Crisscross-Applesauce: It's Time to Move on From This Tradition

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How long could you sit crisscross-applesauce before you need to move? For me, the answer is: about 20 seconds max! Unless I’m deeply, deeply engaged in something, I will change positions multiple times or start to fidget. Even while watching something absolutely fascinating on TV, I may start by sitting with my legs folded underneath me, but before long my legs are stretched out on the coffee table. Then I’m lying on my right side and, finally, my left side. And that’s all during an hour-long program.

Wiggling and moving don't necessarily mean they're not listening.

In other words, I find it very difficult to stay completely still, even in a comfortable position. And I’m a long way from being a preschooler and among the most active segment of our population.

I’ve written before about the folly of requiring children to sit still in order to learn. But requiring them to sit crisscross-applesauce—cross-legged, with the back straight and hands in the lap—as is so often done during circle or story time, brings the issue to a whole new level.

I have no inkling when sitting like this became a “thing”. The idea, of course, is that the children will pay greater attention to the task at hand. That they’ll be more capable of listening. But wiggling and moving don’t necessarily mean they’re not listening. In fact, being required to sit like this may mean they pay even less attention, because crisscross-applesauce is a particularly challenging position. And that means it can require the majority of a child’s concentration.

When sitting crisscross-applesauce became one of the major dictates of the early childhood setting, it gave the child who’s incapable of complying one more chance to be seen as misbehaving. To break the rules. But I propose that we examine why such rules exist in the first place—rules that run contrary to what we know about children and, now, about fidgeting. If we understand that children are much more likely to be engaged when they’re comfortable, why insist that they assume a position that perhaps isn’t comfortable at all, often for long minutes at a time? Tradition is simply not a good enough reason.

Who's to say we have to sit down to learn?

So, what are the alternatives? Well, as pediatric occupational therapist Christy Isbell once said, in an interview for BAM Radio Network: “Who’s to say we have to sit down to learn? Why can’t we stand to learn? Why can’t we lay on the floor on our tummies to learn? Why can’t we sit in the rocking chair to learn? There are lots of other simple movement strategies. Just changing the position can make a big difference.”

So, why not offer children options? One major benefit is that they can choose the one that best meets their needs. And because they’re given that responsibility and choice, they will take the decision seriously, and there will be fewer actual behavioral issues. This is how self-regulation is acquired—not by being ordered to sit still.

Often, early childhood teachers argue that they must get children used to sitting because the children are going to have to sit in kindergarten and beyond. Unfortunately, it’s true that until policymakers begin paying attention to the research and opt for an education system that aligns with how kids learn, children will have to become accustomed to sitting in school. But it’s also true that most kids will eventually have to learn how to drive. That doesn’t mean we should stick them behind the wheel while they’re still preschoolers.

Learning to sit is a process that involves movement.

Learning to sit is a process that nature put in place. And that process involves movement, which allows children to develop their proprioceptive and vestibular systems, which allow children to be able to sit. Surely, we can’t imagine that we can do better than what nature intended.

Here are some recommendations, in addition to offering children choice:

  • For circle time you might simply allow children to stand or walk as needed. When I’m doing a telephone interview or am on a business call, I walk from room to room because I think better when on my feet than on my seat.

  • You might allow children to engage in a quiet activity, like coloring, as you read a story. A teacher once approached me following a keynote to show me what she had drawn while listening to me speak. Despite having created a lovely drawing, it was evident she had indeed been listening to me.

  • For each of the above suggestions, you can and should designate a specified area within which the children are allowed to stand or color; and that area should be within the circle. If you’re going to allow children to walk, designate a larger circle that will help prevent the other children from being distracted.

  • If a child is unable to sit still while you’re reading a story or otherwise attempting to engage him, remember not to take it personally. Once you get to know each child as an individual, you’ll be able to determine who might need a stress ball, for example, or to sit on a balance ball.

  • If you find yourself distracted by the children’s movement, it’s important to remember that, as adults, we should be better able to make adjustments to our thinking than young children are to behaviors that are beyond their control.

As far as crisscross-applesauce is concerned, the time has come to do away with this tradition. Honestly, there was never a time for it in the first place.

Movement is not misbehavior! For more ideas & activities that will prevent challenging behavior before it happens, check out Rae’s latest book here.

Book Cover

Article republished from raepica.com with permission from the author.

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About the Author Rae Pica

Rae Pica

Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the education of the whole child since 1980. Check out her YouTube channel, Active Learning with Rae, and learn more about her keynotes, consulting, and books, including What If Everybody Understood Child Development? and Active Learning Across the Curriculum, at www.raepica.com.

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  • Francis Wardle

    Isn't it interesting that now we can buy office desks that encourage workers to stand and move their bodies as they work? And we still want young children to sit still to learn? In my book. Oh Boy, I cite an article (by Jensen, 2005) that argues in many cases, movement actually enhances learning. We must get this idea into our classrooms.

  • Marti Higgins

    Amen Rae, I cannot sit still either! I have found children pay attention best in all sorts of positions- sometime from across the classroom!

  • Nancy Meehan

    The sitting position is not the problem, we as educators must ensure engagement not sitting compliance. Are kids engaged in responding to curriculum related open ended questioning? Do the get to share their thoughts and concerns in a community meeting? Are they sitting through the outdated by research practices of Calendar, days of the week to the Adams family tune ? Let’s look at what we are offering versus how we accept them to be sitting. Engaged ,challenged children are children who are engaged and attentive because they love to learn.

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  • Francis Wardle

    Isn't it interesting that now we can buy office desks that encourage workers to stand and move their bodies as they work? And we still want young children to sit still to learn? In my book. Oh Boy, I cite an article (by Jensen, 2005) that argues in many cases, movement actually enhances learning. We must get this idea into our classrooms.

  • Marti Higgins

    Amen Rae, I cannot sit still either! I have found children pay attention best in all sorts of positions- sometime from across the classroom!

  • Nancy Meehan

    The sitting position is not the problem, we as educators must ensure engagement not sitting compliance. Are kids engaged in responding to curriculum related open ended questioning? Do the get to share their thoughts and concerns in a community meeting? Are they sitting through the outdated by research practices of Calendar, days of the week to the Adams family tune ? Let’s look at what we are offering versus how we accept them to be sitting. Engaged ,challenged children are children who are engaged and attentive because they love to learn.

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