Sunday, November 17, 2013

Proposal: Special Ed program for "active" children

Some students, particularly boys, have difficulty sitting and doing work in the current school climate.  This is a proposal for a classroom setup and curriculum for active children who would otherwise require a shadow or medication, and who might be able to thrive in a modified educational environment.

There are different academic stages.  Early Elementary, Late Elementary, Early High School and Late High School.  A major premise would be that more play and activity in earlier years will make it easier for these active children to focus academically in later years.

We will discuss classroom setup, recess and activity level, academic expectations and goals, and special concerns.

Early Elementary (kindergarten - Grade 3)

classroom setup
Imagine trying to walk a group of active students to the lunchroom, when all of these students have a tendency to wander off or dash away.  A ratio of 3 active children to 1 adult will be manageable, but will still leave the adult feeling somewhat frazzled on a tough day.

The classroom should have space for the students to move around a lot.  Having a classroom set up like a preschool room would be ideal for active children all the way to 3rd grade.  The toys can be geared for older children and educational: small legos, gears, tangrams, magnets, construx, pipeworks.  There are numerous toys that will give active students opportunities to learn kinesthetically and interact with their environment in an educational manner.

The library corner and choices of books are very important.  Books about science, animals, body systems, maps, atlases, aleph beis, parsha, navi, etc can be provided with detailed pictures.  Active children often spend hours poring over these books and learn tremendous amounts when they have the freedom of movement and the choice to walk away and to pick them up when they want.

Auditory learners will do well with a selection of songs or stories about the aleph beis, davening, parsha, and other Torah subjects.

Charts and posters are also very useful.  Active children will often spend time looking at what is hanging on the walls and asking questions about them.  Make sure they are laminated so that they can withstand being touched by these active learners.

An arts and crafts section with scissors, markers, pencils, tapes and glue will also provide many opportunities for active learners to be creative.

Make sure there is a lot of space in the classroom for these children to move around.

recess and activity level
The children should be able to play outside or on some type of climbing structure or in an area where they can run around for a half hour in the morning, a half hour at lunchtime, and a half hour in the afternoon.

As mentioned above, the classroom should also be set up so that there is space for active children to move around.  Being able to move around sufficiently will more than halve discipline issues.

academic expectations and goals
In the early elementary grades, active children should primarily be allowed to play.  Activities and games that are holiday themed or parsha themed can be offered to create a Torah environment.  The skills most focused on should be basic reading and writing in Hebrew and English, and basic arithmetic.

All writing and sitting down work should not be for more than 10 minutes.  If you don't expect active children to sit and listen for over 10 minutes, and they are allowed to play or move around, they function much better.

What if an active child was allowed to play and move around when he is younger?  What if even a 3rd grade active child was not expected to sit and passively listen for more than 10 minutes at a time unless s/he chooses to?  What if he didn't get burnt out, didn't have discipline issues, and continued to love and enjoy learning?  What would he be able to do in the later grades, when he has greater self control and greater abstract ability?

The goal in the younger grades would be to be in a Jewish environment and learn basic and minimal academic skills, with an emphasis on being able to touch things, ask questions, interact physically with their environment, and function as a Jew.

special concerns
How will the active child learn self control and discipline?
Demanding more than the active child is capable of does not increase self control, it increases frustration, anxiety, negative self-esteem and stress.  Many children who are not subject to years of negativity because of their inability to function in a constraining environment will find it much easier to focus and control themselves when they are in the later elementary and early high school years.
Will the active child fall behind if he plays so much and doesn't focus on academics?
No.  It is possible that expanding his mind in a more hands-on way and being respectful to his need for movement will enable him to think more creatively as he grows older.  Bear in mind that many of these children struggle academically in their current environments and are not gaining the academic achievement that they are capable of.
How will the active child learn sufficient davening, Ivrit, mathematics, and Torah skills?
I would suggest an evaluation in 5th grade and another evaluation in 7th grade to see which areas need more intensive focus.  You will be surprised to find a. the child will not be as behind as you might imagine and b. the child will be much more willing to help himself close these gaps than you imagine.

This is what I have so far.  Comments and suggestions welcome.


  1. I'm seriously considering homeschooling my seven-year-old next year. Do you have any book recommendations for teaching a second grader chumash? Any other Hebrew book recommendations?


    1. I just use the Chumash but there are a lot of great workbooks out there. You can go visit a seforim store and check out the selection. Or join a Jewish Orthodox homeschooling group and post your question there, and I'm sure you'll get lots of suggestions! Best of luck!

  2. I think I will just ship you my active learner, to hang out with your active learners, and then we'll talk how it goes?
    In some ways, this is my house, except that my active learner does not want to jump on the trampoline, or climb on the climber or kick a punching bag. He also avoids fine motor skill activities, so no arts-and-crafts or legos. Oh, and he still will blow his top over things which have nothing to do with academics...
    It all sounds beautiful when you have an adult whose only job is to supervise this classroom, and not try to take care of a house and a few other kids. Then again, this is a hypothetical classroom, not a homeschool room with a frazzled mommy stuck picking up the mess that active learners produce.