Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

How Do I Teach Him if He Won't Sit Still?

  • Carol Barnier Contributing Writer
  • 2005 19 Oct
How Do I Teach Him if He Won't Sit Still?

I finally took the plunge. I dared to share my deepest secret in a room of two hundred people. "How many of you," I timidly began, "have found that your high-energy, highly distractible child ...[long pregnant pause] ... regularly ... [dare I truly share this?] falls out of his chair?" To my shock and relief, 147 people raised their hands. (Okay, I didn't exactly count, but it was close.) "Oh my word! Look around, everyone!" I bubbled. And we all breathed a community sigh of shared relief that our child wasn't the only one inflicting daily, brain-rattling trauma upon his own person. As a result of this reaffirming response, I always share the truth of my own child's thousands of falls and the subsequent "Ka-thunk!" sound that no longer results in even a minor shift of my focus from the page I'm reading.

For most of us, the idea of falling out of a firmly rooted chair is unthinkable, even laughable. But for the constantly moving, highly distractible child who has never yet figured out just what part of the body belongs on what part of the chair, falling out of one is a regular, almost daily occurrence. Why is this child so different? Didn't we parent all our kids the same? And yet this child not only falls out of his chair, but his mind falls out of focus, making homeschooling him a unique and sometimes difficult challenge.

If you've chosen to homeschool a child like this, I've got good news. You can relax. While you will certainly have some challenges ahead of you, you can nonetheless rest assured that you have made, by far, the very best decision for this child. This is one of the very few environments in which you can teach this child in the way he learns best. And what is that? Motion, motion, and more motion. Unfortunately, so many of us take this child out of the traditional schooling environment, bring him home to our alternative and supportive homeschool, and then proceed to duplicate in ridiculous detail the very same environment we just took him out of.

Save yourself some misery and don't go there. Start by accepting right now that this child learns in a way that is different (note that I did not say "disabled"), and let that awareness guide your teaching methods. Your schooling will never be the same. Indeed, it will be lots more fun.

Once you accept that this child needs motion in order to learn, what do you do now? Do you have to order a whole new motion-oriented curriculum? No. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a curriculum package that really understands the way non-traditional, action-oriented learners learn. Stick with the curriculum that interests you most, but find a few easy ways to turn any lesson into one that incorporates motion.

In our house we decided that this energy was part of the package of our son and that it was a good thing. We decided to work with the qualities that he possessed instead of trying to make our gift look like all the other quiet, compliant, traditional learners that were the gifts we saw in the families of so many others. Harnessing this energy into productivity was our new objective.

So what are some fast and simple ways to put motion into a standard schooling day?

Toss a beanbag. When learning books of the Bible, counting by threes, ABCs in English (or Spanish or Latin), or Presidents in order, say the first item and throw the beanbag to your child. Have your child say the next item and throw the beanbag back to you.

Peel a sticker. Take a section of math and put the answers on some little round stickers. When your child has worked out the answer, he can peel off a sticker and place it in the correct spot.

Keep hands busy. If you want him to listen while you read, give his hands something related to do, like applying salt dough to a model of a home from the period being studied or building an item with Legos or drawing a structure or other related item from this topic of study.

Allow oral responses. Do your best to get a pencil OUT of this child's hand whenever you possibly can. In our house, the only time I required writing of my child was when we were studying writing. And even then, as soon as possible, we developed typing skills.

Grab a board game. Pull out your child's favorite board game as a motivational tool. Roll the dice (or whatever happens in your game of choice) and allow your child to move ONLY after he's answered one of the questions on his lesson.

Be the lesson. In other words, instead of reading about the digestive system, create a crawl-through version using sheets, couch cushions, and other household items. Don't just read about the Tower of Babel. Create one. (I like this one because in our re-enactment, I play God. What a delight to swoop in, scatter their "Tower," and shoo them all into other rooms where they pretend to speak other languages.) Don't just look at a picture of the circulatory system. Use chalk and draw a giant one on your driveway.

Hop on it. When doing basic math drills, put the answers on 3 × 5 cards, place them on the floor, call out the math problem, and have your child jump on the answer. Use this for many other subjects.

The ideas are endless. Once you start thinking like this, you'll have a hard time going back to the old read-this-and-fill-in-the-blanks sort of learning. Motion will become your friend because you will be directing its bounty of energy. Having your child sit still will no longer be the overriding objective. In fact, if you demand that these children sit perfectly still and stare unflinchingly into your eyes, I've learned that a hurricane of churning is immediately set off inside them that will soon result in some outpouring of energy and activity (usually not the educational kind--more along the lines of launching pencils into the ceiling tiles kind). So instead of letting this inevitable energy run you and your school ragged, harness it for delight-driven learning.

We have reaped many benefits from this approach. The first and most obvious was that we found a way in which our child learned. And learn he did. We also discovered that all of our children, even the compliant, visual, traditional learners, preferred to learn this way, just because it was more fun. Another unplanned gift was that our son wasn't constantly hearing his name called out in a class of thirty kids for disruptive behavior. Even with the best of teachers with the best of intentions, this constant attention for disruptive behavior would be unavoidable. In the end, any child will come away believing that he or she is a bad kid. What a blessing to be spared such attention. What a gift you give to your child when you encourage him to become all that God has planned for him, energy and all.

I thought ahead to the future and wondered just what an advantage such boundless energy would be if this child ended up on the mission field, in medical research, or the father of twelve children. On days when my son's energy seems to get the better of him, I remind him of God's vision for him, of God's plan to use this boundless energy in some way that will serve the kingdom and feed his own soul. I remind him that his energy is going to be the envy of all the rest of us, who will be wishing we could accomplish so much. I encourage him to be all that God wants him to be. And then I usually ask him to climb down off the roof.


Carol Barnier, author of How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and On To Learning, homeschools her three children in the beautiful hills of Connecticut. She speaks around the country at Christian women's events, homeschool conferences, and the neighbors' mailboxes, as long as she's invited. Her website is

Copyright 2005. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe.