Why Kids Can’t Stop Moving: The Neuroscience Behind a Student’s Need to Move

Students have reasons for how they behave, particularly if they have learning differences and learn in unique ways. Occupational and physical therapist, Suzanne Cresswell, helps us understand children and why some of them just can’t stop moving.

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Why Kids Can't Stop Moving: The Neuroscience Behind a Student's Need to Move

Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e244
Date: February 1, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking to Suzanne Cresswell. She’s an occupational therapist and physical therapist. Her expertise is really helping us understand the unique learners in our classrooms.

Now Suzanne, what is a unique learner?

Suzanne: A unique learner is a little bit of all of us, really.

Children and adults have their own way of making sense of the world around them. When we think of learning, we think of the sensory system taking in information visually, auditorily, tactilely.

Each one of us has our own unique way of interpreting that information, but in general, there are patterns of how the brain collects this information.

In our education model, we augment that understanding of the developmental model in teaching incrementally, as the child can develop these skills

But a unique learner tends to be on a little different path. They tend to learn at a different pace.

The emphasis in my book Unique Learner Solutions, is that these students learn differently — not incorrectly, necessarily, but it’s a difficult thing sometimes to capture in our general education classroom, where we’re focus on the curriculum and the standards and meeting certain timeframes.

They tend to learn at a different pace

Certain ideas are needing to be presented to the classroom.

So, the unique learner can be that child that causes the teacher to take a deep breath sometimes, when they think about planning their morning or planning their day, because this is an individual who doesn’t always follow the flow, the rhythm, the timing of the learning that goes on in general in the classroom.

Vicki: So two of my three children have what I call learning differences. I don’t call them disabilities because my children can learn. They just learn differently.

So would you say that someone who has a learning difference is a unique learner, or not always?

Suzanne: No. We’re talking about the same person. Yes, they are the same.

Vicki: These children are learning differently. We realize that. Sometimes they’ll show it by acting.

Sometimes they’ll show it as you look at them and you know they’re trying really, really hard. But they’re just not understanding it.

What do we do? Where do we start?

Where do we start?

Suzanne: I’ll start with the comment about when they’re acting out.

That right there requires a little more inquiry as to what might be motivating the child to act in a way that we would characterize as acting out.

  • Are they physically moving frequently in their chair?
  • Are they interrupting and are off-topic?
  • Are they head on the desk and not interacting type of acting out?

To go beyond that, to take it to the next step and start to look at what might be contributing to that particular “strategy” on the student’s part.

What I’ve learned in working with this population for 30 years — in a medical setting and in a school setting and and sports setting with young athletes — some young people tend to develop strategies even on a subconscious level in order to assist their brain to stay engaged.

We’re hard-wired to learn.

We must take in information.

We must integrate that with past events or memory, and process that in terms of our intellectual understanding in order to take the next step.

This is something that is as necessary as breathing in and breathing out.

So to make that essential process work, for some of these children that have a different way of perceiving information, they come up with strategies.

Some of these children come up with strategies

Some children require a heck of a lot of movement to keep their body going, and I’d like to explain a little bit about that if I might. It goes into big fat neurophysiologic words. But I think that it helps to understand.

Vicki: I know, for example, I have a lot of kids who have ADD or other things. We’ll do planks in our classroom. We’ll stop and say, “OK, we’re going to do push-ups, or maybe planks. I’m going to go for just a minute, just to try to get some of that energy out.”

Is that what you’re talking about?

Suzanne: I want to tell you why you’re doing planks and why that’s working.

But first of all, let me put my hands together and applaud you. That’s fantastic!

So let’s talk about that busy child, a busy one… hyperactive child, ADD. Those are often the students that we’ll see in a general education setting.

They’ve got a good understanding of many of the academic concepts when they are in a situation in which they can demonstrate that to the teacher.

And yet, they are at a little different rhythm than the other students. They’re moving more, or they’re at the end of the answer when you’re still really looking to see how the child solves it and the process.

They are at a little different rhythm than the other students

These types of things are — shall I say — some days it might be upsetting. It offers another avenue for the teacher, and sometimes that’s difficult to integrate, so it ends up being the language that the child is having an upset or an outbreak or what have you.

I totally understand the use of that language. The interesting thing is to look a little bit beyond that. You see that in order to learn is a very developmentally wired process, starting in infancy and moving on.

Let me just quickly take you back:

In infancy, we’re moving out of a buoyant environment inside our mommy's womb. The first experience we have, the first neurologic thing that our brain understands is the gravitational pull of the earth’s surface. Everything moved from the buoyancy. (laughs)

Moving out of a buoyant environment inside the womb

That’s the very first thing that happens, and the brain connects with that feeling, and then must tell the muscles what to do in order to respond to gravity.

So rather than going — if you don’t mind my saying, kind of — collapse, flat. “OK, that’s gravity, and I need to tell my head and neck and arms basically to do a little bit of a plank if I’m on my tummy so I can lift my head and continue breathing. Ultimately, then move to a source of food and that tactile nurturing.

Well, that right there — feeling gravity and then telling your muscles and joints what to do — is this part of our sensory system.

We have senses — taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing.

But these two senses — feeling gravity (vestibular system) and feeling your muscles and joints respond to your commands (proprioceptive system) — we continue to feed the vestibular and proprioceptive systems.

Vestibular and proprioceptive systems

We continue to feed our sense of feeling gravity operate on our body, feeling our muscles and joints respond optimally to gravity all of our life. But we move it to a part of our brain that we don’t really interact with that much.

That’s why we like walking. That’s why we like exercise. That’s why we like yoga as adults.

These are things that we do. We bring it into our life. It’s in our mind, it’s in our body and our muscles and so forth.

That’s why you’re doing planks for these kids, because you’re stimulating their proprioceptive center and you’re stimulating their vestibular center.

The children that require movement, that are moving in the class at a different rhythm, different rate — and moving at all when the other children are sitting still — this is a child that needs to interact with the vestibular center and the proprioceptive center in order to keep the brain charged for learning.

Understanding that, then we can create a safe way for that child to be able to function in a social classroom environment.

Accommodating those needs

If they need movement, then we provide them with perhaps a seat pan cushion that’s slightly inflated, so that they can move and yet they’re physically within their seat, so they’re not interrupting others.

Some classrooms will obtain the yoga ball, the therapy ball, and find a collar for it so it doesn’t roll anywhere. The student will sit on the ball.

Of course if you’re sitting on a round chair or a round surface your brain is continually interacting with the gravitational pull of the earth’s surface and your body’s ability to respond to those movements. That continually feeds the brain and keeps the brain active for learning.

Vicki: This is so related to flexible seating, isn’t it?

Suzanne: Yes, yes, exactly.

Yeah, it’s very much the same concept, so once we begin to understand that it’s a strategy — we look beyond the erratic behavior, if you will, and look at what that might be cause by — then we can provide solutions for the student.

Then the student is able, in their unique way, to keep their brain and body geared up and continuing to participate in the classroom lessons and the learning that occurs.

But my tendency is to walk into a classroom to see the student I’ve been invited to provide some assistance with, and to look at the child basically as already perfect, if you will.

They are doing the best they can in order to function within their circumstances, and (determine) how successful is that?

Sometimes the way they’re acting is exactly what you want in the gymnasium, but not in the library, and they can’t tell that distinction. So they need to be taught the place for things, and how to be able to identify that.

But why you’re doing planks — that’s putting pressure through the joints of the arms and hands. That pressure is what informs the brain — the proprioceptive center — and overall, that leave the brain with a calming feeling.

When you think planks, when you think movement breaks, even if you think of recess and lunch breaks — that’s all the yoga in the middle of the day if that has meaning for you. Or that’s the taking a walk in the middle of your workday.

That’s what we all need, but children even more need movement infused frequently during their day. Useful movement!

Children even more need movement infused frequently throughout the day

The planks are wonderful. Other movement patterns that help learning readiness are that right brain left brain types of movement as well, where you’re crossing your arms across midline and those types of movement breaks are useful in the classroom all the time.

Vicki: Well, we’ve learned so much today, and the truth is that there is a reason that so many kids can’t stop moving.

There’s nothing wrong with them.

They don’t need to be “fixed.”

They don’t need to be just told to have more control.

I think, as a teacher, that giving brain breaks, giving movement breaks, giving flexible seating — this is all part of being a good teacher. I think that Suzanne has given us a healthy way to view why some our students just can’t stop moving!

Suzanne: That’s true. Yes. Absolutely.

I have information for you on our website, and I have an eBook for your listeners as well that they can access at our website, http://uniquelearnersolutions.com/ebook.

It provides some red flags and it reviews what you and I were just talking about in terms of just scratching below the surface and finding out what’s motivating that behavior that seems so nonproductive.

And the teachers are doing that now. The modern education model embraces movement, a very kinetic model. It’s delightful to see it helping a lot of different learners.

Vicki: It really does make a difference.

I hope that all of us will learn more about all of these different topics and introducing more movement into our classrooms.


Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford kymberlimulford@gmail.com

Bio as submitted

Suzanne Cresswell is an occupational and physical therapist who has worked with unique learners for over three decades. Suzanne works to educate and provide proven solutions and strategies to those that parent, instruct and work with unique learners. By creating an understanding of unique learners and their learning behavior, she helps parents, teachers and the students themselves find the ability in learning disability.

Blog: http://uniquelearnersolutions.com/

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Lucas R February 2, 2018 - 3:20 pm

FYI, for anyone interested in brain-based education, there’s a documentary covering the topic quite well. While told more from the human experience standpoint, it also covers the practical aspects of using brain-based teaching.. might be worth a look for professional development credits. http://www.greymattersdocumentary.com/

Vicki Davis February 3, 2018 - 7:40 am

We had a show on this documentary as well. Great stuff!


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