I had the privilege of teaching several different grade levels over the years. In the most recent school where I taught, we had 5 of each grade level, which was about 125 children in the same grade. We had rules; some for behavior and some for management. Being able to take 125 children out to recess, have them line up in an orderly fashion, come back in the building through 2 doors, get water to drink, and return to their classrooms was not always an easy feat. We had to establish some rules to avoid chaos, keep children safe, and keep things moving.
In our individual classrooms, we each had our own management techniques and behavior reward and correction system. We worked hard to use positive reinforcement wherever possible to help children learn to self-correct undesirable behaviors when it came to interacting with other students and being respectful. But when it came to the moment by moment situations in a regular classroom every teacher had his or her own style to help her children succeed in learning. First we had to know the children individually and their learning styles. How did these kids learn? Some learned by hands-on methods, some enjoyed visual methods, and others liked to listen more than to observe. We tried to vary these learning styles as much as possible so that all the children could feel comfortable to learn. However, there were 25 little people in the classroom, each with his own learning style, personality, and attention span. Keeping order and meeting their individual needs was often a balancing act.
It wasn’t long before I saw that we had children who struggled with focusing, sitting still, those with sensory sensitivities, and more. I learned much about how to help these children by getting them up and moving their large muscles, getting fresh air, being sure they had snacks, plenty of water, and breaking academic activities into smaller chunks for them. One thing I could not do for everyone at the time was to allow a yoga ball or trampoline in the classroom so that every child could sit comfortably. They were expected to sit up “straight and tall” and pay attention the best that they could. I soon learned that this is not a simple request for most children, let alone those who have special needs.
After I left teaching full time, I began speaking to homeschooling families and traveling to speak at school and homeschool conventions. I became convinced that fidgets have a rightful place in the hands of children who need them. Fidgets are small items that a child can use to self-soothe or to help him stay focused. These could be little fuzzy balls, pencil toppers, squishy balls, or anything that can move within a small space that essentially makes little-to-no noise, but helps a child to focus. I have listed here some suggestions for fidgets. They are not exhaustive and can be found in many venues. I prefer Boinks because they can move back and forth but make no sound and can fit easily into a pocket. My favorite places at conventions to find fidgets are Special Needs Homeschooling and United Art and Education.
Last year I was asked by an administrator if I would allow these universally in a classroom, and I had to think about for a minute. I think I would consider finding something small and not noisy that I would provide every child if he wanted to have one. As long as it was not used to bother another student and it helped the child to focus, I would consider allowing each child to use it. He was in agreement. I am anxious to see how his teachers and students made these changes and how the kids benefited from the decision.
I would encourage you to do a little investigating to see if this is an option for you as a classroom teacher, with or with an IEP. As a homeschooling parent, this is certainly within your rights to allow for your kids. It may take a few tries before you find just the right fit, and you might want to have a few options available. Fortunately fidgets are inexpensive and easily replaced if they have favorites.
Sharon Fisher holds a B.S. in Elementary Education and an M.A. in Elementary Education. She has 14 years of full time teaching experience in the elementary classroom, served as Curriculum Coordinator for Bob Jones Academy, and served as an elementary author for BJU Press. She has contributed to a variety of elementary educational materials and has presented workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of elementary-level subjects and teaching methods. She currently writes a blog and is Social Media Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist for HomeWorks by Precept, a provider of excellent education products, including BJU Press. She is the mother of four grown sons, a grandmother to Ben, and has a passion for encouraging Christian educators and homeschool parents to teach children with excellence and with a biblical worldview.