Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Favorite Things #4: Stress Balls

    We've all had that student (or twenty) who is just a little too fidgety.  Some have ADD, but others are just kids-- because after all, we are dealing with kids here.  These are the kinds of kids who drive teachers crazy: they drum on their desks, ask 10,000 irrelevant questions, poke classmates, and cause general dismay and chaos in the classroom.  I'm kind of a fan of these kids.  They make things interesting; I will never be able to say I'm bored at work.  But they can also be disruptive to other students, so what do we do with them?  

   In college, a professor showed me Wikki Stix, which are basically sticky pipe cleaners.  Students can manipulate them and play with them quietly at their desks, so they are occupied without becoming a distraction.  I'm sure these are great, but I don't use them for two reasons: 

1. As a first-year teacher, I spent a huge portion of my pay on classroom supplies.  The cheapest pack of Wikki Stix is about $10 online, so I wanted a cheaper alternative.

2. Because Wikki Stix are bendable and stick to just about any surface, they're great for molding into shapes.  I teach high school.  I really didn't want to imagine the {shapes} that some of my students might create . . . and the uproar that could cause in a classroom I'm already working hard to keep in order.

That leads me to Favorite Thing #4: Stress Balls.

   I ordered these cute apple-shaped stress balls from School Specialty about a month into my first year teaching.  I got two of them for about $3 at the time.  I ordered them with a particular student in mind, one who was a constant fidgety challenge but not a bad kid.  When they arrived, I told him my expectations for him: if I noticed he was becoming a distraction, I'd just hand him a stress ball.  That was my silent clue to him that he needed to manage his behavior, and that he could occupy himself with the ball.  I made it very clear that if the ball started to be a distraction of its own (if, for example, it managed to fly across the room), I would take it and we'd have to find another solution.  It was like a magic ball.  I think my student appreciated that I was working to find a solution that worked for both of us, rather than just sending him in the hall. He respected the system, and I never once had to take the ball away from him after giving it to him.  Most importantly, it never took time or disturbed others.  I would silently grab it from my desk and hand it to him.  He'd immediately focus his attention on the ball and off of whatever he had been doing.  Most of the time, other kids didn't even notice.  

   I have used these two stress balls for years, with many students.  It's one of my favorite classroom management tricks, because it's so simple and easy.  I strive to create a friendly atmosphere in which my students feel liked and respected, and this system definitely keeps kids out of trouble and in that friendly zone.

Cheap, easy, non-disruptive . . . how much better does it get?
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