ADHD and the classroom – Why is it so hard to sit still?

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The challenges of the classroom

No child was born to sit still. They are programmed to always be on the go; whether that’s running, jumping, skipping, dancing or cartwheeling their way through the day. So it’s no surprise that for many, the classroom environment can be a real challenge – especially in the case of children with additional needs. 

What may appear, on the surface, to be a simple enough action to perform – sitting still – is actually very difficult for children with ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions. 

They can end up needing to expend huge amounts of energy, simply to do so. This exertion, combined with the effort of trying to concentrate on the lesson itself, can in turn lead to a range of issues, including increased anxiety and poorer learning outcomes. A child may also need to ‘escape’ from the pressure, such as by zoning out, or begin displaying some disruptive behaviours that impact on those around them.

But why is it so difficult to sit still?  

ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions are typically associated with something called ‘hyperactivity’, which is thought to be linked to a deregulation of dopamine in the brain. In simple terms, physically moving the body can help with this, so the more individuals are encouraged to move and can get up and out of their chairs, the better their ability to learn will be. 

It’s something that schools across the world are increasingly recognising and in countries such as North America – who have been pioneers in this space – movement is becoming embedded in all aspects of schooling. 

This includes the use of teaching methods that get children up and walking around. For example, by taking a lesson outside and into nature, or by having pupils run to a certain area before they can give their answer to a question. Even by simply getting pupils to do star jumps while reciting their times tables! 

Introducing regular activity breaks – sometimes called brain breaks, energizers or brain boosters – is another method being adopted. The goal here being to simply get the children up and out of their seats.

The layout of the classroom is also being redesigned in a way that encourages greater physical activity and this is supported by investment in innovative resources that facilitate active learning. Some options here being wobble cushions, stability balls, chair leg bands and even stationary bikes.

Making a stand

One innovation that is making waves in this space is the standing desk, which continues to grow in popularity among UK schools. 

As the name suggests, with a standing desk, rather than needing to remain seated for traditionally sedentary activities, such as writing, pupils can move whilst they learn. They are able to make something we call ‘micro movements’ and may step back and forth, or side to side, engaging their muscles and core, and encouraging the release of certain hormones, which in turn can help boost concentration.  

More than 380 primary schools across the UK are currently using standing desks and view them as a key part of their active learning strategies. These schools consistently report seeing improvements in behaviour, concentration and engagement levels, as well as neater handwriting and increased productivity. 

The other huge benefit of encouraging standing is for general health, which is especially important at a time when obesity is on the rise. Anything that can get children up and out of their seats is a very positive thing. 

But most importantly, the children themselves really enjoy using them!

Standing desks in action in the classroom

For St George’s Preparatory School in Jersey, using standing desks has been a really positive experience. Deputy Head, Lindsey Fidrmuc, told us: “We have used them in our Year 6 and Year 3 classes and the teachers have reported that they have been very popular indeed. 

“They have been particularly useful for a few of our children who have an ADHD diagnosis. These children in particular enjoyed the freedom to choose where they worked and having the ability to move around meant that the work they produced was of a higher quality than when they are asked to sit for the duration of a task.”

While at Hallam Primary School in Sheffield, one pupil commented: “I really enjoy the desk and want to use it all day every day. It’s active and I get to move around a little bit which helps me concentrate on my learning.”

And another told us: “I find it really useful, I chose to use it when I can feel myself fidgeting and starting to get distracted. It keeps me focused.”

Home schooling 

Parents who are home schooling have also been experimenting with standing desks. Rachel was hopeful that using a standing desk may benefit her son Toby, age 7, who has sensory issues.

“Toby needs to be moving pretty much constantly and finds it very difficult to concentrate otherwise. We’d previously tried all sorts of things to support him with his learning, such as wobble cushions and wedges, but with little success. So, I was very interested to see what would happen with the standing desk.

“The result is, he loves it! We’ve also seen some immediate improvements. Using the standing desk has really helped him, not only in relation to his focus and concentration but also his handwriting.

“It’s funny that something so simple can be so effective, especially for children with sensory issues. I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before.”

Find out more

The trend for using standing desks is something that is welcomed by organisations, such as the ADHD Foundation, who work closely with schools to deliver training on how to increase pupil activity levels and best support children with additional needs.  

Any schools who are interested in finding out more can arrange a free trial by emailing nick@iwantastandingdesk.com

Nick White
Founder at I Want A Standing Desk | | + posts

Nick White is founder of I Want A Standing Desk and strongly champions the benefits of active classrooms for all pupils, but especially those with ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions.

@iwantastandingdesk

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