process his client's needs.  Many kids are like this and lessons taught to them while they "sit still" are lost on them.  They simply do not retain a majority of the information sent out to their ears.

If this is the kind of kid you have.  Whether you are home schooling, or helping with homework assigned by a classroom teacher, honor your child by finding ways to help with study and homework that incorporate movement as much as possible.  It prevents a fight for you and shows your child your unconditional love.  It also demonstrates to your child that he/she can be successful too, even if his/her success comes in a different way than some of her/his peers.  First off, provide ways for your kids to move regularly anyway.  Take "brain breaks" that involve physical activity.  Give them a variety of seats, bean bags, exercise balls and regular seats can all work interchangeably giving them a different sensory experience with each seat they use.  In fact, there are multiple styles of "chairs" to rest exercise balls in so they aren't rolling all over the place, but the sitter can still have the "bouncy" benefits of the ball.

With Reading assignments:  Maybe you can "act out" the reading given.  Have your child direct the family in a play depicting the reading selection assigned or have/him or her create a puppet show for a younger sibling or neighbor kid.  You might also try letting your child "illustrate" the story on a felt board while you read it to him or her (if it isn't an assignment in increasing reading fluency).

Say a spelling word and bounce a tennis ball off a wall and back to your on-the-go child.  have your child bounce the ball against the same wall and then back to him/herself  for each letter in the word and then back to you as he/she repeats the word.  You can adjust this exercise for math facts practice, vocabulary words and their definitions, properties of the chemical elements, poetry, (trade stanzas) etc. . .

Have a basket of "fidgets" available.  This is important, don't hand a fidget to kids you think need it.  Simply have them available.  The kids that need them will gravitate to them.  Fidgets are quiet "toys" that offer up something sensory for kids to do while listening or working on something.  I'm guessing the original "fidgets" were worry balls.  These were two spheres just small enough that one can hold both in one hand.  As they were turned and played with together in one hand by monks, they chimed softly.  It was simply one tool to help in meditation.  Today, these tools might be even more useful in education.  The modern "fidget" originated in therapists offices (you know the little plastic man whose ears pop out when you squeeze him) and were called "stress toys".  Then, use with special education began and fidgets expanded into special needs classrooms.  Then, because many people started using them and enjoying their novelty, and because kids think they are cool, the fidget has expanded into the wider market. 

Current Contents of our Fidget Basket
The fidget provides a place to put all that "fidgety" energy and channels the need for movement into something that is not distracting so work can still be accomplished.  For example, our fidget basket has a few squeeze balls, an egg full of silly putty, a ball and cup game, and one of those alphabet sticks where a bunch of blocks are beaded together on tight elastic so the blocks can be held and rearranged into different shapes. What works one day, may not work another, so you'll want your child to have a variety from which to choose.  I'm also always adding things and when something isn't getting used, it just moves to the toy bin and then eventually leaves the house. 

It is critical to treat having access to the the fidget basket as a privilege.  If your child or students are finding ways to be distracting with their fidgets, take the basket from them.  The purpose of the fidget is to take away  distraction, so if they can't use it for its purpose, they can't have it.  Start fresh the next day and they will begin to get the point.

If you are a fellow homeschooling family, or if you are the classroom teacher herself, try to make sure that at least one option for work is at standing level.  Have a counter where kids can choose to stand to do their work and where there is an accompanying stool to sit on if their legs get tired.  For many kids just being able to shift weight from one foot to another makes a big difference.  If you can allow for a "pace space" this can also be very helpful to thinkers like my husband (and Alice).  There is also nothing wrong with not using a desk or counter (unless you are completing a handwriting or typing lesson about how to sit properly) if clipboards are available. 

When the above options - or some super-creative idea of your own just can't work (please share those that do with us).  Have your child work on the hardest assignment first, set a timer.  Ask your child to sit for 10 minutes while concentrating on his/her work and then give her/him 5 minutes time to move around, next time set the time for 15 minutes but still offer only 5 for the movement break, continue increasing the "focused sitting" time in 5 minute increments until his/her homework is done or until it is just getting late and he/she needs to move on to chores or bedtime or other things.  This type of timing tricks the brain into settling into the work faster and staying focused longer for the duration of the work being done (the idea was recommended along with many others for helping kids use their time wisely and stay organized by Jim Brogan and it does work!) If it isn't finished by bed time, write a note to the teacher (when required) - ask for suggestions even.  If you are homeschooling, you'll just need to pick back up where you left off.  You might also take a look at Assessing Wiggle Worms, for ways to think about alternative types of assignments you can try.  Sometimes it is not worth it to finish an assignment if it means loss of sleep time, loss of time with the family for a family evening activity or it is at the expense of your child's health (down time is necessary for us all). 

If you happen to be a classroom teacher that could use more ideas about how to deal with kids that can be troublesome in your classroom in general.  Here is a link to nicely done list of ideas to help make the classroom experience a little more positive for you, your students and "That Kid".  Once you get to the home page, you'll need to do a search for "that kid", enjoy and please let the writer know I sent you.  For those of you working with such a child at home, this article might (and the associated blog articles and resources) be useful to you as will the balance disc idea and discussion comments in this article.  Please also watch this TED talk by Ken Robinson.  It is witty and fabulously relevent.

Other ADHD topics on Pinch:


Mindy said...

I really liked all of the teacher tips you gave to help students who may have ADHD or may just be a more active/hands on type of learner. I have talked about various strategies in my education and special education classes like allowing students to stand, take "brain breaks," sit on an exercise ball and have sensory objects, but I have not seen the chair that exercise balls fit into, so I think that is very neat. I also watched the TED link and thought that was a great connection to tie in to this topic because it reiterates the fact that all learners are different and we need to allow them to express themselves in ways that work best for them by being able to provide them with certain supports and activities for them to do so.

Anonymous said...

This was really helpful for me, for one of my students who has great difficulty sitting still. I know you had suggested having a basket on offer rather than simply giving the fidget to the child; however, in my 2nd grade classroom, I know that the other kids will also be grabbing them as "toys". In this case, do you think it would be better to gift it to the child (he has a behavior chart reward system, and it could be framed as something to help him stay on good behavior), or to simply have it in a desk drawer where he can come and get it but other students won't be taking it? Thank you!!!

Balance is Best said...

I really do recommend having it on offer in a basket, rather than singling out any one child - The fidgets are to borrow and stay in the classroom (so shouldn't be seen or labled as "gifts" because that indicates they can go home rendering them useless for you in your classroom) If anyone is using it as a "toy" then they've lost the chance to use one for the day. However, if you are really uncomfortable with this, than I would have it in a desk drawer to hand to him during lessons where he really seems to need it discuss what it is for and the rules about it with him separately at another time before-hand and then make it subtle when you hand it over.

Aeryn Kelly-Reitmeyer said...

As someone with severe ADHD I just WISH this stuff was available when I was growing up. Though drugs helped (A LOT) they never lasted long enough and I was always still labelled "the difficult one" instead of helped I was shunned. Even when my second grade teacher found that I did best when my desk was surrounded with an old school carnival stand (a refrigerator box) my parents made me feel ashamed for needing it in the first place.

I'm 30 now, but I think I might look into making myself a fidget. I've always had toys and small stuffed animals, but something I can "mold" sounds like it would really help.

Balance is Best said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My daughter did well with a bungee cord around the legs of her seat she could push her feet on the cord while listening or doing work. Also, there was a standing desk available for when the children felt they couldnt sit any longer and a regular desk with a swinging bar to put her feet on and swing back and forth.

Balance is Best said...

Thanks! What a great idea. I might add that to my daughter's chair for this year.

Balance is Best said...

I'm so sorry you had such a hard time, but glad things are getting a little better in our schools (slowly but surely). You might like the Baoding Iron Ball for you fidget. They're great! They are just met with balls with chimes in them and you turn two around in one hand together. According to the Chinese Tradition, it connects to the heart and keeps the heart healthy too. They help with circulation, and flexibility in the adult hand and the soft chimes are relaxing.

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