can't sit still

If they’re squirming, they’re learning



From kindergarten to second grade, Budlong’s teachers required him to read aloud to us for 20-30 minutes each night.  Here’s what a typical reading session sounded like in our house:

Stop bending the pages! Set the book down so I can see what you’re reading.

Put your toy down and focus on the book.

Get your hands out of your mouth.

Stop tapping the pencil while you read. It’s distracting.

Do you have to pee? No? Then stop writhing in that chair!

Are you sick? No? Then sit up straight!

You can get a drink of water when you’re done.

Can you just not. touch. anything. within 5 feet of us???

For the love of god, SIT STILL AND READ!!!

Kids can’t sit still, but should they have to?

Do you have squirmy bookworms, too?  Please humor me and tell me you’ve been there. I was pretty sure I had every right to lose my patience over this until I read Michael Sullivan’s book Raising Boy Readers. And then I realized that my gender has a lot to do with what I think reading should look like. Citing brain research, Sullivan explains that the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that controls communication between both hemispheres, is less developed in a male than in a female. Consequently, girls have an advantage when it comes to language because it’s a task that requires both halves of the brain. To overcome this disadvantage, boys seek out stimuli to “wake up the brain” to prepare it for reading. These stimuli can be in the form of sound, color, motion, or physical activity. Translation? Budlong’s constant fidgeting and wiggling is not an attempt to avoid reading but an attempt to get better at it. It’s not a distraction to him; it’s a learning strategy.

Shortly after this epiphany, I came across an NEA article that corroborates this idea:

“A 2008 study found that children actually need to move to focus during a complicated mental task. The children in the study—especially those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—fidgeted more when a task required them to store and process information rather than just hold it. This is why students are often restless while doing math or reading, but not while watching a movie, explained Dr. Mark Rapport, the supervisor of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Not only do boys need to move during a learning activity such as reading or math, they can also benefit from increased physical activity throughout their day. An article recently published in Time magazine reports the results of a 2016 Finnish study:

“Boys whose days were more sedentary when they were in first grade (a crucial year for learning to read) made fewer gains in reading in second and third grade. They also did worse at math for that year.”  

BTW, Budlong just cited this article in his third-grade persuasive paper about needing more gym time!

Get them moving!

If you think your child could benefit from auditory or physical stimuli while reading, consider these ideas the next time you need to rally for reading homework. He could read while

  • standing or pacing
  • listening to music
  • holding a fidget toy (squish ball, soft piece of fabric)
  • riding a stationary bike

Acting out a book after reading can also improve comprehension. What other ideas do you have for incorporating movement into your child’s reading/learning? I’d love to hear about them!


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