During my current professional ADHD Parent Coach Academy training, we addressed the value and importance of movement and flexible seating for children with ADHD. During this discussion, one of my coaches, Bonni Cohen, expressed that as a school principal, she had the opportunity to incorporate significant opportunities for movement in her classrooms and that it had a positive impact.
Manorhaven School in Port Washington, NY, is a K-5 suburban elementary school. In 2015, Manorhaven school was honored with the Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Active Schools Award for their commitment to physical activity before, during, and after the school day and fostering a staff, family, and community commitment to physical fitness.
This award was the first of ongoing recognition, including the Physical Education Teacher of the Year award by AAHPERD, now known as SHAPE America, to Manorhaven PE teacher Megaera Regan. Over the next few years, Manorhaven School staff members have trained in Action Based Learning by Jean Blaydes Madigan, an internationally known pioneer in kinesthetic teaching strategies, and Mike Kuczala, author of The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning Through Movement. At that time, the school purchased kinesthetic furniture for the classrooms and saw improvement in student learning. Manorhaven school now has one fully furnished kinesthetic classroom, and most classrooms have kinesthetic corners with stability balls, pedal desks, standing desks, or other forms of alternative furniture.
I asked Dr. Cohen to answer a few questions about a kinesthetic learning environment.
What is a kinesthetic classroom?
The kinesthetic classroom refers to both kinesthetic furniture and incorporating movement and rhythm into teaching. Kinesthetic furniture allows children to pedal, slide, bounce, stretch and move while staying focused on their lesson. Motion desks, tables, and seating will enable children to be in motion while they learn. This is not exercise, as one teacher tells her students, “We are not in a spin class.” This is a gentle motion that can start and stop according to the student’s need to move.
Based on brain research, Action Based Learning supports the link between movement and learning to improve academic performance and behavior and helps all students learn and retain information while staying on task through applying rhythm and movement during lessons. Examples of action-based learning would be a third-grade class learning the continents by song and movement or a first-grade class learning to add and subtract by jumping on an extensive number line.
What is kinesthetic furniture, and how is this used in schools?
A few years ago, Manorhaven School classrooms were furnished with one to two pedal desks in addition to the standard furniture. Teachers used this as the starting point to bring in other types of kinesthetic furniture. Stability ball seating and standing desks were included, and other types of furniture that would allow movement while learning. Some teachers preferred to use the furniture based on need, while others assigned all students throughout the day. Other classrooms had a daily or weekly rotation. Before there were health concerns related to Covid 19, flexibility and student choice was encouraged.
Fifth-grade teacher Stacy Drucker was given a fully furnished kinesthetic classroom. Her students rotate seating monthly. However, children may partner for projects and sit at a seat other than their assigned seat throughout the day. Mrs. Drucker’s fifth-grade classroom has a combination of pedal desks and tables, strider desks, and bouncing seats. The teacher, for her own use, has a standing strider desk. All students can use the different types of furniture throughout the year.
Is the furniture right for every student? How has this impacted learning for students with ADHD?
In the five years that Mrs. Drucker has used her furniture, her students with and without ADHD have benefited. The days of teachers telling a student to “sit still” are over. Movement is encouraged. Out of 100 students that have been in this classroom over the past five years, only one student was not a good fit for the furniture and sat at a traditional desk. This student was distracted by the movement and preferred a stationary chair and desk.
Most classes at Manorhaven School have a section of the room that has alternative seating. Children with ADHD have benefited by having the opportunity to use nontraditional seating that enables them to move while they work.
Children who can benefit from movement while learning are encouraged to use Kinesthetic furniture. I have seen classes where students with ADHD choose their best method of learning and stay with it. Others can move to the pedal desk or standing desk when they want to move, but they always stay engaged with the lesson.
Can children benefit from kinesthetic furniture at home as well as in school?
Absolutely, a stability ball can be used with furniture at home. There are inexpensive options for children that can be used anywhere. Pedals can be purchased separately and used with a traditional desk. More and more options are being made available for home and school use.
What are some ways that movement is used in the classroom to benefit all students, especially those with ADHD?
Mike Kuczala explains the framework in his book, The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning Through Movement. This is what is being followed at our school.
Movement is being used to:
- Prepare the brain for learning
- Provide a brain break
- Support exercise and fitness
- Develop Class Cohesion
- Review Content
- Teach Content
How has knowing that exercise and movement improve learning impacted teaching at Manorhaven School?
As John J. Ratey, MD, in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain, says, and the mantra of Manorhaven School, “Exercise Grows Brain Cells.” Children run before class in the morning. A special program in place started by retired Physical Education Teacher Megaera Regan allows struggling learners and children with ADHD to come in before school for physical fitness to get their brains ready to learn.
In addition, the children have been exposed to teachers who incorporate rhythm and movement in their teaching because of their knowledge that exercise and movement positively impact learning. Dr. Chantelle Persaud, a math teach and former fourth-grade teacher, explains that her knowledge of exercise and movement and the brain has allowed her to be a more creative teacher and let her students demonstrate their knowledge in different ways while also incorporating movement. Her lessons became shorter strings of lessons. She successfully incorporated pedal desks, balance boards, and other flexible seating into her daily instruction. Her delivery model changed to being more hands-on and included movement to engage her students and help them to learn or retain information more efficiently. Children in her class were able to refer to a movement when trying to retrieve newly learned information. For example, one student would visualize the learning mat and quietly hop the movements at her seat to answer questions when she was stuck. Another student helped the teacher develop movements for vocabulary words that would help the other students in our class remember the new words.
Lorraine Bellmann’s second graders learn and practice skills in centers that incorporate movement with content. Children can be found “rocking and reading” or pedaling and playing math games. She has many creative ways to expose her students to learn through movement.
In conclusion, what would you want parents and caretakers to know that will help them facilitate homework time?
I would like parents and caretakers to know that they can help their children succeed by doing some of the teachers’ things at school.
- Allow children to choose where they will work best in your home. The dining room table may not be suitable for every child.
- Consider alternative furniture that will allow your child to move while working.
- Incorporate short movement breaks into homework time. This may be a chance to get up and stretch or even a few jumping jacks. Have your child choose their movement break activity.
- Allow for fitness time before homework time starts to get your child’s brain ready to work.
- Movement and rhythm can help children retain information. Remember this when helping your child study for tests.
Note: When the world paused in March 2020, we left behind our kinesthetic furniture. Upon our return to school in September 2020, the furniture was placed in storage pods, and our students sat in front-facing single desks six feet apart. To stay safe, movement activities were brought outdoors only. The school is slowly returning to the way it was and seeing some of our best classroom practices return as well as our pedal desks, strider desks, and stability ball seats.
Bonni Cohen, Ed.D. – Manorhaven School, Principal from 2008-2021.
There are additional resources regarding setting up movement in both the home and school environment in my book, ADHD, Executive Function, & Behavioral Challenges in the Classroom: Managing the Impact on Learning, Motivation, and Stress
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