Lying on Our Tummies

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an ind...

The other day one of my students, Annie, showed up for her tutoring session with some friends.  The friends played on the lawn out back for most of the session, and at the end of the hour, it being a Friday, I invited them to join us in our usual, end-of-session game. One of the girls had seen us working on the carpet, Annie often lying on her tummy.  “You’re lucky, the friend told Annie later that day, my teacher doesn’t let me do that.”  I thought about the comment and wondered.  In my experience, a lot of kids like to lie on their tummies.  What does this mean for their learning?

How do adults structure learning environments for children and how does this affect learning?  But more so, how does it affect the child’s perception of what is an acceptable learning “stance,” and how does giving kids the freedom to choose a stance affect their engagement, learning, sense of respect from the teacher?

When I was in the classroom I created book corners, nooks with small tables, and had pillows the kids could lay on or lean upon.  Some used the pillow often, lying on their tummies on the floor, some leaned up against them.  Others preferred to use their desk and chair.  Of course, some wanted to make a fort under their desk with pillows and maybe the fort got more attention than their writing.  In that case we adjusted and maybe in time they’d be better able to design a setting where they could focus and sink into their work.  Chances are, these were kids that weren’t highly productive in the desk and chair anyway.

I think I always felt a little pressure from peers and the school atmosphere.  Did kids lying on pillows mean I was too loose in my classroom discipline?  Were kids really learning in there?  Could they learn if they were lying on the floor?  Who was really in charge?

I think of Naomi Aldort who’d ask:  Does it make the adult feel better if the kid is sitting in at a desk and chair?  Does it make the kid feel better?  Who feels better?

In my experience, some kids like desks, some don’t.  Some of my students were always on the floor.  Heck, the tenth grader I tutor likes to lie on the floor while he’s thinking.  I think it’s ok and if I notice they need more external structure, we do that.  Funny.  I think so many adults need to impose “their” structure on kids for their own comfort level.  And ultimately I think that’s not respecting the kid.


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