Kids’ fidgeting normal, necessary, not naughty

Movement researcher calls for change in classrooms

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Physical movement is crucial to learning, and schools need to adapt classroom furniture and teaching styles around that concept, according to Dieter Breithecker.

Breithecker, director of the Federal Institute for Posture and Mobilisation Support in Germany, talked about his research and beliefs at Northridge Elementary Oct. 24.

The movement-oriented educational style is a dramatic change in philosophy from that of traditional education, which encourages children to be still and listen, typically while seated in rigid chairs at individual desks.

“Fidgeting is not naughty, it’s necessary,” Breithecker said. “Movement shapes the brain and sharpens your mind.”

He advocates for furniture that allows children to rock, stand at high desks and even lie on the floor.

Northridge already is on board with Breithecker’s concept. This fall, it replaced the traditional chairs in its computer lab and mobile classrooms with flexible, ergonomic chairs.

“Our principal really believes in this — that kids need to move,” Northridge School Accountability Committee member Kristen Kidd said. “We couldn’t afford to buy for the whole school. So we’re looking for grants to replace the rest of our furniture.”

To illustrate his points, Breithecker didn’t allow parents to sit throughout his hour-long talk, but ordered them to stand, move and think about the resulting mental responses.

Breithecker’s research shows movement — particularly in the first 12 years of life — helps establish vital connections in the brain. It also helps regulate blood sugar and oxygen levels, and contributes to a child’s overall well-being.

Movements some characterize as “fidgeting,” are “intuitive, spontaneous physical actions” that enhance mental and emotional engagement, Breithecker said.

Sitting still has the opposite effect, he said, making concentration more difficult.

“The traditional classroom is one of the worst possible places for human complexity,” he said. “It’s not only the furniture, it’s teaching methods. We have to say goodbye to all those old paradigms.”

It’s a shift many Douglas County teachers already are making, one in tune with a districtwide emphasis on collaborative learning.

Breithecker said teacher-centered learning is boring and restrictive for activity-oriented children. He advocates for teaching methods that urge students to move, and a classroom setup that gives children a range of physical options.

“We have to accept every student in the classroom as an individual,” he said. “Some need more movement, some need less movement.

While Breithecker believes movement has played a vital role in human evolution, both children and adults have become increasingly less physical over time.

“A century ago, people were walking around an average of 10 miles a day,” he said. “Today, an office worker walks one-half mile a day.”

It’s a trend he hopes to reverse with the youngest generation.

“The complex human system — the intricate balance of body, mind and soul — is not designed to sit still,” he wrote in his paper “Bodies in Motion.”

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