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What Do You Do With A Student Who Fidgets?

Studies found that fidgeting can help children with ADHD collect their thoughts.
LA Johnson/NPR
Studies found that fidgeting can help children with ADHD collect their thoughts.

Our story last week about the connection between ADHD, movement and thinking struck a nerve with readers. We reported on a small study in which students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder performed better on memory tasks when they were allowed to spin and move around in a swiveling chair.

We got hundreds of comments, tweets and emails. Even the CEO of Donors Choose, a fundraising site for teachers, wrote in to say that there are 1,455 projects with the key word "fidget" on his site. More than 1,000 teachers requested something called a "Hokki Stool" — a backless seat that allows kids to sit and wiggle.

On social media, meanwhile, we heard lots of ideas from teachers who've found creative ways to accommodate some students' need to fidget without disrupting the whole class. Among them:

Bike inner tubes: Wrapped around the legs of a chair, they allow kids to bounce their legs during learning. There's even a commercial version.

Chewing gum: Unjustly banned?

Coloring books: Stressed-out high school students love to color, several people reported. So do adults.

Desk placement: "I put my moving kids on the outside edges of desk clusters, just because they can move and not distract sitters," Donna Bernens-Kinkead, a fifth-grade teacher, posted on Facebook. "I also never keep them seated more than 15 minutes at a time."

Knitting: Many teachers wrote about the calming power of knitting, which is regularly taught in Waldorf schools. It can be done with fingers alone if needles are banned.

Pencil sharpening: Some said their students with ADHD were given special permission to get up and walk around, perhaps to sharpen pencils.

Stability balls: They're also known as "yoga balls," used as occasional or even continuous seating.

Standup desks: Increasingly popular, sometimes sold with adjustable stools and a foot board that wiggles. Julie Bishop commented on our story, "I always let the kids in my after-school program who had ADHD stand at the end of the tables while they did their homework. They'd bounce and wiggle and toe-tap without bothering the other kids and they always got their work done."

Stress balls: Many "fidget toys" are sold for use by students, such as "squeeze balls," "squeeze ducks" and Koosh balls. Sometimes their use is even written into an IEP, one teacher reported.

Do you have a favorite solution for a fidgeting student? Let us know.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.