Effective Calming Activities for Students with ADHD

In the busy world of an elementary classroom, it’s essential for teachers to have a toolkit of calming activities for kids with excess energy, especially for students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These students often face challenges with focus, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, making it important to provide them with strategies to manage their emotions and create a supportive environment. 

In this blog post, I’ll show you the best activities that elementary teachers can incorporate into their daily routines to support students with ADHD.

Here’s a list of some common behaviors that a student might display based on symptoms of ADHD:

  1. Difficulty paying attention to instructions or tasks
  2. Easily distracted by external stimuli, such as noises or movements
  3. Difficulty staying seated and often fidgeting or squirming in their seat
  4. Impulsive behavior, such as blurting out answers or interrupting others
  5. Difficulty organizing tasks or materials
  6. Forgetfulness, such as forgetting to turn in homework or bring necessary materials to school
  7. Difficulty following through on tasks or completing assignments
  8. Excessive talking or disruptive behavior during quiet work times
  9. Difficulty waiting their turn in activities or conversations
  10. Difficulty staying focused on tasks that are not highly stimulating or interesting to them
  11. Difficulty regulating emotions and may have emotional outbursts or tantrums
  12. Difficulty transitioning between activities or changes in routine
  13. Procrastination or avoidance of tasks that require sustained attention or effort
  14. Impulsively starting new tasks without finishing previous ones
  15. Difficulty understanding social cues or norms, leading to social difficulties or conflicts with peers.

It’s important to remember that every student with ADHD is unique, and their behavior may vary depending on factors such as their individual strengths and challenges, environmental factors, and the effectiveness of support strategies in place.

A supportive and understanding approach from teachers and peers can make a significant difference in helping students with ADHD succeed in the classroom. It’s important to remember, you may see all of the above behaviors in your student, or only 1 or 2.

Factors like enough sleep, mental health, family structure, and more can affect how a student with ADHD presents in your classroom. The good news is, the creative activities below will help you provide important supports for all of your students.

Sensory Input

Students with ADHD need help in calming their nervous system and reducing sensory overload. Sensory input is a great way to support their sensory system and what can feel like too much energy.

As some children have sensory processing issues, sensory input in the classroom is a powerful tool, and a fun way, to provide targeted support or students’ different physical needs in the classroom. Here’s a list of some creative ideas to help ADHD kids with sensory processing difficulties:

Kinetic Sand or Play-Doh Station

 Set up a table with bins of kinetic sand or Play-Doh where students can engage in tactile play. Manipulating the sand or dough can help students focus their attention and relieve stress.

You can incorporate this activity easily when you provide movement breaks for your whole class. Here is a link for kinetic sand and here is one for play-doh!

Quiet Corner

Designate a quiet corner of the classroom with soft pillows, bean bags, or floor mats where students can retreat when they need a break. This calming space provides a refuge for students to relax and recharge away from the hustle and bustle of the classroom.

If you want to really lower their heart rate and stress levels, teach your students progressive muscle relaxation techniques (more on this below)! If you are looking for some visuals for a quiet corner- check this out!

    Movement Area

    Create a designated area with a mini trampoline, exercise ball, or balance board where students can engage in physical movement. You don’t need to have all of these things to provide physical activities in your classroom.Encouraging students to release excess energy through movement can help them refocus and improve their attention span.

    The first step is always to get kids up and engaging in some kind of physical activity to release feel-good hormones through fun games and even something as simple as a 2 minute dance party!

    ​Some kids need a calming transition activity before they can return to class. This step is often missed and teachers become upset that their students aren’t calm. Don’t let this be you!

    These sensory experiences have an overall calming effect on the body, expend what seems like endless energy, and are effective strategies to reduce impulsive behaviors before they start. Pro tip: team up with your school’s occupational therapist and physical therapist for materials and ideas for your students.

    Deep Breathing Exercises

    Deep breathing exercises are simple yet powerful tools for helping students with ADHD calm their minds and bodies. Teaching students to focus on their breath can help them regulate their emotions, reduce anxiety, and improve their ability to concentrate.

    It may seem like breathing techniques are easy to overlook in the classroom, but spending time teaching the different ways we can breathe to calm common ADHD symptoms, is one of the most effective calming techniques. Here are some deep breathing exercises to try with your students:

    • Balloon Breaths: have students to sit or stand comfortably with their hands on their belly. As they inhale deeply through their nose, encourage them to imagine their belly filling up like a balloon. Then, as they exhale slowly through their mouth, prompt them to imagine the balloon deflating. Repeat this a few times, encouraging students to focus on how their breath feels moving in and out of their body.
    • Square Breathing: Guide students in a square breathing exercise to help them regulate their breathing and calm their nervous system. Ask students to inhale for a count of four, hold their breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold their breath again for a count of four. Repeat this sequence several times, encouraging students to visualize a square as they breathe.

    Here are some visuals you can print for free that pair with these deep breathing exercises.

    You can do these exercises in a quiet space at first, but students will soon be able to use these techniques in the present moment without professional support as one of their ADHD relaxation techniques in their toolbox.

    Remember, the best times to teach these exercises is before students are having a hard time or the child’s hyperactivity leads to emotional dysregulation. We want to foster positive behavior by calming negative emotions when they are just beginning to surface. Given time, deep breaths can become an excellent way to address the unique challenges for students needing executive functions support.

    Mindfulness Moments

    Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance. Incorporating brief mindfulness exercises into your daily routine is the best way help students with ADHD develop self-awareness, regulate their emotions, and improve lack of focus. Here are some mindfulness activities to try with your students:

    • Mindful Listening: Ring a chime or play soft music in the classroom, instructing students to close their eyes and focus on the sounds they hear. Encourage students to notice the different tones, pitches, and rhythms of the sounds, bringing their attention fully to the present moment. When you use music and sound in your classroom, you are utilizing another of your sensory strategies to address the unique needs of your students.
    • Body Scan: Lead students through a body scan exercise to help them develop awareness of their physical sensations and release tension in their bodies. Instruct students to sit or lie down comfortably, closing their eyes and bringing their attention to their feet. Guide them in slowly moving their awareness up through their body, noticing any sensations or areas of tension as they go. Encourage students to breathe deeply and relax each part of their body as they scan from head to toe. This is called progressive muscle relaxation

    We know mindfulness is a key in supporting the ADHD mind and a child’s brain, but it’s even deeper than that and leads to greater overall health benefits! 

    Extra bonus: these can help calm and ground you too!

    Day to Day Supports

    The way you structure your days is incredibly important to maintaining a sense of safety, positivity, and support for the ADHD brain! While the above strategies are more focused on calming, the supports below are used daily as proactive strategies to keep your student’s body and brain on the right track. The following list of items are staples in a supportive classroom and easy to implement!

    Support Groups / Social Skill Groups 

    Support groups or social skill groups are structured sessions where students with ADHD can learn and practice social skills in a supportive environment. These groups typically focus on teaching skills such as communication, problem-solving, and self-regulation. 

    To implement support groups in an elementary classroom, teachers can collaborate with school counselors or special education teachers to identify students who would benefit from participating. Sessions can be held during designated times, such as during lunch breaks or after school, and can include activities such as role-playing, group discussions, and cooperative games. 

    If you want some of these in your classroom, you can get these amazing task boxes that are geared just for that. They are hands on and interactive- perfect for your students with ADHD! Providing a safe and non-judgmental space for students to learn and practice social skills can help them build confidence and improve their interactions with peers.

    Visual Schedules

    Visual schedules are visual representations of daily routines or tasks, presented in a clear and sequential manner. They can help students with ADHD understand expectations, manage their time, and transition between activities more smoothly. To implement visual schedules in an elementary classroom, teachers can create visual schedules using pictures, symbols, or written words, depending on the students’ preferences and abilities. 

    Schedules should be clearly displayed in the classroom and can be personalized for individual students or the entire class. Teachers can review the schedule with students at the beginning of the day and refer back to it throughout the day to help students stay on track and reduce anxiety about transitions.

    If you need pictures for these schedules, check out these real life image pictures that are a great tool to make schedules with!

    Flexible Seating

    Flexible seating allows students to choose where and how they sit in the classroom, providing them with options that accommodate their individual preferences and needs. This can include traditional desks and chairs, as well as alternative seating options such as bean bags, floor cushions, standing desks, or stability balls. 

    To implement flexible seating in an elementary classroom, you can create a variety of seating areas or “learning zones” within the classroom, each equipped with different types of seating options. Students can then choose where they feel most comfortable and productive based on their preferences and sensory needs. 

    Providing flexibility in seating arrangements can help students with ADHD better regulate their energy levels and improve their focus and engagement in learning activities. For a detailed list of flexible seating ideas and how to implement them, check out this blog post!

    Fidget Toys

    Fidget toys are small, handheld objects that students can manipulate discreetly to help them stay focused and calm their minds. These toys can provide sensory stimulation and help channel excess energy in a non-disruptive way. 

    To implement fidget toys in an elementary classroom, teachers can provide a variety of options such as stress balls or tactile fidgets like textured blocks or sensory rings. Teachers can also set clear guidelines for when and how fidget toys can be used, such as during independent work times or during quiet activities. By providing fidget toys as a tool for self-regulation, teachers can support students with ADHD in managing their attention and reducing disruptive behaviors.

    Incorporating these effective calming activities and supports into your classroom routine can make a huge difference in supporting students with ADHD and creating a positive learning environment for all students. By providing sensory experiences, sensory activities, mindfulness, self-regulation techniques, and day to day embedded supports such as deep breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness moments, playing calming music or sounds, teachers can help students regulate their emotions, reduce stress, and improve their ability to focus. 

    Our goal in working with ADHD children is never to “fix” them. Rather, it’s our hope that we can teach valuable skills that students will utilize throughout their lives. All of the techniques and strategies mentioned above have one goal in common: support a healthy, regulated nervous system. Achieving this goals helps your classroom run more smoothly, helps the student engage more deeply in the material, and provides a way to target the unique needs of the individuals in your classroom. 

    The compounding effect of this type of classroom support are astounding. Students gain skills, feel happier, become more connected to peers, their desires, and the larger school community! Doesn’t that sound great? Remember to be patient and flexible, allowing students the time and space they need to engage in these activities and regulate their emotions. Together, we can create a supportive and inclusive classroom culture where every student feels valued, understood, and empowered to succeed. 

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