Reining in the Wiggles

reining in wiggles

An oldie, but a goodie….



Dear Homeschooler,

Do your kids wiggle? Maybe your older kids get fidgety. Sometimes, this need to move can decrease our students focus and limit their attention span. I’ve heard some say, “My child doesn’t sit well, so I need a curriculum where he doesn’t have to sit.” Well, it’s true that we, as homeschoolers, can modify our curriculum and teaching methodologies to include a lot of hands-on lessons and minimize ‘sitting time,’ and that may work for a while, but we have to look ahead. One of our long-term educational goals is to prepare our students to be successful in college, where lecture and teacher-led demonstrations are still the most common form of teaching. So, working on creating good learning habits now, how do we rein their wiggles in to help increase their attention span and ability to focus?


Using Wiggles to Enforce Learning

As I mentioned above, we have the ability to adapt our teaching methodologies to the needs of our students. We can incorporate a kinesthetic aspect to our lesson to provide an appropriate outlet for their need to move. Use the movement to increase engagement and show learning:

  • Place answers across the room. When you ask a question, the student has to run (or hop, skip, etc.) across the room and bring back the correct answer.
  • Place answers on floor. When you ask a question, the student must jump on the right one. This one is great for identification of letters, numbers, colors, animals, etc.
  • Have student perform a pre-determined motion when he knows the answer or when you read a series of right/wrong answers. For example, he may touch his nose when you get to the right answer.
  • There is no way to list all the ways to incorporate moment into your lesson. Get creative!

Not only does kinesthetics help increase our student’s engagement and attention, it has been proven to help with retention as well. Double bonus.

We can also incorporate a sensory aspect to our lessons. This can not only increase engagement and show learning but also help regulate the sensory needs of our students. I suggest using calming sensory activities such as the following:

  • Drawing or writing in flour, sand, or cornmeal
  • Using Play-doh or clay to shape letters, numbers, etc.
  • Using scented markers
  • Again, there are so many ways to make the lesson appeal to our senses.


Concurrent Learning and Wiggling

Sometimes, we can provide a way for students to wiggle during a lesson. They may be more able to focus their mind if their hands (or feet…) are moving. For example, ZooKid had a hard time listening to chapter books. He would get distracted by everything, and I had to constantly redirect him to ‘settle down.’ Eventually, I started giving him ‘mindless’ hand-on activities (coloring, doodling, cutting, etc.) while we read. This kept his hands busy, but more importantly, he paid more attention to the story, and his auditory comprehension increased dramatically.

There are other ways to allow movement during lesson time. If you have a full body wiggler, you may try using a large exercise ball instead of a chair. Students can bounce or roll (gently 🙂 ), getting the movement and sensory input they need in an appropriate way that allows continuous learning. If you have a leg-swinger, try tying an exercise band around the legs of the chair for them to hook their feet around. This gives the same results as the ball chair (and limits their foot swing, so they don’t kick other students (or you) under the table). Using a fidget toy (a small sensory item that one hand can pinch or squeeze) or lap pillow (a small pillow –usually weighted– with buttons, string, different materials, etc. to fidget with) can also provide an appropriate way to dispel the wiggles during lesson time. Students can also write with one hand and fidget with the other.

Note: If the object is not helping to increase your student’s attention and is, in fact, distracting them, try a different strategy.


Wiggle Breaks

Another way to make sure our student expends their wiggles appropriately is to use their schedule:

  1. Build movement or sensory time right into their schedule. For example: Calendar, Bible, Morning Exercises, Literacy, Play-Doh, Math, Bike, Science, Recess….and so on.
  2. Use the arrangement of lessons as reinforcement: “First complete the math assignment, then we can go on a little bike ride.”
  3. Use the last 5 minutes of each lesson for a sensory bucket/movement exercise. You can change out the contents occasionally to keep it from getting boring.
  4. Use ‘take a break’ cards. Give your student a certain amount of tokens that they can ‘cash in’ whenever they want throughout the day when they need it.  You can have a limited array of movement/sensory choices they can choose from. I suggest 1-5 minutes max for these. We use Kathy’s free downloadable Brain Break Cards. ZooKid gets 3 cards and Princess Super Kitty gets 4 ‘take a break’ cards at the beginning of the day. They can expend them whenever they want, but once they are gone, they are gone. I recently made a sensory bucket. So, now they can choose a Brain Break Card or 3 minutes with the sensory bucket.




You may start using just a few of these strategies or all these strategies at once. It really depends on the needs of your student. Eventually, though, you should be able to slowly fade some of them away as your student’s ability to focus increases. Some of these strategies may even be used into high school.

What have you done to help rein in the wiggles? I’d love to hear about it. Comment below.

Till Next Time,



  1. These are all great ideas. I have wigglers. I allow my youngest to play with tangrams or other manipulative so during read-alouds. You have many other great ideas to employ.

  2. I love your great ideas! We are a family of very active people, so managing wiggles is our daily concern. I remember vividly getting up at 5 in the morning when I was in college to fit in an hour of step-aerobics so that I could sit through the day of lectures. I’m still THAT kind of person. I need to go for a 4-mile run before I can go to a movie theater. And my kids are the same. Thank you for linking up @LearningKidLinkup. I will be sharing and pinning! We hope to see you back next week!!!

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