Circle time is to early childhood education what homeroom is to high school. It is the starting point for the day, and oftentimes the only place children and teachers exchange information about their day. Felt character stories, songs, finger plays, show and tell, the calendar and most other important things of the day happen at circle time. As such, it is understandable that many ECE classrooms insist the children sit still in order to pay attention and participate during this time.
It has been argued that young children benefit from learning to sit criss-cross-applesauce, or on a dot, or in a circle. The thinking is as follows; children develop their attention spans by being very still during a song or story. The argument being that stillness is critical because children are seldom required to do so, and practicing stillness will develop that skill.
But what about the other children – the ones who are not required to sit still at circle time? How do they develop focus?
On a couple of recent hikes, I noticed how focused and determined the girls become. They have autonomy to try tackle challenging situations. In these instances, the girls were able to play, and naturally they focused when they faced relatively difficult tasks.
I’d argue that requiring preschool children to sit still on a spot for extended periods is a convenient AND an unnecessary common classroom practice.
In group settings, I prefer to allow toddlers and preschool-aged children the freedom to be comfortable. When we gather, I want them to sit so that can hear and see but if they’d like to lay down or sit in a chair or with their legs straight out in front of them instead of criss-cross so be it.
Focus develops when children are allotted the space and time to pursue their interests. So really, more than being required to sit still, children need to be allowed to play. Children need uninterrupted time to play and irresistible environments so that they can find genuine engagement. The focus will follow when they’re ready.