Movement & Concentration

Do you ever find your children contorting into pretzels on the floor in the middle of a history lesson? Are wrestling matches between children and stuffed animals ever a part of your reading time? Does the constant fiddling with everything in reach ever detract from your math lessons? Here’s what you can do.

Movement and Concentration

When our son was 3, we frequently enjoyed having his young friends over to play. One day, my friend Emily dropped her two dear daughters over for an extended play date which would include lunch. When it came time to eat, I quickly learned that corralling 3 preschoolers and keeping them at the table was going to be quite the challenge. So, I grabbed several of my grandma’s giant tea towels, and secured each child to their chair…

(Okay, before you report me, consider the fact that if you have a high chair, you regularly strap your child in so that he cannot get out. If you buckle your child into his car seat, you are restraining him. Alright, so we’re even.)

I only had one booster seat for the table, and Grandma’s towels were just the ticket for keeping these three precious little wanderers at the table whilst they ate. It also helped keep me from losing my sanity!

I originally chose to teach high school and adult education as a profession in large part because of that age group’s capacity both to have deep conversations and to sit still while doing so.

So, what happens when, as a parent, you are suddenly the teacher of very mobile, very antsy scholars who will not tolerate long stints of sitting still and listening to lectures on the nuances of English grammar or the parallel histories of ancient cultures? 

If the constant movement of your child is a challenge for your concentration, what do you do? Barring the use of duct tape, let’s reflect a bit on this matter.

The first question I’ve had to ask myself is this: is movement helpful to my young scholar? This is a question relevant at all ages, because, and I hate to break it to you parents of young children, the need to move does not have a magical cut-off age.

The purpose of this article is not to explore statistical analysis or child psychology in order to discern an answer. Statistics have been gathered; psychologists have analyzed. Conclusions show that children benefit from movement. Many children struggle to concentrate when asked to sit still for long periods of time. They need movement, be it during lessons or in between.

That’s great. But truth be told, while freedom of movement is beneficial in the eyes of professional analysts and psychologists, who generally work with other adults who have already learned to sit still, the significant freedom of movement that teaching in the home allows can create a multitude of distractions and problems. 

Do you ever find your children contorting into pretzels on the floor in the middle of a history lesson?

Are wrestling matches between children and stuffed animals ever a part of your reading time? 

Does the constant fiddling with everything in reach ever detract from your math lessons?

So, yes, studies show, but is all this movement really necessary?

I believe so. Movement can definitely help a child focus and even internalize information. While it may feel distracting, we, as parents, can probably attest to the fact that our minds wander as easily when sitting perfectly still as when moving. Sometimes moreso. Case in point: has anyone fallen asleep in the midst of a college lecture? Do I hear an Amen?

So what do we do in the homeschool classroom? Do we simply let our students summersault around the room throughout the day in the name of improved learning experience? Or do we set boundaries? And are those boundaries necessary? That is, is stillness also a valuable skill? 

Frankly, I don’t have any brilliant answers that are guaranteed to work for all children at all times. But, I do hope that the following questions and ideas might help you to find a healthy balance in allowing movement while also teaching stillness and self-control (not a bad thing to learn since life is full of instances when these are, in fact, required).

  • If you are frustrated by all of the movement and heading for Grandma’s tea towels or the duct tape, consider asking yourself what is bothering you about the movement. I have often found that the answer to the question is that my child’s constant movement is actually making it very difficult for me to concentrate.
    • This is a legitimate problem. If the teacher can’t focus, it makes it very hard to guide and teach. It’s okay to kindly tell your student, “Your movement may not be distracting to you, but I am having a very difficult time concentrating. Let’s take a moment for you to run about and get that energy out. Then, I would like to ask you to sit still for 10 minutes and focus while we finish this lesson. Thank you.”
  • Is the space you teach in conducive to concentration, or is it just inviting unhelpful movement? Yes, movement is good, but what if the space you are in isn’t right for the lesson you are on? My son and I love to sit in the living room and study, especially in the winter when we want to be close to the fireplace. However, there are times when I just need to move us to the table, because it establishes a more serious-about-learning environment. He can still move and wiggle his legs, but he won’t be trying out new contortions on the floor in the middle of math class. 
  • Are the items within reach helpful or distracting? Sometimes, having a rubberband, a squishy ball or something that can be fiddled with can be tremendously helpful for a child. It gives an outlet for nervous energy without being overly distracting. At other times, being surrounded by Legos or dolls while listening to a lesson is far too tempting. Consider what items may be helpful and what may be distracting.
  • Is your child actually learning while being wiggly? I have found that using quick check-in questions helps me gauge whether the movement is distracting my scholar or helping him concentrate. If we’re reading history, and I’m not sure that he is paying attention, I might ask a quick question about a fact I just read about. More often than not, I am astounded at his ability to absorb information while performing Gumbi moves. However, once in a while, the question reveals a need for redirection: “I’d like you to sit up and focus now.”
  • Talk with your child about movement and about learning. “I understand that you may need to move and that sometimes it might even help you concentrate on your schoolwork. I also know firsthand that it can be distracting at times. Right now, our main focus needs to be this lesson. If you’re not distracted by moving, then I want you to be able to continue. But, if it’s keeping you from learning, we need to get some of that energy out and then focus.” When I have been open with my scholar about these topics, I’ve found that over time he has learned to ask himself the question. He will even move from his gymnastics moves to the couch and sit still. If I ask him why he has moved, he says, “I was too distracted.” Yes, they can learn to self-regulate!
  • Take frequent breaks to move.
    • “Okay, everyone march 7 times around the table. Now do 10 jumping jacks. Next run in place for 1 minute. Okay! Everyone sit down. It’s time to pay attention.”
    • Turn some music on and have a brief dance party. You could even get some of your own nervous energy out and join the party!
    • If the day is beautiful, send everyone outside for a break between classes. Taking a walk around lunchtime can help!
    • If you do regularly sit at a table to study, consider having your student stand and march in place while working on a problem.

The bottom line is that movement can be helpful to learning. And movement can be very distracting to learning. So, we have to take one situation at a time. Allowing any movement anytime does not teach our children the discipline of being still. Never allowing our children to move when we’re teaching may be a detriment to their learning. There is no easy solution or one-size fits all answer. We simply need to:

  • Slow down
  • Pay attention
  • Check in with our kids
  • Be flexible (maybe we should join our kids in those pretzel poses?)
  • Aim for healthy doses of movement and stillness, each when appropriate to the situation
  • Ask God for wisdom (truly he cares even about these seemingly insignificant matters!) 

Do you love teaching science class? Maybe not? 😅

You’re not alone. Science class challenges most homeschooling parents.

Too often, the lessons consume too much time, and the experiments have questionable value for the amount of waste they produce. (Paper maché volcanoes, anyone?)

You might find yourself asking, is this really worth it?

We develop science curricula to help you address these problems, and more.

We believe the best science education starts with what you already have in your home and in your yard.

We believe science is less about accumulating book-knowledge, and more about developing powers of observation and the skills to use those powers responsibly.

We believe that the true practice of science honors God by seeking to understand Him better through His creation. Any practice that rejects God as Creator or Christ as King of Creation should be rejected in turn.

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Thank you for giving us your time and attention! May God bless you and your family.

Peace in Christ,
David & Susan Eyk
Oak River Press