When I was a student teacher, my college video taped several of my lessons to use for evaluation purposes. I vividly remember one lesson where I had all 18 of our first graders down on the floor for a read-aloud about George Washington. During the lesson, I don’t recall being bothered by anything, but when I watched the lesson with my supervisor, the scene was much different than I recalled.
From the back we watched kids standing on their heads, picking their noses, and even eating leftover snack that had been stashed in a pocket. Of the 18 kids, less than half were sitting at all for the story and some weren’t even facing me. I was mortified at the scene and positive that I’d get a horrible grade.
But the response of my supervisor shocked me. One by one she pointed out the kids who seemed to be the least attentive and then pointed out how most of them responded correctly to my follow up questions. They were indeed listening. Even with all the crazy behavior, they still knew exactly what I had taught them.
The lesson has always stuck with me. We’re quick to judge kids and assume that if they don’t sit like stoic church mice they simply can’t learn anything. It’s not true. In fact, the truth is, kids who don’t sit still bother the teacher, parents, and sometimes the other students. They aren’t hurting themselves at all. The problem is us.
I’m thankful that my supervising teacher taught me that lesson before I ever even had a classroom of my own. But I’m more thankful that I was able to transfer it into my homeschool. You see, I have one of those kids who would be a classic textbook ADHD case if he had gone to public school. Sitting still is literally physically impossible for him.
Now as he is finishing up the 3rd grade, his teachers at church and co-op all report that he usually sits still in class, can focus on the content, and is doing very well. Academically, he excels in every subject except for handwriting. This is a huge change from where he was in kindergarten. In fact, most would have assumed that he would suffer academically since most children like this do.
But he was homeschooled. He did math while dancing a jig, he listened to rich stories while standing on his head, and he learned.
Which brings me to you. I’m guessing if you’ve read this far, you have a child like this. You are either at your wit’s end or you simply don’t know how to help. Or both. You’re also probably worried that your sweet baby will never learn anything and end up not graduating from high school because he can’t focus.
Stop believing those lies right now! They are simply not true. Rarely will you find a public school teacher who can look beyond all of the fidgeting and allow the children to freely move. In most cases, they must keep this sort of behavior under control to some extent so the other children can learn, too. But you are homeschooling and you are free to make accommodations to help your child. So let’s explore those!
6 tips for homeschooling a child who won’t sit still
1. Keep it short.
If your child can’t sit still long, give her short lessons. Until 4th grade, there really is no reason to go beyond 15-20 minutes EVER. Oh I know you might have curriculum that suggests otherwise. I would suggest you find a different curriculum. Young kids (especially boys) should have short and direct lessons, even if they don’t struggle with sitting still.
2. Take physical breaks.
In between your short lessons, take physical breaks. REALLY physical breaks. Have your child do pushups, sit ups, jumping jacks, etc. Or have her run to the mailbox and back. Anything physical will really help once she needs to sit back down and focus on school. If you need some ideas to get you started, there is a free printable here.
3. Allow flexible positions and locations.
This one is key to your success. Many children simply cannot process information while sitting still. Don’t let that bother you. God is not offended if your 5-year-old is hanging upside down off the chair while you read the Bible. I promise. And like I mentioned earlier, this usually bothers us more than it bothers their ability to learn. In most cases, they learn much more when they are free to sit, stand, or move as desired.
If you have multiple children, this might be a distraction. Work on finding a way to allow for this. In my home, the girls work on school in their rooms or at the kitchen table. The boys sit with me in our office/school room. This way they can hum, jump up and down, or whatever else makes them learn better. I do help them to be more intentional when we meet together as a family, as they need to learn to think of others, but these times are short and have grown as my boys have grown.
4. Watch your curriculum choices.
There is no one right or wrong curriculum to use here. But be sure to keep the needs of your child in mind when you select your resources for the year. Don’t box them into whatever worked for another sibling. All kids are different. If you find a curriculum that you like, but the lessons seem to be too much, simply trim it down. For example, have your child complete only the odd numbered math problems.
All About Learning makes a great reading and spelling curriculum. We love Teaching Textbooks for 3rd grade math and above. Saxon math for K-2. I’ve found Handwriting without Tears to be excellent for busy bodies, especially the tactile products like the magnetic board.
But again, many things will work. You just need to adapt it to fit your needs.
5. Be patient.
Believe me, I know this is the hardest part. But I want to remind you of what I said above. Kids who wiggle learn just as well as those who don’t. The problem is YOU (and me). We need to have patience and grace for this child. We need to give them space to be free to learn their way without feeling like they are weird for not being like others. You can do this, I promise!
6. Consider dietary changes.
I’m not going to pretend to be a medical expert here, but I can tell you that there are countless studies on this topic. Diet matters when it comes to being able to focus. If your child has trouble sitting still and focusing, consider cutting caffeine, sugar, artificial dyes, and even gluten out of their diet. I notice a drastic difference when I cut these things out. Even if you don’t believe it, what do you have to lose?
First, I want you to know that I’m praying for you. I know this journey is difficult, but you can do it. So right now comment and tell me what one change you are going to make for your sweet child who struggles to sit still. Go…