May 9, 2010

Gotta move

Every class has them--the kids with ants in their pants. These kids are usually bright, very engaging, often athletically talented (it's all the muscles they develop because they Never. Stand. Still.).

But in a class situation they are challenging. They seem to get away with alot-- moving around when everyone else is standing and listening. This is extremely appealing, and inevitably, the other children will take their cue from Ms. or Mr. Can't Stand Still, and they'll start wriggling. By the time you catch the first one, two others have escaped. Got them back in line? The first culprit has zipped off again.

For some reason, the parents of these children seem to think that skating is a great thing to do with them, which I tend to disagree with. Especially for kids with actual ADD and ADHD, who often have sensory issues, a skating rink is a sensory nightmare- bright, loud, social, and visually complex. Plus, it's really really easy to move. And move is what these kids want to do, so they do it.

There are lots of tactics you can use with these children. Watch for coaches that use the following techniques; they understand your kid.

Keep the class moving. If you've got one or more child escape artists in your class, never explain anything in more than 10 words. You will lose those children. Their eyes will glaze over, and they'll either just skate off, or make you repeat the instruction, which they will keep missing.

Correct ONE thing. This is just good teaching technique in general, but it works especially well for these kids. They can listen to and execute one instruction (hold your glide for a count of 4). They lose focus at the second one (hold your glide for a count of 4 with your foot behind you), although they might pick it up through watching the other skaters. Instructions 3 and up (hold your glide for a count of 4 with your foot behind you and then push to the other foot and repeat) are lost in the ether of their active brains, which by now have come up with something entirely unrelated, and much more interesting, and which they will suddenly share with you, regardless of its pertinence to the class.

Separate buddies. Like I said, these children are utterly seductive. They seem to be above the rules, they engage that scary adult directly, they're charming and fun. Inevitably, they will find a soul mate in the class. Let them stand together and it's all over. Every time you stop the class, pry them apart.

Do not punish them. These kids are not misbehaving. This is their "normal". Giving them time-outs or sending them off the ice is utterly pointless because they literally do not understand the infraction, so punishing them for it is meaningless.

Phsyically restrain them. WHAT??!!! I don't mean handcuffs, although I confess to having entertained that fantasy every now and again. Ants-in-the-pants kids, all the way along the spectrum from wiggly to ADD to Aspergers, often dislike being touched or restrained. If a child simply will not stay put, call them over, continuing to talk to the rest of the class. Place them in front of you, and lightly place your hands on their shoulders. When they try to wiggle free, tell them you will let go if they stay put and listen, but if they start wriggling again, you will hold on. Threats, umthatistosay engaging the darling child in this way works wonders.

Use them as a demonstrator.
Like I said, these kids are often very athletic, or at least fearless. If you spot them doing something well, send them out to do it and show everyone else. (Yes, this is also a bribe. What can I say.) You will have to find a strategy for the "me too's" from everyone else, but it's a great way to get the wigglers on your side.

Other than that, no demonstrations.
This means coach can't demonstrate, especially if it means turning her back on the class. Just too much standing around time for these kids. But it also means no one-at-a-time skating for the kids. I hate this anyway, because it just eats up too much time. If you ever spot me doing this in a class other than testing day, you know I've checked out and am just counting the minutes and looking for time wasters. Having 10 kids stand around while 1 kid does a one foot glide is death for Ants in the Pants. You can observe what you need to three at a time if you must, or better yet, have them go back and forth the number of times=to the number of kids in the class. Two birds, one stone--class keeps moving, you get to observe each child.

Let them leave the ice. If they have to tell their mom something, or put their sweater on, or pee, or get a drink, let them do it. These things are all strategies they have developed themselves when they start getting too much input. Make sure you can spot the adult in charge of them, and make them ask permission before they leave, but let them do this. It is part of their own coping mechanism. Plus it gives you five minutes of quiet. (Did I say that?)

I love a class full of gifted, serious skaters committed to excellence in ice skating, who listen and then execute every instruction. Maybe someday I'll get one. In the meantime, I want my class to be as rewarding for the special child as it is for the gifted one.

Thanks to for inspiring the post.


  1. Thank you, Xan, for a terrific post! Your skating students are lucky to have you! I know plenty of educators with ADHD training who are not as understanding or accommodating as you are.

    Ice Mom

  2. My squirmy boy has sensory issues; he craves 'heavy weight' exercise. Propelling himself around the ice qualifies. Somehow exercise cues his brain to calm down. Jumping is especially helpful. Is jumping over the lines a standard part of class?

  3. Beth-- at that level not so much, but we can certainly just start adding it to the warm up. E is very different from other ADD kids I've had, inasmuch as he calms down on the ice.

    IceMom- I actually did do a class in special rec, and some rudimentary training with the city.

  4. Hi all -- Good post! I now realize the coaches my kid loves do all of the things listed above. They also do tricks -- a spin here, a jump there, a swishy thing on the ice -- things that make the kids say, "Whoa! Cool! I want to try that!" and keep them watching b/c they don't want to miss the next cool thing the coach might do.

    My kid doesn't have sensory issues, but he has a ton of energy. He usually uses it very positively, but sometimes it's hard to channel. I love that he's choosing to play sports (t-ball and skating), b/c it gives him physical activity, lets him have fun and helps me teach him important life skills like obeying rules, following direction, waiting his turn.

    As a mom, I'm so appreciative of coaches who are just as willing to work on those skills as they are to work on one-foot glides or fielding grounders. I know it's extra work for them, but the coaches who do this have such an amazing impact on the kids they meet. (And their parents too!)