Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Praise of Doodling.....


.....and fidgeting, and bouncing, and walking in the park, and getting one's head up in the clouds.....




Remember how a nun's ruler would rap your knuckles if she caught you doodling?

I have news for the good Sister. According to recent studies "doodling has been shown to increase attention in monotonous tasks and to improve recall." So, what was with all the knuckle rapping?

And surely you remember fidgeting in church and getting "the look" from your mother? Now it comes to light that "fidgeting is theorized to modulate focus!" I hope my dear departed mother knows this now and is repenting.

Our creativity workshop on Saturday afternoon touched on the effect of movement on creativity.
Turns out that fidgeting and doodling entertain the part of our brain that is starting to get bored so that, with the rest of it, we can pay better attention to the task at hand. And, right off the bat, I can hear the OC's voice demanding to see the "data."

 I don't have any. I have half-formed, fuzzy ideas. Scientific American is not begging for permission to publish my findings (though, come to think of it, wouldn't that be nice!) Off he goes, no longer interested. He's partial to hard facts verified in a lab setting. Anything less and he starts to fidget and grow restless.

But back to the doodling and the fidgeting. It doesn't take a Department of Education study, at great cost to the taxpayer, to figure out  that people need to move. Especially little people. I was horrified to hear, a few years ago, that some schools were doing away with recess. Someone high up in an administrative ivory tower had obviously lost his mind. Any woman with children could tell you, for free, what an insane idea that was.

Even the nuns knew we had to move.They circled the playground like Border Collies, nipping at the heels of those inclined to clump together for chatting purposes. "Run, girls! Play ball! Jump rope! Play tag.....Move!" They knew our brains would balk at declining Latin verbs, or wrestling with Algebra, if we didn't energetically oxygenate our blood during that brief ten minutes on the playground. Anything to increase the flow to the grey matter. But they seemed to have a blind spot when it came to doodling and fidgeting. Neither, in their books, rated as exercise.




I make no claims to be a scientist. I'm merely reporting random tidbits, bandied about by a bunch of women at the library, some of whom were fidgeting as they spoke.  And nobody rapped their knuckles. All the tidbits related to how movement encourages productivity and creativity. One woman told of taking part in an experiment where, in a set amount of time, participants had to connect two lines on a sheet of paper. She only managed to draw nine connecting lines in the given time. All participants were then asked to stand up and jump around for a few minutes. They then repeated the exercise and everyone drew a significantly higher number of lines after the physical activity. Ergo, as the OC cowers in dismay, whatever about creativity, the activity certainly increased production.

One study done in the UK in 2005 concluded that "kids who are allowed to fidget during class learn more quickly than those who are not." One of our group told of autistic children being allowed to bounce up and down in their seats as they worked because experiments had shown that, when allowed to do so, they would learn more and get better scores.

Interestingly, the effects on the teachers of classrooms full of  bouncing, fidgeting children were not reported.

Curious, I  turned to Google and read the introduction to a paper on this very subject. Thinking I had hit the mother lode, I scrolled down to the meat of the article only to have the writer switch from the English of the introduction to her native Swedish, leaving me up the garden path without a shovel. But from the introduction I had at least gleaned that she believed we fidget the better to focus, relax, explore new ideas and to delay the onset of boredom.

Those are some ideas I could raise a glass to.

Another paper set out to compare highly creative children with those diagnosed as having ADHD. The implication seemed to be that it is sometimes easier, and more convenient, to label an energetic, creative child as hyper active and to medicate him, than to actually provide the level of stimulation that such a child needs.




I'd done nothing more active all day than boil the kettle for tea and drive to the library. The hyperactive child who lives and bounces around in my head had been lacking inspiration lately so, based on what I had so recently heard, I stopped at the park on my way home from the library. It was busy ---  parents pushing toddlers on the swings, hordes of teenagers playing basketball, tennis balls pinging back and forth and kids kicking balls around the soccer fields. I set off at a trot on the walking path....Well, as close to a trot as my aging knees will allow.  The sky overhead was blue. Red leaves shone among the green along a fence, cheeky squirrels squatted in my path, palm trees stood silhouetted against turquoise and peach as the sun started sinking, the scrubby oaks arched over my head and my mental cobwebs got swept away, at least for a while. And here you have the result --- full of the usual half-formed ideas, woefully lacking in hard data.....and not one call yet from Scientific American.

I probably need my knuckles rapped.

13 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

I loved reading this.
And it played to some of my half-baked prejudices too. I worry a lot about medicating the energy and drive out of anyone. Children in particular.
I accept that it may sometimes be necessary, but my head and heart argues for it to be the last resort.

Marigold Jam said...

No you don't need your knuckles rapped you have hit on a seam of gold here. I loved the way you put it all and I agree with you that a little figeting and doodling can only be good for the learning process. Who could possibly concentrate on learning or even being creative if all the while afraid of some knuckle rapping on its way?! How come all those colouring in books are so popular if they aren't touching a nerve in many people - not me though as I'd be too afraid of going outside the lines even though I know it is my book, my crayon and it doesn't matter a jot how well I colour it in! Some lessons last a lifetime don't they? Here I am in my 70s still worrying about not doing it right. I used to love doodling on my rough book cover what child doesn't? Did I learn more for it? Who can say. An absolutely fascinating topic and when Scientific American calls on you can I be first in line to be one of your random team of volunteers?

Sabine said...

Very interesting stuff! Reminds me of my student years (1976 onwards) when we not only smoked during lectures - rolling our own of course - but also both male and female students knitted. I remember that I carried my knitting everywhere with me and that around the time, thankfully, someone had published research findings how knitting increased concentration and listening skills.

Barb said...

If I'm tired and unfocused, a brisk walk always seems to clear the cobwebs. Too bad children who are fidgety are often kept in from recess when what they really need is some fresh air and movement to refocus their brains. I've always believed in the benefits of movement - though I have no real evidence of course.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I have to sit all day long at work, but I fidget. Cross and uncross my legs or tuck them up under me, play with my pen, twirl my ring on my finger. Can't help it but I do think it helps me focus on what my patients are saying.

Molly Bon said...


EC --- I'm going to sound like the old people I used to laugh about when I was a lot younger. You know the ones. They walked to and from school 5 miles in the snow, uphill both ways. But they may have had a point (that kids today are a bunch of sissies!) We had to move to get to school, on Shank's mare or a bicycle. There were no school buses. We weren't allowed to watch television except for, if we were lucky, The Virginian once a week, or American cartoons when there was a blue moon. We spent a lot of time outdoors, climbing trees,riding bikes, skipping rope and, a favorite on my street --- trying to see who could walk on walls and across the tops of gates for the longest distance before either falling off or being foiled by a pesky adult who ruined your chances by coming out and opening his gate just as you were just about to beat the record. Sitting was for school. Otherwise we were moving and I never knew of anyone having to be medicated because of their behaviour.

Marigold --- Thanks MJ, though I do think this was one of my woollier posts! Funny about that adult coloring book craze - I think the reason I don't like them (though most have beautiful designs)is you have to stay within the lines!

Sabine --- Knitting was big for us too. I still have the first bainin sweater I ever knitted! "Some day" I'm going to make a cushion out of it. I'm not sure it helped me concentrate on anything though as I'd find myself mumbling "Knit one, purl one, knit one purl one," over and over and over.....

Barb --- Oh I think there's plenty of proof....

SAG --- I doodle while talking on the phone and am often surprised later to see what I've done as I hardly seem conscious of doing it at the time!

Thimbleanna said...

Oh dear -- you've hit on one of my big pet peeves about our education system. I had relatively quiet boys, but I really felt for the ones who couldn't sit still and the bone-head teachers who labeled them and put them in a box, just to make their lives easier. A great teacher is one who can educate all types of children and those are increasingly rare to find. There was one young man in my boys' group of friends whom I adored. He was fun and adventurous and wonderful. And labeled. He carried a little portable grill around in the trunk of his car and was known to pop it out whenever his friends needed a little pick-me-up. One day the boys came home and said this boy had been suspended for starting a fire in the school parking lot. Ridiculous! It was lunchtime and he wanted to grill a burger! The world would be a much better place if more people were like him and more teachers encouraged children like him. Thanks for an interesting topic, as always -- and for bringing up warm memories.

Molly Bon said...


Anna --- Yup. Writing this I remembered a few of youngest son's friends who were also labeled. So easy to slap on a label. Much better but not so easy to look deeper....

gz said...

oh how I remember being called fidgetybritches......

Molly Bon said...


gz --- a sure sign you were a bright kid!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

We weren't allowed to doodle on the covers of our rough books , I remember . Reverend Mother thought it made them look untidy .

Molly Bon said...


S&S --- and God forbid we should loosen the neatness requirement to allow for self expression --- we might have gotten notions about ourselves. The contradiction --- learning was the first priorty, but, careful! Humility was hot on its heels....

Gillie said...

Well, never mind, Molly, I'M impressed....the WT is just like the OC, hard facts, please! I don't fidget (well not much) but I do knit for that very reason. It gets me through boring board meetings, interesting bible studies and has curbed my tongue too, in some mysterious way!