I have an interest in children who fidget because I have a particular fidget-er in the family. One of my chaps needs to move and sway and bounce off things, click his fingers, spin (loves a spin does my chap), jump and fiddle. Once, we were in a National Trust house and a lovely guide was giving us a fabulous talk about the room we were standing in. One of my chaps was standing near me and listening intently whereas the fidgety one was doing beautiful spins on the ball of one foot which, however beautiful to watch, wasn’t what I thought he, perhaps, should be doing at that point. I left him to it but felt mixed feelings about it. Back at home I told Hubbie about the room and started to tell him about the talk when my fidgety chap interrupted and proceeded to recount it word for word including all the very little details. Although pirouetting his way around the room, it was very clear
He was totally concentrating.
In school, however, he wasn’t allowed to move and fidget and neither were any of the other children.
I listened to a fab BBC Radio 4 program called ‘Fidget on Four’ where Dr Kat Arney, ‘examines the potential health benefits of jiggling and doodling.’ This few seconds caught my ear in particular...
‘Fidgeting doesn’t come for free...
First of all. there’s a metabolic cost, so making all these movements is expensive from the point of view of the body needing energy, to execute the movements and, in general, our movement system is very carefully calibrated to minimise energy, but here are all these humans that are moving constantly wasting energy so that got me thinking, there’s got to be some reason for it. And then the other reason I started to think that human fidgets might be serving some purpose, the way I think they are in mice [listen to the full program for the study of fidgeting in mice] is that there is another cost which is a social cost. So, once I started to notice that people were fidgeting all the time, I started to just ask people, I said, ‘...do you know, do you fidget, tell me about that,’ and it turned out, first of all, that pretty much everybody fidgets. Everyone I talked to really gave me an enthusiastic, ’Yes! Yes! I fidget all the time!’ And importantly, almost all of them feel bad about it. They’d say, ‘Oh yeah, my wife, it drives her crazy when I’m rocking my leg,' and, 'oh, my son, his teacher says if he rocks his chair one more time, he’s going to get kicked out of the school,' and, 'oh my God my daughter, she was tapping her foot in chorus and the teacher said he was going to throw her out,’ so people
I know, from my own experience, that my chap needs to move. It’s not a thing-he-likes-to-do because it’s often a very unconscious movement that he makes, but if you study him for long enough, as I have, you get to know when he’ll do something and that has led me to guess as to why.
He’ll sway when he’s standing and nervous. He puts his hands on his hips and sways when he’s waiting and nervous. He’ll crack his fingers just before doing a task he’s had to concentrate for, it’s an almost movement version of ‘Right! Let’s go!’ I could list more examples of his movements and specifically when he does them, but I’m going to move on to why he does them as this is also mentioned in the program.
My chap does large fidget movements to self-sooth his anxiety. He’ll burst out with a random noise or repetitive movement (sometimes it’s quite a surprise) to help himself concentrate; his brain wants him to fidget to self-regulate and reduce the stress it feels.
The program mentions these reasons also and not just for children but for adults in meetings who doodle, dementia patients can find fidgeting and repetitive movements calming and the presenter -herself with a PhD- mentions that she’s knitted in meetings and conferences because she finds it helps her concentrate.
In short: some people need to move more than others.
If I relate this to learning, then educators need to know this information and education establishments need to let learners have access to ways to move. Asking my chap to sit still and be quiet and then asking him to look at the board, or teacher would have the opposite effect. He would shut down because to concentrate in the accepted way that you're 'supposed to concentrate' has a cost to him and that is that he isn’t able to concentrate as well; he is focussing, not on what he’s supposed to be learning but on just holding things together -all of which he will then do silently. He appears to be the model learner but really, he’s not. ,
He learns best by lying on the floor one day, standing on a chair and bending over to touch the table where he’s reading a book the next and pirouetting around a room while a wonderful lady is giving a talk.
We need to change the change the imagine of concentration. We need to understand that concentrating may look different for different learners -but that’s okay. We need to change the learning environment to provide spaces for different concentration styles -quiet places for those who need a calmer environment (me -I can’t bear noise when I’m working) but spaces with space to move for those that need it.
Our learning environments are stuck in the Victorian times as is our attitude to how a child should concentrate and show that they are concentrating. We are so frightened of children being out of their seat and making noise that we sacrifice a good few in each class to forced herd behaviour. Children who are learning and engaged in their learning, however they do that, aren’t misbehaving so aren’t the problem that they might be perceived to be when classes need to come together to listen or move as a group. Children concentrating in the way their brain works best are not misbehaving children and we need to learn that.
Wouldn’t it be great to create new learning environments?
Wouldn’t it be great just to even try something new...