One of the fine lines I try to walk as a teacher is the balancing act between teaching children the way I know they ought to be taught and preparing them for the realities of public school kindergarten.
For instance, we spend the bulk of our days engaged in some version of what I call "discovery time" (others call it "choice" or "free play"). We might be indoors or outdoors, but the principle is the same: the child choses where he will play, how long he will play there, and (within the confines of safety and respect for others) how he will play with who and what he finds there. The only part of our day during which I expect the children to sit is during our circle time -- our daily community meeting -- and that is on the carpet and only for the time during which we aren't on our feet doing the Hokey Pokey or singing Jump Jim Joe. And my definition of "sitting" includes lounging, reclining, and lying, just so long as you're not up on your knees blocking the view of others.
This isn't to say that children don't take advantage of our classroom chairs, sitting down in them to work puzzles, squish play dough or make art, but there are always some for whom a chair appears to be a device of cruelty. Even when they do give it a go, it's with legs curled under their bottoms, or leaning back on two legs, or rocking from side to side as they engage in their activity. I'll never forget helping out in my daughter's kindergarten class. The kids were sitting in chairs at tables, working on math. There was Caleb, a certifiable math prodigy, his legs in perpetual motion, the four legs of his chair not once during the entire 15 minutes I watched him touching the floor at the same time. He spent nearly as much time untangling his own legs from the chair as he did working on his math assignment. He finished working on his paper, the first one to do so, while straddling a chair that was lying on its back. Not once did his bottom actually touch the seat of the chair.
Some of us, possibly most of us, need to move our bodies in order to think clearly. Scientists are proving it and not just when it comes to preschoolers.
In an era when our public schools are reducing or even eliminating physical education from their curricula, researchers are discovering direct connections between moving our bodies and our ability to learn and think creatively. According to Dr. John Ratey, author of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Education and the Brain, "Movement is really connected to our brain. It stimulates the brain to wake up. Exercise almost immediately helps to increase the attention (and it) improves the motivation."
I wish I could embed this terrific "Good Morning America" piece from a week ago that talks about how some schools are getting it, providing their students with swinging foot rests, replacing their chairs with stability balls, or just taking 10-minute breaks for dancing, all to great success both academically and behaviorally. And while you're over there, take a look at this ABC World News report about a high school that is bucking the national trend by not just emphasizing PE, but by scheduling it as the first period of the day for students who are struggling in school with dramatic results.
I hate that I feel compelled to give my Pre-K kids experience with increased "bottom time" during their final year with us in order to get them at least a little bit ready for the realities of their next year of school. It's so hard for some of these perfectly normal kids to sit for 20-30 minutes at a stretch, but that's what they're going to need to be able to do. And while I sometimes think I should just give it up and let their kindergarten teachers deal with it, at the same time I don't want them to suffer the complete ice-water-in-the-face shock of moving from a place where they are encouraged to move their bodies to a place where their fidgeting and "squirrely-ness" are "behavior problems." I've already had at least two kids (that I know of) get tagged with the ADHD label by his public school, at least one of whom was forced onto medication in order to retain his place in the school.
Our bodies and brains are clearly part of a single system and each one of us employs them in different proportions in order to get the most out of that system. It's incredibly encouraging to me to learn that there are public schools that are figuring this out. And it's perhaps even more exciting to find that a mainstream media outlet like ABC News seems to have it on its radar. Kudos to them! Keep spreading the word!