"Whole body listening" and why we need to move on from it

The phrase "whole body listening" is often used in classrooms as a way to prompt students to sit with their hands in their laps, legs still, mouth shut, eyes and ears on the teacher. As an adult, do you ever sit like this while concentrating? I know I rarely do!

Whole body listening might be okay for some children, but for the majority it isn't. For most children, "whole body listening" is really difficult for them, and trying to follow the instructions actually takes away from their ability to concentrate on what the teacher is saying.

In particular, children who are not neurotypical in their development (i.e. those diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, or who have sensory processing difficulties) find that the concept of sitting still with eyes and ears on the teacher is almost impossible and counterproductive for their ability to listen and process the information being provided.

Evidence now shows that when children are allowed to move during the school day, they learn better.

Some strategies you can trial with children to increase their attention and engagement in the classroom, without using whole body listening, include:

  • allow them to use a fidget tool on the mat

  • allow them to stand at the back of the mat instead of sit

  • engage them in the learning through gross motor movements, song and use visuals with your teaching

  • engage the class in gross motor activities that bring heavy work to the muscles before expecting them to complete a sit-down, cognitive task

  • gain the assistance of an Occupational Therapist to set up your classroom or teaching space to include different seating areas for children that can allow them to move as they need - wobble stools, yoga balls, bean bags and standing desks just to name a few!

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