As I was explaining something important to my student I was thinking “What’s that knocking noise?”… oh, it’s his foot on the piano. “What’s that tapping noise?”… oh, it’s his fingers on the bench. “What’s that scraping sound?”… oh, it’s his teeth grinding together.
Fidgety was an understatement when it came to this student. He was well-intentioned, yet perpetually in motion. He needed something in his hands at all times…. my pens, a piece of plastic from his pocket, a rolled up piece of paper… it was endless. If there wasn’t something in his hands then he was forever in some sort of contorted body position.
I needed a way to re-direct his energy into learning the piano… instead of into dismantling my erasers and attempting to impersonate a croissant on the bench.
6 Ways You Can Help Fidgety Piano Students
1. Understand Why – All children need to be active. They are meant to move, and that movement is designed to develop their core strength and balance. It’s an evolutionary must. And not all children who fidget have “ADHD or ADD”. For kids who spend 6 hours a day indoors at school, their strong need to move is hard to contain in an after school “sitting-based” activity. If you have this understanding, then their fidgety behaviour becomes more tolerable and you can work with it instead of against it.
Allow for off-the-bench activities at regular intervals. Start the lesson with active warm-ups that involve the whole body. Pause at points in the lesson for a “Shake it off” (Ugh… sorry now that song will be stuck in your head!) break. Give your student the moments he or she needs to twist and stretch and wiggle and just let these be a regular part of your lesson as would any other activity you include.
2. Provide a “Hand Occupier” – Fidgety children often need something in their hands. To gain some benefit from this need, give them a stress ball to squeeze. This way, at points in the lesson where they are required to listen, their fidgeting will have positive benefits as they strengthen their hand muscles… and they won’t be distracted by looking for something to hold or by the destruction of what they are holding. There are all kinds of amazing sensory items that are designed for fidgety kids.
3. Allow Fidgeting – You may think I’m crazy, but deciding on a “fidget limit” that you are comfortable with will save you a lot of time spent re-directing. As long as your student is processing what you are saying, and is able to perform what is asked of her, then wiggling on the bench, swinging legs, and looking at you upside down while you talk may be okay. But, do set a limit and enforce boundaries (“Twisting your arms like a pretzel is okay while I’m talking but you may not hang over the bench”).
4. Make Use of Movement And Teach Rhythm! – Often fidgety kids’ feet are moving… so make use of this by teaching them to tap their feet to the beat of what they are playing… or use their feet to stop out given rhythms instead of clapping. Give them Right Foot/Left Food patterns of rhythm to learn… anything that makes use of their wiggling in a productive way.
5. Do Theory While Standing Up – I love my whiteboard for this very reason – it’s away from the piano so it provides a change of scenery, but it also allows my students the chance to stand during the lesson as we play theory games. Anything that needs to be explained while your student sits can usually also be explained while standing up instead, so get them up and make movement part of the challenge (“Can you match these notes to their values while standing on one leg?”)
6. Play Games – Fidgety kids often love the sensory side of playing piano games (cards, game markers, dice etc.) so capitalize on that and get them learning important concepts within the format of a game. Play games such as “toss the beanbag” where you toss your student a beanbag, ask a question about his current piece and he then tosses the beanbag to you once he has discovered the answer. Even the simplest play-based activities can re-focus a fidgety child’s energies.
Adapting To Fidgety Learners Saves Both Of You
Believe it or not, fidgety children are often experiencing the same levels of frustration as are you at being in a situation where they are forced to be still. Adapting your lesson structure to suit their needs, establishing boundaries that allow for some movement and using your piano students tendencies towards movement to your advantage will have both of you enjoying your lesson time together much more!