Research Review: Kids with ADHD Learn Better When They Move

As a teacher and clinician who has long been in favor of allowing kids to move while working on academics, I am thrilled to see this new study out of the University of Central Florida (Sarver et al., 2015)!

It demonstrates what I have observed in the classroom and clinical practice – that children with ADHD learn and recall information more effectively when they are allowed to move. This study compared the movement levels of children diagnosed with ADHD and children with typical development during cognitively demanding working memory tasks. Results showed that when the children with ADHD moved more (swinging legs, bouncing in their seats, tapping their feet, etc.) they performed better on the working memory tasks. The effect was not the same for typically developing children, as they actually performed worse the more they moved. These results confirm what previous research has shown – that increased movement serves a functional purpose for these children by allowing better activation of their brain’s executive functions.

This research challenges the ways in which the majority of these students are “managed” throughout the day at school. Implementing behavior policies that attempt to force children with ADHD to “sit still” during lessons may actually be impairing their ability to process and retain the information. Instead of a focus on stopping movement in the classroom, we should be providing ways for students to get structured appropriate movement that can enhance their performance. This doesn’t mean that students should be allowed to run around in disruptive ways. There are many ways that appropriate movement opportunities can be provided in the classroom including ball chairs, exercise bands tied to the legs of chairs, and even allowing students to stand at a desk or counter while working. In the end, trying to stop students from moving makes everyone’s life more challenging. This study shows us that by letting go of the expectation that students sit still, we can more effectively accomplish our goal of helping them learn and perform better in school. That’s a win-win for everyone!


Sarver, D.E., Rapport, M.D, Kofler, M.J., Raiker, J.S., & Friedman, L.M. (2015). Hyperactivity in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): impairing deficit of compensatory behavior? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. doi: 10.1007/s10802-015-0011-1

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