Let’s face it: kids are NOT built to sit at a desk for hours upon hours each day. How do I know? Because most humans are not! I’m certainly not. It’s why I literally dance around my classroom. No really, I do.
Kids learn in all sorts of ways and styles. They show their knowledge in different ways. So why not accommodate these differences in your classroom!
Here are my BEST, teacher tested, tweaks for kids with special needs, or any kid, in the classroom. These work for kids in a general education setting AND in a home school setting!
1.Flexible desks: Have you tried to sit in the typical classroom chair? It’s hard, inflexible, and frankly uncomfortable for more than about 5 minutes.
My solution: allow students to ditch the desks if they need to. Allow the kids, when possible, to sit under their desks, to stand beside the desks, to work at another table, or to work around the room.
My rules: you must be respectful of others, please be on your best behavior, and try your hardest not to distract others.
2.Ball Chairs/Exercise Balls: This is a great low-cost(ish) solution to kids who need to get the wiggles out. Buy a few ball stands and exercise balls, and allow the kids to “check out” a ball for days when they get antsy. If this is something that you think your kids might benefit from, perhaps ask for it on your teacher wish list?
3.Yoga: Yoga is inherently deeply calming and provides an opportunity to build muscle tone/balance, as well as get wiggles out. I’ve used this technique with students diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, and those who are on the Autism spectrum. Almost every time, the students ended the yoga session calmer, more focused, and ready to learn.
4.Sensory Strips: Many children respond to different textures, or need to touch something to help them calm down or focus. First, find out what texture(s) appeal to your student(s). This can range from Velcro strips to silky fabric, and everywhere in the middle. Then attach this item to the inside of their desk on their non-dominant side. I used 3M adhesive strips or just sticky velcro. If more than one texture is soothing, add them all in rows!
5.Fidgets: This is an almost endless category. For my purposes, a fidget was a quiet, unobtrusive object with one or more moving parts that allowed a student to be semi-mobile during class. I had several really nice ones made with paracord and plastic beads by Paige’s Paracord. My students LOVED to use these during read aloud time, long tests, or whenever they got antsy. Their stress levels went down just sliding those beads around.
6.Movement Breaks/Brain Breaks: These have become all trendy in recent years, but special education teachers have been doing this FOREVER! Essentially, just take a break and let the kids move. There are a bazillion websites out there that provide free or low cost ready made brain breaks. My students have always had a good time with DIY breaks. We would put on Pandora and have a 5 minute freeze dance party. Or play statues (last one to move wins). Or have staring contests, funny face time, silent screaming, sing-alongs, Simon Says, and the list goes on and on.
7.Take a Walk: Sometimes getting refocused is as simple as taking a walk. For a child who looks like he’s nearing the edge, quietly ask if he would like to run an errand for you, grab a drink of water from the hall, use the restroom, visit the library, or do whatever. This removes the child from the stressful situation, allows for movement, and gives him time to decompress on his own. You can even create a walking choice menu. For one student I set up different walks for different situations: do the stairs for getting a lot of energy out, walk to the end of the hall slowly to relax, etc.
8.Work Reminders: These come in all forms and are generally set up with individual students and their parents/case managers. Some students need a To Do list, some need a gentle tap on the shoulder, other need you to be next to them, a quiet verbal reminder works for some kids, and for other kids a timer is crucial. Many children work best with a variety of these strategies in place. Just be sure to customize it for your child and your classroom!
9.Modify, Modify, Modify: Not every child can or will be able to do every age level task you assign her. Some kids are way above and others are way below. So, if your student isn’t quite reading at 4th grade level, find a comparable text at her level! With so many awesome reading programs, reading coaches, and Title 1 programs out there (plus libraries), I bet that you can work with your team to find appropriate materials for all your learners. For other tasks, distill it to it’s finest point.
What is the essential thing that your students need to know?
Then, work from there to determine what your student needs to be able to accomplish. Is it a biography? They could create a PowerPoint or other visual presentation instead of an essay. In math, help them to accomplish the same content, just at there level. Use real world, concrete objects whenever possible. In social studies and history, help them to understand the big idea. Be ready to use a variety of teaching and learning tools!
10.Get Creative: No two children are alike in every way. No one learns or works or is the same as anyone else. So, to best meet the needs of ALL of your learners, leverage what you have. I use lots of videos, projects, games, and cooperative learning in my class along with the more traditional textbooks, workbooks, and worksheets. I gamify their learning where I can, using programs like Khan Academy that allow them to earn points for participating.
How do you help meet the need of ALL of your learners? Share your thoughts and tricks in the comments!