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.

 

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58 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.

    • Agree!
      I find it to be an interesting read, and I am grateful we are allowing more options for sitting/standing, but at the same time, cross cross is not wrong, bad, or evil.

    • I can sit cross cross forever, but I try not to keep my 4th graders Still and listening for more than About 10-15 minutes. Maybe that’s should be the focus. Mini-lessons then child practice.

  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!

      • I really appreciate your article, I have worked with children for a very long time and it seems to me that common practice isn’t always necessarily based on what is developmentally appropriate. I think if we are more sensitive to individual needs and differences we will be better able to reach a child’s potential at his or her own particular needs. I agree completely with the information you are sharing and hope that our education system becomes more atune with what children really need and not with meeting a preset standard which may infact be putting children at a disadvantage and creating a delay in development rather than allowing for full development. I wish more people would be open to accepting positive change as it is much needed. I feel this type of knowledge ought to be shared at a broader spectrum and will on my end so my share to help disseminate the information by sharing this article with others.

        • Thank you for your input, Carina. I agree that common practice isn’t necessarily always based on what is developmentally appropriate. And that’s just wrong, isn’t it?

  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.

      • Oh but I have. My students have a lot of freedom to sit in various positions while not on the rug. They may stand, sit on the floor, on their knees, lying on tummies etc. However, when they are in direct instruction with me, which is a very small amount of time considering the amount of time they are with me each day, I expect them to have eyes on me and sitting on their bottoms. I have taught and currently continue to teach in my title one school for 31 years; we are 98% free lunch and there is very little consistency in my children’s lives.
        I actually HAVE had a chance in those 31 years to give more freedom during direct instruction time and it is met with non-learning behaviors. Please do not dismiss my experience or thoughts so easily. If you’d like to try some of your methods in my classroom I would welcome you! My school has an extremely high teacher burnout rate. I have found a way to help my students learn and succeed in both school and life. They often come back to thank me for my instruction in academics, structure and love.
        Often those who leave the classroom for other positions forget very quickly what reality is like in a classroom of 28 sweet lil 6 year olds.

        • Trace, what you describe sounds wonderful. And not at all like what you said in your first reply. It was not my intention to dismiss your experience or ideas. Rather, I was responding to your dismissal of my ideas.

          I think there’s a very big difference between forcing children to sit crisscross-applesauce and requiring them to sometimes sit on their bottoms, as you do. It sounds like you’re doing great things for the children you work with.

    • 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!

    • I’m with you Trace. I think making eye contact and having the children look at me (or whoever is the teacher at that time) is part of learning also. The examples above (walking during a phone conversation, drawing while listening to a speaker) are adults, not kids. I was told the simpler the better – so don’t have them doing too many things at the same time (homework and tv when they’re older). Plus, keeping those legs folded keeps them from kicking their classmates and keeps the classmates from tripping over legs.

      • Linda, I think there are plenty of other opportunities to make eye contact with the children; and I feel it’s best when it’s not being enforced. Also, I would prefer to teach children to respect the personal space of others — i.e., not kick their classmates — in developmentally appropriate ways.

  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.

    • This is the most sensible solution thank you! When you have 17 students 3 years old many of whom have various special needs, roaming the classroom laying on the floor, which ends up rolling etc this becomes an issue for them, unfortunately 3s can’t always conceptualize the space bubble. There wouldn’t even be room for flexible seating if we had to allow for that many laying down etc. The other thing I can’t get past, is that this article Completely misses the point that cross cross doesn’t mean you cannot move, we do all sorts of movement while cross cross, some students choose to sway which we know develops proprioception and gives calming sensory input.

  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.

  15. I have mixed feelings about this article because I am all about choice, but I am also easily distracted. So are many of my students. I don’t really care the position of sitting or even standing, but I ask that we stay in one spot. I happen to be able to sit cross cross forever. It’s my position of choice, but I don’t require it. At my gathering spot, some are crisscross, others are simply bottoms down. Others are in chairs, and occasionally I have a stander. I also keep my lessons short, 10-15 minutes. Kids can stand or sit pretty much anywhere and any way as long as they are working and not distracting. Works for me.
    I appreciate your bringing attention to the rigid rules. We do need to be flexible. We also need to keep order so all can learn.

  16. All comments seem to be from teachers. I am not a teacher but a very worried parent. My child started school this year and from a sweet happy child, I have seen him get increasingly anxious about being in class. I have been sitting in class with him to calm his anxiety as realised a while ago that he did not like sitting criss cross. But since most kids were sitting like that, I thought he was just being defiant. He is happy to sit on the desk and listen to what’s happening, but not criss cross. I can’t tell you how relieved I am reading this article. I don’t know what will come of it, but will certainly ask his teachers to let him sit where and how he wants as long as there are no disruptions in class.

    • It is such a shame when a happy child becomes an unhappy one due to developmentally inappropriate experiences in school! I can’t imagine why a specific sitting position would be more important than a positive school experience! I’m so glad you found relief from this article, Ashima; and I hope it helps your son going forward!

  17. The person that wrote this article is part of the problem with what is wrong with our schools today. This person has no idea what it’s like to teach a class. Just like people making laws and regulations that have no actual classroom experience. I’m an elementary PE teacher and if my students aren’t sitting criss cross then they are not listening! This article is ridiculous and I wish this person would devote their attention to some other topic. A topic they actually know something about!

  18. You want to know how this became a “thing”? Because teachers are driven by the principal they have. Many, many principals have no early childhood or K experience but tell people who do have experience what they expect and that reflects how those teachers are treated. One year I decided to allow my kids to sit however they wanted as long as they were doing work and listening. One girl liked to learn with her feet up and board in her lap, but was writing the words we were practicing. I was lectured in front of the class for them not sitting the right way and yelled at in front of colleagues, it was a pod classroom and we had over 60 kids in there all together. Now my kids sit up straight on the carpet so I’m not labeled a bad teacher. My kids weren’t even misbehaving. They were all working. Fortunately for me that principal did UCB worse things and I was transferred. But since I’ve made my kids sit up straight in theirs spot, even though I can’t even sit that long that way, I am not labeled an awesome teacher. Nothing else in my room changed but that. It’s sad but in order to keep my job I must appease those with no knowledge of kids this age.

    • That’s truly awful, Melinda, and unfortunately not uncommon. As you say, too many elementary principals are completely unfamiliar with the characteristics and needs of young children! That’s changing but not quickly enough.

  19. Nice article and I do support moving with learning! I will say that children should not sit in W or on their feet for prolonged periods. Both can lead to orthopedic issues.
    Pediatric PT

  20. This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. How very typical of Western, first world mentalities to think that something that is practiced with great success in cultures around the world, i.e. India, most Asian countries etc. as a form of meditation and calmness is not OK for western kids. Completely asinine based on total opinion and not documentable fact.

    • You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, Louisa. But meditation is not the point here. An understanding of child development is.

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