Preschoolers Should Not Be Expected To 'Sit Still'

by Sara Farrell Baker
Originally Published: 

Preschool has become a bridge. On one side of the bridge is the part of my children’s lives where every waking moment is spent with me. On the other side of the bridge is the part of their lives where a large chunk of their day and week is spent in a classroom. The bridge itself has proven tricky.

Our motivation for enrolling our son in a preschool program was to provide him with more opportunities to socialize with his peers. Next on the list was to get him acclimated to a classroom environment. We wanted him to learn how he is expected to behave in that setting. The hope being that upon learning the appropriate behavior, he would then model that behavior.

Some days, he gets it. Other days, not so much.

This experience has led me to do some learning of my own, and what I’ve learned is that I don’t particularly care if my son “sits still” in class.

I can hear the sound of records scratching. I realize I am probably in the minority here. And I get it. I used to care. I cared a lot. Picking my son up from school every day and having to engage in a mini parent-teacher conference was embarrassing and frustrating. Most of the other kids in his class can make it through circle time without making noises or fidgeting around. Why was this an issue with my child?

Then I realized, he’s in preschool. Keyword: Pre.

I realized he isn’t doing anything that is out of the ordinary for his age, even though he was having a harder go of it than some of his classmates.

Sitting still and receiving instruction for much time at all is hard for any child, especially 4- to 5-year-olds. I try to think of the need to fidget as an itch. If I have an itch, I want to scratch it. If I can’t scratch it, for whatever reason, it becomes all I can think about. Not being able to scratch an itch doesn’t feel like an option because it consumes your thoughts. So I work with my son’s teacher and try to find ways for him to scratch that itch.

Looking for ways to help my son fidget opened my eyes to how common this issue is. There’s an entire industry devoted to giving children ways to fidget in class. Studies have shown that being able to fidget actually increases a child’s ability to pay attention. Chairs are being modified to provide sensory feedback. Yoga balls are sometimes used in place of standard chairs. Rubber bands are being attached to desk legs so kids can bounce their feet while they learn. Standing desks are rising in popularity among children and adults alike.

When children aren’t spending their class time thinking about how much they hate sitting, they’re better able to think about the material they’re being taught.

As is the case in my son’s preschool classroom, some children can handle sitting still just fine. Some kids simply do not have the itch or show the discipline of a monk when it comes to scratching it. So just as every child is different, we shouldn’t be surprised that the ways in which they learn best can be just as diverse.

And we shouldn’t ignore the needs of these kids.

I’m not advocating for children to be given roller skates and kazoos during instruction time. We do have expectations in place. Wiggling and moving around is one thing. Getting in someone’s personal space is another, and he knows it isn’t acceptable. If my son is given an instruction by his teacher, I expect him to follow it. We talk frequently about how his friends are trying to learn and how it’s important to think about the people around him. And under no circumstance is disrespect tolerated.

But he’s not a disrespectful kid, he’s just a mover and a shaker. There’s a difference.

When I pick my son up from preschool now, I still talk with his teacher. I find out what is or isn’t working for him on that particular day, and I empathize with her on the harder days. She empathizes with him too. Because of this, my frustration is dissipating. I don’t feel embarrassed or the need to reprimand him for being a 4-year-old.

An expectation that is out of his reach is no longer in place, and appropriate accommodations are being made so that he isn’t being punished for acting his age. My child is happier for it, enjoys school more, and is more successful during transitions. So naturally, this mom is happier too.

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