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.

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.

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 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! Click here to learn more or to buy!

Join our email list & RECEIVE 10 GAMES to prevent challenging behavior before it disrupts the classroom!





We protect your privacy and do not share your information.

36 Comments

  1. I was working with a bunch of Head Start teachers and training them on the importance of movement in the classroom and in passing mentioned criss cross applesauce v. w-sitting. At the end of the session, one of the teachers asked me if I understood that sitting criss cross applesauce was developmentally inappropriate for preschoolers. There were 150 teachers in the room and a large number of them nodded their heads. I was stunned. These well meaning teachers had been told something similar to what is in this blog post and it morphed into a significant falsehood. I worry that throwing the baby out with the bath water, by so strongly condemning this posture, will lead more people to believe the same absurdity. When I am with children, I always ask them to show me they can sit criss cross applesauce (by doing owl pose for example) because it quickly lets me know if I should pay attention to their ability to cross the midline or not and the level of core strength they have. I hope that such a strong condemnation of this posture will be taken more lightly by your readers than the teachers I was working with.

    • It’s amazing to me how people jump to general conclusions. I never said sitting crisscross-applesauce is developmentally inappropriate; nor should the Head Start teachers have made such a broad statement. BUT making children sit in that position for the entirety of story or circle time, or for any lengthy period, IS developmentally inappropriate.

      You and I agree that movement is important in the classroom, and I appreciate that you spread that message to early childhood teachers. But I do think there are other ways to test core strength and a child’s ability to cross the midline. I’ve had many responses re: this post on my Facebook page, and some have commented that, for one reason or another, including lack of flexibility, there are children who simply can’t assume a crisscross-applesauce position.

      I hope my readers will understand that my condemnation was not of the position itself, but of forcing it on children. Thanks for weighing in.

  2. Thank you for sharing that keeping a flexible and open mind along with understanding child development is important for teachers.

  3. The sad thing about all of this is that sitting comfortably is common sense. We all know that no-one sits criss cross for long, if at all, unless he/she is comfortable – whether a child or adult.

    Adults fidget, Children fidget. Our natural ambience is to move, to release tension, to shift slightly to keep alert, active, our blood moving around, our body fluid and mobile.

    If you go to a concert or big auditorium event, slightly blur your eyes across the expanse of people and watch. You will notice a myriad of moving, jerks, twitches, twists, shifts all taking place for no apparent reason at all. That is the nature of ourselves. To enforce sitting still cross legged to our children is a discipline of posture that in theory looks smart; in practice becomes a marvellous, creative mess. That is what we should celebrate.

    • Yes! It’s not so much about the position as it is about the rigid enforcement. I don’t understand why teachers push back against that idea. Thanks for your feedback, Emma!

  4. I agree re sitting to learn. This is about adult control over children, not learning. The sad thing is that co trolls is not necessary if the children are engaged and interested!
    I am curious why you use the phrase “crisscross apple sauce”. I know this as a rhyme – a very good one – that has nothing to do with sitting at all. Is it an americanism? I have to say I dont like it! We just say sitting cross-legged.

    • Zoe, you make such an excellent point when you say controlling the children isn’t necessary if they’re engaged!! As to the term “crisscross-applesauce,” I have no idea of its origins. But, yes, it must be an Americanism. Something that someone made up to make sitting this way seem like fun to the little ones.

      • The use of “criss-cross applesauce” as the name of this particular seating position replaces the old use of sitting “Indian-style”, which is what I remember being told in the 1980s. It’s an easier to remember moniker for the culturally insensitive terminiology that preceded it.

  5. So 4 children coloring. 2 children walking around. 3 more using stress balls (that nearly always end up being thrown by accident) and 5 more who insist on sitting in the rocking chair, 4 More on their tummies…all in one classroom the size of a good sized bedroom. Lol. There is totally going to be sooooo much listening and learning going on.
    **Actually I can sit in criss cross position for quite a long time. I often teach from that position. It builds my core. We sit in that position on the rug for 20 minutes at a pop. That is extremely doable. If my lessons are high interest enough— and they should be, the children have no issues sitting and neither do I.

    • Trace, given the description of the routine you’ve established, I’m going to assume you’ve never tried any alternatives. The picture you paint, I feel, is an unlikely one. I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree. I just don’t believe forcing young children to sit in a certain position has anything to do with learning.

    • Agreed on the request for children’s listening and compliance…for an age-appropriate time period. Who’s in charge? So many children, over-step the leadership figure: replicating their home environment patterns: kids in charge and parents [in a need for alignment with their child] allow such shifts in behavior. Child-centered is one concept —> child-demands are another!!

      • Diane, I am certainly not a proponent of “kids in charge.” Respect is necessary and, I believe, can still be a part of a setting in which the children have some choice. For me, it begins with the adults respecting the children. Enough so that they don’t force them into uncomfortable positions that no research has proved to be valuable to learning.

    • …and if I sat criss cross on the floor for 20 min. I wouldn’t be able to stand up!!! I think that’s the point. Each person (adult or child) is different. Some children find this very difficult, just as some adults do. Children are often just not given a choice- so they spend all of their cognitive energy holding one uncomfortable position, or becoming the child who constantly is in trouble because they simply can’t hold that position, and move.

      • Yes, Pam! We talk so much about the importance of individualized learning and differentiated instruction, but when it comes to something as basic as sitting we expect all children to be the same! A child should not be considered a troublemaker because he can’t sit still!

  6. I do think that being comfortable helps children attend better. The issue that I have is that the postures they take can become a distraction to other children who then have difficult time because of the movement of others. I think that having it be more consistent takes away that distraction. That being said, I am not a tyrant about it. We may begin that way, but as circle time progresses the posture change naturally and for me, that is ok. I don’t allow walking around but kids shift and put a knee up or sit on their knees or whatever. I have had administrator admonish me for allowing anything other then the criss-cross sitting. I would like there to be able to be more flexibility but sometimes, it just isn’t as easy to make that happen.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Janet. I appreciate that you’re not as inflexible as the administrator you mention! I’ll just never understand such strict adherence to a sitting position! Our job as early childhood educators is not to control children but to bring out the best in them.

  7. There is no need to force 5 year old people to sit like this…..I never do…. And please don’t tell me how and when I learn best…..
    MSad (k teacher)

  8. I allow children to ‘sit’ however they choose (or play outside of our seated group – if they are not disturbing others) but based on information I’ve found, sitting in a W is not good for growing bodies (bones, joints, torso muscles), so I when they do, I remind them to “fix their legs” per the recommendation of a pediatric orthopedic. I am always open to more information and welcome any replies to my comment. Thank you.

    • Natalie, you’re quite right about W sitting. I did it all throughout my childhood and wish somebody had reminded me to fix my legs!

  9. I agree that children should be allowed to move and be comfortable especially during story but how do you control the inevitable bumps, kicks that seem to come up when they are on their tummies. And the I can’t see. Just looking for suggestions

    • Kari, I know that space is quite often an issue in early childhood settings and that spreading the children out isn’t a possibility. But whatever the case, I always did a lot of personal space activities with the children so they would come to respect that concept and use it in all situations. Of course, that means we have to make personal space something that’s fun for the children! For example, you might have them stand on a carpet square or inside a plastic hoop and invite them to imagine they’re inside their own giant bubble. Ask them to decide what color(s) they’d like the bubble to be and then pretend to paint the inside of the bubble. Remind them to reach as high, low, and wide as they can; and tell them this is their very own personal space. There are lots of other possibilities. Once the children are familiar with the idea of personal space while remaining in one spot (not an overnight process!), you can have them move throughout the room with their arms out to their sides, or while holding a hoop around the waist. The goal here is to imagine they’re like cars on a highway and mustn’t get close enough to touch one another. This helps them understand that their personal space is something they take with them everywhere. These ideas should transfer to circle time, but I’d love to hear ideas from others!

  10. I let my students choose between criss cross, mountain (hugging legs) and sometimes mermaid (both legs off to one side, not W) I have 29 kindergartners so there needs to be some sort of order and everyone needs to see,which is why all of these positions have their bottom on the floor.

  11. A balanced play based ECD program with plenty of opportunity for extensive use of outdoor facilities and equipment helps ensure a strong core development which in turn allows children to sit cross legged during rings of appropriate length. The inability to sit cross legged for any length of time is often an indication of low tone and the need for early intervention to strengthen the necessary muscles before moving on to table top learning.

    • I agree that the inability to sit like this can be an indication of either low core strength or inability to cross the midline. To me, that means the teacher should use that information to improve the situation, not by forcing the child to sit crisscross but through other developmentally appropriate avenues. It’s certainly not cause for a scolding or a markdown on a behavior chart, as is so often the case.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joan. I perhaps should have started with the unfortunate information that we have far too few balanced, play-based ECD programs here in the States. 😕

    • Elizabeth, you’ll find research on fidgeting mentioned here: https://www.raepica.com/2018/01/fidgeting-kids-whats-early-childhood-teacher-to-do/. And Eric Jensen — especially in his book Teaching with the Body in Mind — shares a great deal of research about sitting, posture, etc. There was a study in which the researchers looked at the impact of standing desks in elementary classrooms. Even though the each desk had a stool, 70% of the kids never sat; and the remaining 30% stood the majority of the time. The overall result was that the kids were far more on-task and engaged.

  12. I give my pre-K students options. They may choose criss cross, mountain (knees up) or mermaid (legs to the side). They are free to choose whichever is more comfortable and change as needed. It works well.

  13. There is a delightful poem for mamas, papas to enjoy with their baby lying on their back on the floor that goes like this:

    Criss cross (cross legs)
    Tomato sauce (cross legs the other way)
    Chilli powder up your trousers (walk fingers up from toes to tummy)
    Jelly in your belly! (tickle and kiss tummy)

    The best use of Criss Cross.

  14. As a kid I always sat Criss Cross, even in chairs (because of being small my feet often didn’t reach the floor) later in my teens we discovered I had short hamstrings & I was (still am) unable to sit with my legs straight out in front of me. I believe I was born that way as my mother told me I “toe walked” when I was learning to walk but sitting this way certainly did not help lengthen them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

clear formPost comment