Jitter Stick Spirituality

My kids have always been pretty good about settling down to do their homework. But after a half hour or so, first one and then another would find a reason to stand up and walk around. Sometimes they would do a little dance or toss a foam basketball through the hoop on their bedroom door. After three or four minutes, they would return to their studies, generally without any prodding from me.

Parents and teachers frequently complain about children’s short attention spans. They want kids to sit quietly for hours doing productive work. Yet people of all ages grow weary and distracted when they don’t have opportunities to get up and move. A few minutes of physical activity does wonders for focus and attention.

Enter jitter sticks. Originated by a music teacher, they are a simple way to encourage children to refocus their attention during learning activities. Just take a bunch of popsicle sticks and write a different movement on each one. You might have sticks for actions like circling arms, marching in place, climbing an imaginary ladder, and melting into a puddle. You can also include big, whole-body, motions like flying, skating, and leaping if you have ample space for such activities. Then draw a stick and invite children to engage in that activity for a short period of time, such as a slow count of 10 or 15 seconds. Repeat the process 3-4 times with a different movement, then return to the task at hand.

Jitter sticks are also an effective way to prepare children for listening carefully to a story, sitting quietly in meditation, or engaging in centering exercises. Explain that moving our bodies gives our brains a break from thinking hard about things. Say: While our bodies are moving, the thinking parts of our brains get to rest a little bit. When we stop moving, our brains will be ready to focus on work again.

Here are a couple of specific activities to try:

Jitter sticks & chapter books. Label a set of jitter sticks with movements that happen in the book. For example, Charlotte’s Web includes weaving a web and strutting around; The Timekeepers has spinning watch hands and cuckoo clock peekaboo movements. Before beginning your reading session, draw a jitter stick and invite children to move as directed. Repeat with a different stick. Then sit down together and begin reading the story aloud. When you get to the end of a section, draw another jitter stick and move. Then settle back in for the next section.

Jitter sticks & meditation/centering. Before a meditation session, invite children to prepare for quiet sitting with 3 rounds of jitter stick actions. Divide your jitter sticks into 3 groups, with more energetic activities in Group 1 and progressively smaller movements in Groups 2 and 3. Draw a stick from the first group and invite children to move for 15 seconds. Follow with a stick from Group 2, and then Group 3. Then sit to meditate or practice centering together.



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