15 Strategies for the Student Who Can’t Sit Still


Sit down in your seat, it’s time for math.  Please sit down in your seat, Tashir cannot see the board.  Alright, time to start our work why don’t you have a seat?  After three prompts to stay in their seat you finally see them sitting down!  Alas, you can continue with the lesson.  Moments later you happen to glance over at their location to see they are no longer sitting, they are not even standing… they are laying across their chair on their stomach!  I mean COME ON!  

Do you have that one student who just won’t sit in their seat no matter what you do?  You are not alone.  I mean, hey, you might have a few of those students.  What else can you do besides constantly provide that verbal reminder?  How would you feel if I could provide you with 15 additional strategies for the student who can’t sit still?  Number 12 is a personal favorite of mine!  

Possible Reasons That Kids Can’t Sit Still


Before we begin with some strategies, let’s take a moment to take a step back a bit.  Before we get upset with that student for never being in their seat, let’s ask ourselves why? 

There may be a few reasons that a student doesn’t stay in their seat.  
  1. Behavioral.  If the reason is behavioral, make sure you tackle the function of behavior.  Perhaps a preventive strategy, instructive strategy, or responsive strategy is in order.  
  2. Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). With ADHD diagnoses increasing, it probably isn’t uncommon for classrooms to have identified students with ADHD.  If your student has ADHD, they may seem restless, active, limited attention, fidgeting, etc.  
  3. Sensory Processing.  Sensory concerns affect one or more of our five senses.  Students experiencing dysregulation impact their ability to sit still.  
  4. High Energy.   Isn’t this the same as ADHD?  No.  Other factors that might contribute to high energy are diet or sleep cycles.  Diet affects our ability to sit still and concentrate.  On one end of the spectrum, a student could be the intake of a high amount of sugar or hunger is a concern.  Either way, the student’s ability to concentrate and function is a challenge.  In turn, when children are not sleeping through the night, they may have trouble focusing and sitting still during the day.  

Whatever the reason, verbal adult prompts are often not enough.  This will not only take up most of your time and lesson but will possibly just lead to annoyance, frustration, and exhaustion on both your end and the students’.  No matter the reason why they are not sitting, let’s focus on what we can do instead of just constantly say “Please, sit down.”

can wea all take a sit

Strategy 1 – Visual Areas / Boundaries

If your student is constantly roaming about the room, let’s take it in small steps first.  Instead of focusing on the larger picture of staying in their seat, let’s try a small area at first.  By providing a visual boundary indicates to the student and to other students that this is their personal area.  You can tape off a square on the ground, grab some markers, or even a carpet square to indicate this space.

2 – Breathing Exercises

Consider how you feel after you take a few deep breaths.  You may feel calmer, more focused, relaxed, less anxious.  Adults have a better understanding of how to self-regulate, where students need to be taught the skills, and when would be an appropriate time to take a deep breath.  Breathing exercises like these could be a great self-tool for students to utilize in place of getting up to move.

3 – Use of Fidgets

Fidgets can be a teacher’s best friend or their worst nightmare!  I am almost 100% positive that you have had to say in your classroom, “Put the pop-its away!”  Pop-its are the biggest new craze currently.  Are they annoying?  Absolutely!  Could they possibly help some students instead of it being a toy?  You bet!

Of course, pop-its are not the only fidget item out there.  Just the current popular phase.  Make sure you are specific about the use of fidgets in your classroom.  Model and practice how and when to use them appropriately.  Provide reminders and warnings throughout the school day about fidgets.

4 – Flexible Seating

Flexible seating options allow the students to choose where or what to use to sit.  Options you may want to consider for the student(s) are wobble seats, bean bags, wobble chairs, donuts, or balance balls.  Direct instruction is recommended of modeling how to use this equipment appropriately.  When flexible seating is an option, not only is the student getting to choose their preferred seating over a typical desk chair but it could…

  • be more comfortable for the student
  • more fun and preferred
  • provide a natural release of energy
  • provide more concentration to sit on and focus on the task

Strategy 5 – Brain Breaks

Brain breaks are a must for ALL my students, not just the ones that can’t sit still.  In basic terms… a brain break is taking a break from focusing on any task.  This break could be anything from standing up stretching, mindful activities, to physical gross motor activities.

The best thing about these brain breaks is that students will not be moving all around the room.  Each video is not only perfect for maintaining social distancing but also for being in the habit of not being able to move throughout the room and staying in one personal area.

6 – Heavy Work Activities

Providing a heavy work activity is the perfect chance to exert some of that excess energy.  Heavy work activities often require effort from our muscles that involve pushing, pulling, or lifting.  The movement activities create resistance input to the muscle, which ultimately calms and regulates the sensory system. Mama OT discusses 40 Heavy Work Activities to try out in your classroom or the home environment!

7 – Alternative Work Area

This option is purely a personal opinion as a teacher.  Some teachers believe that their students belong in their seats at their desks.  That is okay!  There may be some other teachers that would be okay with this option.  Perhaps you have a table in your classroom or one of those kidney-shaped or oval-shaped tables you use for small guided groups.  Would this be an option for the student who can’t sit still?  Perhaps they may need just a bit more space to spread out while working appropriately on a required task.

8 – Use of Break Cards

Break cards are a great instructive strategy to ask for a break and assist with coping and tolerance.  Break cards are a tool to help when a child becomes overwhelmed with a situation.  It allows the child to receive a break to help them remain calm and avoid behavioral outbursts to proactively assist in an anxious situation.

FREEBIE ALERT! ?  Check out these break cards to get you started with this strategy!

Strategy 9 – Multi-Sensory Teaching Strategies

One of the most common strategies we as educators use in literacy is the use of Multi-Sensory Teaching Strategies.  Multi-sensory activities are activities that use more than one sensory pathway into the brain.  Hands-on activities, auditory or visual components, online activities are just a few examples.  Not only can these types of activities develop stronger literacy skills, but they also have been shown to increase memory and focus.  Looking for some fun and hands-on activities for the classroom? Click here!

10 – Visual Schedules and Timers

Help students stay on task with the use of timers and/or schedules. If a visual schedule is provided, the student can visually see when they have a break coming up.  This could be as simple as a written schedule on the board or a personal picture schedule for the student. Similarly, the student can also have a personal timer on their desk to show the exact countdown until a break or how long is left of a certain subject/activity.  Timers are a huge management tool in my room and they have some cool visual timers on YouTube as well to check out!

11 – Write the Room

Sometimes we have to use a student’s inability to sit still as a strength.  If you see that none of your other strategies are working for these students, how about EVERYONE gets up and moves?  Oh, the best part is that the academics don’t have to stop because I am not talking about a brain break.  I am talking about Write the Room!

This unique way to review and practice not only gets kids up and moving but allows for differentiation.  This individualized resource allows you to differentiate for every student in your room from working on just identifying the picture to writing a full sentence with each picture. Check out these options for Kindergarten and First Grade, each with ELA and Math activities!

12 – Time to Run an Errand!

I cannot take credit for coming up with this idea, however, I can definitely take credit for sharing it with you!  Yes, you can send an active student on an errand to the office or to the janitor to request more straws for lunch.  However, check this idea out!  First, you want to share the specifics with your bestie teacher friend.  Grab a colored folder (make sure you and the other teacher know the color and don’t use it for anything else).  Let’s say, for example, you chose a purple folder. Let your teacher friend know that whenever a student walks into their room with a purple folder that they are needing a break to get up and move.  Your teacher friend will see the purple folder and place some random paper, worksheet, or another item inside of the folder for the student to return back to the classroom.

When your teacher friend is aware of what is going in, they are not bringing attention to the fact that this student is a “special helper”, question why the student is out walking about or ask additional questions of why they are out of the classroom.  These tasks help kids build a sense of self-worth while providing an opportunity to stretch their legs and move around.

*Special Thanks to Mrs. Raider who choose me to be their bestie and introduced me to this awesome idea!  

Strategy 13 – Mindful Moments

Calming activities for your students allow them to be more in tune with their emotions and surroundings.  By incorporating mindful activities within your daily routines, you may see student growth in a variety of areas like self-esteem, social-emotional learning (SEL), academics, and attention.

14 – Teaching Social Skills

Speaking of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in number 13, it deserves its own spot on this great list!

SEL Activities directly address working on sitting still, being aware of your surroundings, and impulse control within its two pillars:

  • Self-Awareness:  the ability to understand one’s own emotions. This includes not only how to identify your own emotions but also recognizing strengths, weaknesses, and one’s confidence.
  • Self-Management: the ability to manage your emotions.  Impulsivity automatically comes to mind when I hear management of emotions.  Physical and Mental Impulse Control is covered in this pillar. Self-discipline and Motivation are both covered as well.  It is taking these strategies and applying them during stressful situations. These strategies are also used for goal setting as well as organizational skills.

While in the classroom, when SEL is carried out, it naturally creates a caring, positive, and productive environment.  These skills nurture caring and appropriate relationships among students and adults. When educators incorporate students’ experiences, strengths, and supports, they create an inclusive and equitable classroom.  Strong relationships promote student growth, collaboration, and an increase of awareness and coping skills.

15 – Just Let Them Stand

Okay, so this one comes down to a personal opinion.  Personally speaking, it doesn’t bother me if students are not constantly sitting in their chairs.  My students know they are allowed to stand at times, kneel on their chairs or sit on the floor if the time is appropriate.  However, they must continue to be working if they chose one of these options.  For my students who have trouble sitting, I often place them strategically in an area of the classroom (often on the sides of the desk arrangements), so when they are standing, they are not blocking others from viewing the content.

One takeaway I would love to leave you with is that no matter what strategy or strategies you take away from this list is that each of them involves modeling and teaching in some way.  Explicit instruction is often required for students to understand when it is an appropriate time to use this strategy independently, but also how it looks inside of their classroom.

Positive, specific praise is recommended to be paired with this teaching.  Not only when students are following directives, but more importantly when they independently use the strategy and maintain the skill.  Numbers 11, 12, and 14 have been true game-changers for me; especially this school year!  Which strategy or strategies are you most excited to try in your classroom?

Written by – Christopher Olson

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