Calming the craziness: Tips for managing behaviour in HPE lessons
Let’s talk crazy kids. Whether it’s “that” one class you know will make you run circles around yourself every lesson, or the class of usually well-behaved kids that randomly turn into zoo animals on a Thursday afternoon, right before they’re due to head to the library after your class. Why does your seemingly perfect-on-paper, well thought out lesson plan suddenly produce a classroom of wild animals? Well, it may have something to do with what you’re not including in your lesson plan. At the recent ACHPER WA State Conference, I had this very conversation with a lot of teachers. As an Occupational Therapist, it’s something I see frequently when working with school aged kids and something we have carefully built in to The Kids Coach program.
In HPE lessons, we know that kids are given the essential opportunity to move more, breaking free from the increasingly sedentary nature of a school day. They get to learn the joy of movement and how to use their body, experiencing all the many positive, important benefits that we are all well familiar with. However, with a sudden increase in activity, excitement and stimulation, there can also be some unwanted side effects. If you find yourself suddenly unable to control your class, what has just happened?
Well, your students’ nervous systems are essentially scrambled. Their bodies and brains suddenly have so much different information flowing through them that they can’t internally work out what to do with it all. What you see as a teacher is hyperactivity, kids not listening, poor focus and kids acting out. It actually happens to all of us, even as adults, but it’s often much more pronounced and happens quicker to our kids. As Occupational Therapists, we refer to it as sensory integration issues and it’s something we work on all the time with kids, especially those with behavioural, attention and developmental issues. But all kids will show signs of it on some level.
So how can you avoid the unwanted craziness? Insert proprioception. As you may be aware, proprioception is related to the body’s sense of body awareness. However, it’s also related to how kids process what’s going on in their body internally and how they respond to that. Proprioception activities are known to have a calming and organizing effect for kids.
Our bodies unconsciously senses proprioception through messages sent to our brain from sensory receptors all over the body, and it’s activated through very specific movements, which we as Occupational Therapists like to call “heavy work”. Occupational therapists love “heavy work” activities because, as mentioned earlier, they provide proprioceptive input which we know organises and calms kids. And we all love calm and organised kids.
Think of heavy work as activities that activate proprioception through our muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. Anytime we push or pull on an object, we activate this system. Likewise, anytime we compress and stretch joints, we’re also activating the proprioceptive system. Think movements such as joint squeezes, pressing, flexibility work and loading up the big joints of the body. These specific, compound movements area greatly beneficial to our kids, but also to teachers.
So how can you use this to help manage behaviour in your HPE lessons? Well, it’s important to include proprioceptive activities throughout your lesson and especially at the end of the lesson, to allow the kids’ nervous systems to calm down and reorganize.
This is why we include heavy work throughout every video in our program at The Kids Coach and always finish with specific OT techniques to calm kids and re-centre kids. Using these in HPE lessons has shown to not only help control class behaviour during their HPE lesson, but also help to finish with calm yet alert students ready for their next lesson.
So next time you’re faced with the crazy kids, remember their proprioceptive system, add in some “heavy work” and use it to help your students (and you!).
Bio: Roisin Sullivan is an Occupational Therapist and the co-founder of The Kids Coach, along with her husband Jamie Jones, a Kids Personal Trainer. For more information on The Kids Coach program, visit www.thekidscoach.com.au