Getting Little Boys to Sit Down and Learn

I see plea’s about the inability of boys to sit still and learn come up frequently in homeschooling forums and facebook groups. Everyone wants to know how to get them to sit still and also if their inability to sit still is normal. The question of whether or not they would be better off in public school due to this ‘disorder’ is also commonly raised.

Is this what your child looks like when you ask them to sit down and learn?


Yes, yes it is very normal. What is abnormal is our society’s obsession with sitting. Before we obsess about getting our kids to sit we need to ask a few important questions.

Should we be teaching little boys to sit? It may be easier to get little girls to sit, but should we be encouraging the behavior of sitting in any child?

How long should a little boy be able to sit still? Or rather, how long is it safe for a child to sit still before they do physical harm to their bodies and brains?

Movement is essential to brain development and processing.

When we artificially decide how long a young child should sit still to do seated learning we are interfering with the instinctual and natural process that drives them to get the amount of movement they need each day.

I am not claiming a young child cannot sit at all, or that it is harmful to ask them to sit for a short period of time (less than 20 minutes) in order to complete a task.

There is a healthy balance, but that healthy balance does not look like a school room where the children sit at desks for hours every day. There is no secret formula for how long your 6-year-old should ‘be able’ to sit still. If they can’t sit still, they did not move enough yet. And even when they have fulfilled their bodies demand for movement, the recovery period they need, in which they will easily be able to sit, is still likely to be very short. In fact, if it isn’t short they are likely sick.

Nourish first their deep instinctual need to move, wear them out physically. Then they will be able to sit for a time. That time may only be 10 minutes, or maybe 30 minutes. Out of six kids, I only had one that could sit still without a break for more than 30 minutes…this is a rare find. It is also not a behavior that should be encouraged. A studious child that sits still for too long should be encouraged to get up and move around frequently.

It is very helpful to start the day with a focus on movement when your kids are young. Their bodies know they need to move more than they need to learn their letters or numbers or complete mazes or color or do dot-to-dots while seated at a table. Honor that. Accept that instinct. Remember that the need for physical movement is intertwined with the growth and development of their brain.

They will be smarter if you allow them to move. Sitting still stunts brain growth:

“The connection between the vestibular system and neocortex as well as the eyes and core muscles is highly important to the learning process. When we don’t move and activate the vestibular system, we are not taking in information from the environment.” Smart Moves

The vestibular system is activated when your child walks, runs, jumps, spins, or rolls. They do these things because their brain demands it. Their brain needs them to do these things because without all this motion the whole learning system shuts down. Were you ever mentally stuck and you went for a walk and came back refreshed and knowing how to solve your problem? Adults need movement too.

Did you know that just 20 minutes of remaining in a fixed position begins to interfere with metabolism? Or that when you sit the production of enzymes that help you break down fat is dramatically reduced? Or how about this:

“Physical activity enhances neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) in regions of the brain associated with critical thinking” (reference studies available on the site.)


Sitting Still Increases Your Chance of Early Death

If the above is not enough to convince you to stop trying to fit your child into that chair remember that sitting increases the chances of early death as much as smoking. You may not think it is possible for your squirmy little one to ever be in danger of sitting too much…but how many adults do you know who have escaped this conforming demand of our society?

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death,” says James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, in an interview with the LA Times. “The chair is out to kill us.” Science Daily

Homeschoolers don’t have to sit still for hours. In fact, a lot of learning can be done while incorporating movement. Here is a list of simple idea’s to move and learn at the same time. In addition to these, there are many tools you can use, for example, a giant hundreds floor mat instead of a little sheet of paper. (Not an affiliate link, just something I used for years.)

List of movement games my kids love playing.

Hot potato:

Using a balloon, pass it back and forth, mom should join the fun, and it is more fun if you include siblings. You can do this to review facts, or just tell something they know about the subject, or counting by 3 or 4, or spelling words, (mom may have to sit out with word lists for the spelling).

Fly swatter:

Use sticky notes to post information on the wall, it could be letters, or numbers, or words for reading, or vocabulary words. You give a definition or name a letter, number or word, and the child finds the sticky note on the wall and hits it with the fly swatter…you would not believe how much my little boys loved playing this game.


(I first head of this idea in the spelling lessons from You put pieces of colored construction paper on the floor and set them up as bases. You can have a spelling word list, vocab words, math facts, or anything else you are trying to commit to memory. If the child answers correctly they get to move to the next base. You may have some sort of reward when they get to home plate, or that could be the point they are done with that lesson for the day, or you can play with siblings who are competitive and like to win. (Use a different list of material to be quizzed on if you are playing with kids of different ability.

Jump to mom:

Again, mom has a list of info to review, any subject. The child gets to jump towards mom for every right answer and must jump back for every wrong answer…when they get to mom, they get a big hug and are done. (Just pick up the review list where you left off the day before.) This one requires small children who still delight in hugs for mom. Since hugs are common and freely given in my house, I was surprised by how much my young children loved playing this game. (warning, they may decide to see how far they can get in one jump…let them, even if this means you only got to ask one question…the next day you can dramatically increase the distance they have to jump…just tell them since they are older and can jump so far now, you had to move farther away or the game would be too easy 😊

Throwing stuff:

This is not really a game, but anytime my boys were learning something on cards, math facts, reading words, spelling words, vocab, etc. I would hand them the pile of cards the got correct and let them throw them. Yes, it was a mess, yes, they had to clean it up. But they were delighted, having fun, learning and moving all at the same time.

We need to move past our cultures limited vision of learning as something that takes place while sitting still in a chair.

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