By Christine Marchant

Ever have a child that just moves SO SLOW? I’ve had a few slow moving children over the years. They are very intelligent and soft spoken, always logical, and have very good reasons for going slow and will explain it if you take the time to listen. 

When I received the contract to work with this child, he was stressing the adults because when they tried to speed him up, he would go even slower. The adults were becoming frustrated because they had a class to run and a schedule to follow. A little sloth refusing to go faster tends to throw everything and everyone off. He was getting the reputation of being defiant. They tried tons of visuals: the good old first/then, reward boards, consequences, the frowny/happy face, etc., but were stumped.

This was a tricky case. I observed him for two weeks. He was EXTREMELY slow moving. At arrival, it took him over 30 minutes to take his jacket and shoes off, put it away, put on his indoor shoes, and sign in. The Occupational Therapist (OT) and I tried starting his day with “body waking up” exercises. Each child is different, and each goal is different. At this point, the child has weak muscles and stamina. This child started with wall pushes–we only did 15. It’s important that we model the activity in the correct way. It’s also very important that we do not over-tire the child, and we keep the child happy and engaged. We then went marching down the hall. At this level, we only did 15 marching steps. After the marching, we did 5 frog hops. Frog hops are intense–at this point, we have peaked the “body waking up” and now we start to bring the child back down. A tip is to NEVER end the activity on the way up or at the top. Always bring the child back to the acceptable social level before re-entry to the classroom. We did the bear walk for a short distance. The final activity was the teddy bear pass game. This calmed the body and brought the body to a calm state, ready to go to the classroom. 

We continued this activity every day. As the child’s stamina grew, we increased the length of each activity. We only increased the numbers by a small amount. When we reached 100 wall pushes, 100 marching steps, 7 frog hops, and doubled the distance for the bear walk, we were ready to move up to another level. These numbers sound like a lot but, in reality, it’s not. They fly through it. At this point, we changed one component to each activity and dropped it back to the original number. We did it this way because keeping the routine the same but adding to each activity helped to teach the new skill: 

  • The wall pushes now have a clap between each push
  • The marching now has the hands cross the midsection and tapping the opposite knee
  • The bear walk is now the crab crawl
  • The frog hops are now bunny hops
  • The donkey kicks/frog hops/bunny jumps/kangaroo hops were repeated 7 times
  • The teddy bear pass now has each person pause-count 1-2-3 at each passing point

We did this until we reached the maximum number. When this new benchmark was reached, we again changed only one component to each activity. The number again, drops to the original number. 

  • We did half of the pushes with one hand, then switched to the other hand
  • The marching now has one hop on the first leg and a hop on the second leg 
  • The kangaroo hops now have a word as they jump, animals, vehicles, transportation (this gets the processing faster)
  • The crab walk became the seal crawl

We kept it up until the child was able to finish the routine in under 10 minutes. We monitored him to see if there were any changes. We did this the whole school year, which meant that we had a lot of variety, but with the same expectations. Some of the activities were:

  • Wall Pushes (Stand away from the wall and drop the body towards the walls, with hands spread apart. Lightly bounce back.)
  • Marching (March, with legs lifted straight and calm. Keep legs lined in front of the body.)
  • Soccer Kicks (Child sits on bum and bends their knees. Adult rolls the big ball towards the child’s feet. The child kicks outwards and continues this 5-10 times.This is a very intense exercise and should not be over used. The soccer ball rolls down the hall. You can use different sizes of balls!)
  • Pencil Rolls (You can use those flat gym mats, or just the floor. The child lays on the floor like a pencil. Roll the child 10 to the left, then 10 to the right. The child may want to speed through it. Roll SLOW! The goal is to regulate the body, not to get to the end as fast as possible. Do the maximum of 10 at a time.)
  • Teddy Bear Pass (Stand with two people back to back. The toy can be anything–we have even used a scrunched up paper towel. Have the child look up to the ceiling while passing the “teddy bear” to the partner. The partner then bends down and passes it between their legs. Have the child bend at the hip, reach between the legs and take the toy. Go SLOW! This is to regulate the body–not to go as fast as possible! NEVER go more than 10 passes. It’s goal is to go slow and calm the child down, so they are ready to re enter the classroom or activity.)
  • Bear Walk (Walk on hands and feet with bum in the air.)
  • Crab Walk (Walk on hands and feet with belly facing up.)
  • Snake Crawl (Entire body is on the floor, belly-down. Use your arms to pull your body along.)
  • Noodle roll (Lay 4-5 pool noodles on the floor and use your hands to pull your body along. Take the noodles from the back to the front as the child rolls along.)
  • Frog Hop (Hop like a frog.)
  • Donkey Kick (With hands on the floor, kick high to the sky with bum high in the air.)
  • Ball Chase (Crawl after a ball.)
  • Thomas Pick Up (Use pictures of Thomas the Tank or any favourite characters. Walk down the hall dropping the photos face up in a zigzag pattern. You can use any of the body movements to get to each photo and touch it. And go as fast or as slow as you wish.)

By the middle of the year, the “slow moving child” was noticeably stronger and faster. This transferred into the classroom. He really enjoyed the one to one attention. The energy sparked up from this quick 10 minute exercise every day and actually kept him moving until the midway of the class. The days we missed the exercise session, he was sluggish and off task, with low body tone. We supported the child by adding another exercise session at the midway point of the classroom program. This was not a full session. Just a top up, outside of the classroom. 

I hope this post gives you some ideas for managing your slow moving child. There’s a million reasons why the child is slow moving. We never assume we know the reason. The biggest goal we have is to keep the child’s dignity and confidence intact. Don’t do any activity that the child doesn’t want to do, and don’t allow the child to get out of control. If the child doesn’t want to do the activity, just switch it to a different activity that serves the same purpose. If you don’t remember which activity serves which purpose, ask your OT. Each activity serves a purpose, some will activate the brain and muscles, some will regulate the body, while some are used to coordinate the hand and eyes, etc. If you’re new to this, be sure to ALWAYS ask your OT for guidance. Like any activity, it can go astray if not used correctly. 

Have fun! And they will too!