If Needed, Let Them Fidget!

As a teacher, I know that I have strengths, but also areas of need. I always thought that one of my biggest strengths was accommodating for students with various learning needs. I knew what it was like to be that child that struggled, and I didn’t want others to feel the same way. This is why I’m so passionate about differentiated instruction and student voice and choice in the classroom. A meeting that I had on Friday morning made me wonder if I could/should be doing more.

During our PA Day on Friday, Valerie Bennett, a Character Networks Pathways Teacher for our Board, met with me to discuss the Collaborative Problem Solving Model. Towards the end of May, I wrote a blog post about solving problems on lunch duty, and I wondered how students could learn to solve some of these small problems on their own. Valerie read my post and thought that the Collaborative Problem Solving Model might help. After talking to her, I really do believe that it will help, and I have a plan in place for this week, including the use of a visual to use with students.

cps for students_1When discussing this problem solving model, Valerie and I were also talking about addressing student needs. It was during this discussion that she referred to an article that I saw and read before — but I don’t think truly made sense until our conversation. The article explains how fidgeting can actually help students with ADHD concentrate.

To some extent, I thought that I was already letting this fidgeting happen. Over the years, I’ve had students use exercise balls, use TheraBands on chairs, squeeze balls or small toys, doodle during full class discussions, and sit on bumpy cushions or various pillows to provide some extra pressure. But what about the student that’s using one of these methods, but still struggling with learning and/or preventing others from learning? I was sure that in this case, this child likely just wanted the attention: whether positive or negative. (I’m so sorry that this is what I thought!) Now though, I’m left wondering,

  • Is the method being used the right one for this child?
  • Does this child need another option in addition to, or in substitution of, what’s already being done?
  • Is there a consistent time that this child is acting out, and if so, how can I modify what’s happening at this given time?
  • Are the child’s actions posing a safety risk and/or interfering with the learning of others? If not, are the actions actually okay?
  • Have I spoken to this child enough about what he/she needs? If not, could we work together to develop some solutions?

I wish I could go back and change my past thoughts and actions. I can’t though, but I can make a change now. Maybe I need to think of more “fidgeting options” for those students that need them.

More Fidgeting Options

  • Turning on the computers and setting up the websites during our full class morning meeting. Our class discussions aren’t long, but these students could still hear what’s being discussed, while also having an opportunity to move around.
  • Putting the iPads on the tables, or opening up the app choices on them, during any carpet discussions. Again, these discussion times are usually short and don’t always happen as a full class, but when they do, maybe another option would benefit some students. 
  • Making use of the swivel chair. I have a swivel chair at the guided reading table, and I know that some students really benefit from using it while they work. Maybe it would also benefit some students to use during small group or large group meeting times.
  • Figuring out a fidgeting area on the carpet. I have a large carpet and a small class. Maybe students that need it, could find an area away from others where they can move more, but in a safe way that also does not disrupt other children.
  • Letting the student decide. If the current options aren’t working, maybe it’s time to talk to the student. I think that the Collaborative Problem Solving Model could also work well here.

Valerie, I can’t thank you enough for helping me see things differently. What fidgeting options have you used before for students that need them? What benefits and/or drawbacks have you observed for these students and/or the other students in the class? I’d love to hear your thoughts as I look ahead to a new week and an evolving approach.


4 thoughts on “If Needed, Let Them Fidget!

  1. Aviva,

    Your post reminded me of a student I taught early in my career. He fidgeted a lot and it always seemed like he wasn’t paying attention. He could never sit in his seat and would tap his rule constantly. Whenever I asked him a question the fidgeting got worse and he rarely responded. Well, I should say he rarely responded in the time I gave him. It wasn’t until I learned about wait time after posing questions and what some boys do physically to activate the verbal part of their brain. After learning about these 2 things I began providing more wait time and didn’t concern myself with the fidgeting and it worked. A valuable lesson learned early in my career!

    • Thanks for the comment, David! I love your story. I’m wondering, did this fidgeting just happen at his desk, or at his desk and the carpet? I never seem to worry about your fidgeting that happens during work time, as then students have enough space around them to not make it a safety issue. This is not always true on the carpet. I’m just wondering how others ensure that students have the space to fidget safely during carpet times. We don’t meet together as a full class for long, and sometimes just to share and reflect on some student work, but when we do, how can we address these fidgeting needs? I’d love to know what people think and what they’ve tried.


  2. Hello, Aviva

    Whenever we are on the carpet doing class discussion, this one student can never sit still. It bothered me at the beginning but after a while, through my own observations, I realized that he’s still listening attentively because he can answer questions and share his thinking with the group. With individual needs and differences in mind, I let him move around during this time, given that it’s a small class as well just like yours.

    • Thanks Vilma for the comment and for sharing your experience. Do the other students ever react to this movement? If so, is there something you do that works? This is always something I wonder about, and I’d love to know what others do.


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