In this post we will explore the classic crisscross style of sitting, as well as acceptable alternative sitting positions on the floor. We will explore floor sitting for circle time, gym class, and other classroom learning situations. Not only are we learning about alternative sitting positions on the floor, I am hopeful you will become an advocate for the students you serve. Another resource to check out is our post on flexible seating options for the classroom.
There are many versions of sitting positions on the floor and depending on the sensory motor considerations of each child, these floor sitting positions facilitate learning.
Sitting positions on the floor
At least ten times a day I hear a teacher say, “come on in and sit crisscross applesauce.” This type of cross-legged sitting used to be called “Indian style” or “Tailor sit” before that was deemed insensitive. I cringe when I hear this, not only because of the silly name “crisscross applesauce, but because this sitting position on the floor should not be a universal request, or the only choice students have for seating.
In the preschool setting, we usually have a circle time or floor activities where sitting on the floor is part of the school day. For kids that struggle with sensory motor skills, this can be a real challenge.
Read our blog post about Crossing Midline Activities for Preschoolers for a developmental explanation of this age range and how we can support young kids in functional midline tasks like sitting on the floor for story time or for preschool circle time.
One way to support these sitting positions is by using a ball pit as a therapy tool.
Types of SITTING POSTIONS ON THE FLOOR
There are several different types of sitting positions on the floor that are seen in classrooms. There are pros and cons to all of them.
Teachers may tell you that sitting on the floor in one specific way (criss cross applesauce) creates uniformity and structure. If everyone is sitting quietly in the same position, there is less distraction in the group. Children benefit from rules and regulations.
This is a great answer, however, not all children can comfortably sit in this position, thus causing more distraction as they struggle to find a comfortable seating posture or retain crisscross applesauce.
You might see a version of these various sitting postures during circle time activities, during play, or during various centers. Let’s go over each type of sitting position.
Since “crisscross applesauce” or cross-legged position is the most often used, let us start there.
This cross-legged position involves both knees bent, crossing feet at the ankle, with both ankles on the floor.
There is a rhyme that accompanies the crisscross applesauce phrase:
Hands on lap, gingersnap
Sit up straight, chocolate cake
On your rear, root beer
Zip your lip, cool whip.
Shhh, now you are ready to listen!”
Pros of Criss Cross Applesauce Sitting Position: the body is in a compact form with legs and arms “inside the vehicle.” It is a universal sitting position, known or taught to most children. If everyone is in the same sitting positions on the floor, there tends to be uniformity and less distracting chaos.
Cons of Criss Cross Applesauce Sitting Position: it is uncomfortable for many people. It can be difficult to stay in the same position for long periods of time, due to fatigue, discomfort, sensory challenges, and inattentiveness. There is not a wide base of support with the knees off the ground and arms tucked inside the lap. Some students need more support.
Did you ever try to W sit? Do you know what a W sitting position looks like?
I know many of you are cringing just thinking about the dreaded “w-sit.” It is a popular sitting position on the floor among young children, especially those with low strength and/or muscle tone.
In this position the legs literally form the letter W on the floor. When a child sits in a W sit position, their hips are internally rotated, while the knees are bent facing the midline, and the feet are positioned away from each side of the body.
Pros of the W Sit Position: offers great stability while playing, due to the wide base of support. It is very comfortable for long periods of time, for those flexible enough to effectively achieve this position.
Cons of the W Sit Position: w-sitting is terrible for the knees and hips. They are not meant to be in this position long periods of time. This wide based sitting position on the floor takes up a lot of space, especially when there are several children seated close to each other. The hands do not naturally have a “bunny hole” to go into to keep them busy while sitting.
Prolonged w sitting can be a sign of developmental difficulties. For others, w sitting offers a wider base of support which offers more proximal stability so the individual can use the arms and hands with refined dexterity. For the individual who struggles with core strength and stability, and sitting balance, a W sitting position can help with attention and focus.
Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles has a different opinion. Their research claims that w-sitting does not cause hip problems, and most often children, by the age of eight, grow out of this habit on their own.
Dr. Goldstein explains, some children have more inward twist in their thigh bones than other children, so they can easily bring their knees in and feet out. In fact, for some children, sitting with their legs crossed in front of them may be uncomfortable because their thigh bones have less twist in the forward position than the inward position.
Note: some children need this wide base in order to sit for several minutes. Without this wide base, they are unable to use the rest of their body to play with toys and engage. As they build core strength, students may be able to transition to a cross-legged pose.
Long Legged Sitting position on the floor
In this sitting posture, the hips are generally at 90 degrees with the legs extended out in front. The width of the legs, or how far apart the feet are, may vary depending on the type of support needed, and tightness in the back and hip structures.
There are times when this is the only position a person can achieve on the floor due to tightness in the hips or legs.
Long legged sitting is a typical stage of development in children as they gain core strength, but is integrated into higher level sitting positions.
Pros of the Long Legged Sitting Position: it can offer a larger base of support than cross-legged sitting. Long sitting may be comfortable. This position may provide enough support to free the upper body to move and engage.
Cons of of the Long Legged Sitting Position: this sitting pose takes up a lot of room. If 30 children in the class sit like this, they will run out of carpet space. Long sitting can lead to posterior pelvic tilt, or slouching due to the stretch of the muscles, although some people have remarkable posture in this position. It can lead to increased tightness as the student bends their knees or abducts their legs to get comfortable, thus making it difficult to straighten their legs later. It is hard to reach forward to play with items while in this position. Sometimes this position is less stable as the child can easily tip over to the side or lean back too far.
As with w-sit, some children can only sit in this position due to disability, tightness/weakness of muscles, or instability. In my opinion it is better to allow a person to sit this way, if sitting in other positions impairs their function. The end goal is function.
An alternate seating option related to the long leg sitting posture is:
- Bent Long Sit- The legs are both forward and the knees are bent. In yoga, this might be called a mountain sitting posture
- Bent Legs Holding Knees- This position has the individual sitting with their legs in front of them with the knees bent. They may lean forward and hug the knees.
Mermaid Sitting Position
An alternative to the long leg sitting position is the mermaid sitting style, where the knees are both positioned to the side and back, in the same direction. This positioning offers greater base of support.
Short kneel Sitting Position
In the short kneel sitting position on the floor, the learner is sitting on their feet with their legs tucked under them. This position can offer not only comfort, but needed sensory input.
Short kneel is a developmental milestone that leads to pulling up to stand.
Pros of a short kneel sitting position on the floor: this is a compact position with the legs tucked underneath. It can be comfortable for long periods of time. Short kneel provides proprioceptive or deep pressure input while sitting, and often helps with self-regulation needed to attend to a lesson.
Cons of a short kneel sitting position on the floor: children are sitting up higher in this position, making it difficult for those behind them to see. It can cause pain in the knees.
An alternative sitting position to the kneel sit is:
- Open knees kneel sit– the individual sits on their legs with their feet tucked under their bottom, but the knees are spread apart. This option offers greater base of support and stability through the core.
Image of different sitting positions on the floor from the World Distribution of Postural Habits, published in American Anthropologist in 1955.
These are the most common alternate sitting positions on the floor we see in schools. There is also side sit, lotus, squat, tall kneel, and more. This drawing illustrates over 35 different sitting positions on the floor!
How to offer alternative seating positioning on the floor
- Teach children to stay in their personal space without touching others. You can do this by using a carpet with colored squares, taping squares to the floor, using rug samples, or mini swimming pools for each student.
- Teach children that they cannot block another student’s vision of the circle time activity.
- Unobtrusively put out the new possible seating options (cushions, fidget toys, lap pads, etc.) during free play so they are not so new and exciting that they take children’s attention away from the circle time activity.
- Teachers can offer chairs in the back of the circle time area. Cube chairs, stadium seats, carboard boxes, wiggle cushions, or other alternatives. Consider DIY seating options.
- How about weighted lap pads for children who cannot stay in one spot? They can be as simple as a sock weighted with rice, or sitting with a heavy backpack.
- What about those children who seem to be in constant motion? Maybe they can have a squishy ball or fidget toy. This opens another can of worms. Fidgets need to be tools, not toys, and taught to be used in a non-distracting manner. Here are some quiet fidgets you can try. This article, The Ultimate Guide to Fidgets on the OT Toolbox provides some great ideas.
- Maybe children who do not want to come to circle time can do a quiet activity in another area of the room. While this does not seem like the right idea, it can allow the other 24 children to have a successful lesson. Then work on problem solving getting this student involved in circle time.
- Respect children’s attention span and keep circle time to 10 minutes.
- Plan your circle time to include a welcoming time, an activity focus, and a closing tradition.
- Tell children daily what is going to happen at circle time, first, second, third, so they know what to expect.
Neurodiversity and sitting positions on the floor
Above we illustrated some good reasons for children to all sit cross-legged on the floor. If all the students in today’s classrooms were neurotypical, with average tone, muscle strength, attention, and self-regulation, teachers might be able to expect all their students to sit in a uniform fashion.
However, classes are full of neurodivergent students who do not fit into the same box as typical peers.
Focus in classrooms needs to be on learning, not sitting positions on the floor. In my opinion, as an occupational therapist, we need to offer students more options in classrooms to enhance their learning potential.
Some teachers are getting on board with this, while others are resistant to change. If you are a therapist in the schools, a big part of your role is education. Use your knowledge to explain why you are requesting changes to the classroom.
Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.
references on Sitting Positions on the Floor
Hewes, Gordon W. “World Distribution of Certain Postural Habits.” American Anthropologist, vol. 57, no. 2, 1955, pp. 231–44. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/666393. Accessed 26 Sept. 2023.