Having a classroom of students at different levels of alertness can be a particular challenge to teachers. Some students are underaroused: looking sleepy, appearing uninterested and yawning. Others are overaroused, ready to run a marathon, but not ready to sit, listen or write. There is one surefire activity to address the needs of all these students. It is known as HEAVY WORK. When children engage in focused, heavy work activities, they arrive at a "just right" state.
Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger developed "How Does Your Engine Run? The Alert Program for Self Regulation." They use engine terminology to help kids understand if their bodies (engines) are running low, high or just right. Why is heavy work effective to both calm and alert students? In their book, Take Five! Staying Alert at Home and School, they offer this explanation:
"...the bottom part of the brain (brainstem), the back part of the brain (cerebellum), along with many other areas of the brain are stimulated through heavy work to muscles and joints (activities that involve pushing,pulling, lifting, hanging, climbing, tugging and towing). When engines are in high gear and participate in heavy work, a message is sent to the rest of the brain and body that says, "Chill out...Calm down...We are not in danger here. We can relax and focus." When engines are in low gear and participate in heavy work, a message is sent to the rest of the brain and body that says, "Be alert! Wake up! We need to get going and Focus!"
So when in doubt, provide heavy work activities for your class. Look for a future post on specific activities you can do in your classrooms and in other school environments.