A classroom of 3- and 4-year-old students is an exciting place to be. Meeting each child’s needs, all the time, can seem like a daunting task. By recognizing the needs of each student, however, everyone’s needs can be met. It is the job of the teacher to really get to know each child and strategize for those times when the lesson plan does not fit with a specific student’s needs.
One strategy that works very well in my classroom is our “fidget box.” This box contains various types of sensory and tactile objects and toys that my students enjoy playing with. When this box is left on the table for the children to explore, most children in the class will have a great time using these items.
But fidgets are not just toys. In my classroom we have daily meeting time where we sing songs, daven (pray), learn about the parsha (weekly Torah portion), and have engaging class discussions. While there are children who easily sit quietly and participate, there are also a handful of individuals who benefit greatly from holding a fidget toy during meeting times. By holding and playing with a fidget toy, these children satisfy their sensory needs, and as a result, they can focus and participate throughout meeting time.
Fidgets are also great tools for redirecting children who are disruptive to others. When Sylvia* builds a tower and Daniel knocks it down, Sylvia can understandably be frustrated. Sylvia, however, calmly rebuilds her tower. If this happens repeatedly, Sylvia will really get upset. I know that Daniel loves to touch things, and the reason for knocking down the tower is simply for sensory satisfaction. With this knowledge, I approach Daniel and redirect him with an interesting fidget to use. Daniel is satisfied, playing quietly in a chair with the fidget, while Sylvia is relieved that she can now build her tower without Daniel knocking it down.
When teaching children, it is so important to meet each child where he or she is. We cannot expect all students to learn in one way because each child has individual needs. It is the prerogative of the teacher to modify the environment for her students, instead of expecting all children to fit inside one type of box.
*All characters, names, and scenarios are completely fictional.
By Miriam Horowitz
Miriam Horowitz teaches 3 and 4 year olds at Shomrai Preschool in Silver Spring, Maryland. She has been teaching in an early childhood setting for over three years and is passionate about inclusive education.