This week’s question is from Amy,
“I need help understanding the purpose of carpet time in the elementary school setting. My son has ADHD and sensory processing disorder and struggles with carpet time, because he has to sit close to other kids, and he can’t move because it’s such tight quarters. I have been fighting for him to be able to sit elsewhere during carpet time since preschool, but the teachers just aren’t willing to budge. Is carpet time something that is taught to people studying elementary education as being extremely important or something? I just don’t get the point of it, if it makes it so the child can’t listen and learn. Any suggestions are welcome.”
In this episode, I will discuss the best ways to work with teachers and administrators when you need to make accommodation requests for your child. There are many reasons that accommodations go unmet in the classroom and it’s important to be aware of what might be going on. Taking an empathetic and collaborative approach is best.
As the parent, you have the right to continue to advocate for your child and go up the chain of command once you’ve established that the teacher is unwilling to cooperate after a collaborative conversation. There are collaborative ways to maximize learning opportunities that benefit the entire classroom, the school administrators need to be willing to work that out with you. Ultimately if they are unwilling to meet a reasonable request it may be time to move on to another school.
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Is Carpet Time Essential?
- It is not necessary or educationally valuable for a child to have to sit in a group on the carpet during any kind of instructional activity
- A child is not going to suffer in their childhood or in their adulthood if they sit somewhere else and aren’t with the crowd on the carpet
- Trying to force kids to sit and receive instruction in ways that are not productive for them, such as carpet time, is actually far more harmful than making some accommodations
Teachers Denying Accommodations (During Carpet Time)
- First identify what the goal of carpet/circle time is: is the goal to learn to sit on a carpet for a set period of time (of course not!) or is it a skill/learning/direction objective?
- This may sound ridiculous, but adults can be stubborn with their teaching approaches
- We should be wide open to any type of seating arrangement that is going to allow a particular child to benefit from the instruction and achieve the goal of what is happening during that time (e.g., teaching a skill, receiving direction, etc.)
- Ask the teacher or the adults involved: “Help me understand what is the actual goal of this activity/this lesson/this time during the day?”
Acknowledge Control Issues May be a Factor
- A sensitive subject, but when a teacher or staff member absolutely refuses to make basic accommodations, it often is related to the adult having issues with control
- From the educator side (and as parents), it may be triggering past experiences such as not being heard or disrespected
- In the teacher’s mind they are likely thinking “I told you to do this, therefore, it’s important that you do it and not create problems, not do something different than what you were told, not need something else. You have to do this because you have to learn to do what you’re told even when you don’t want to, and even when it actually doesn’t work for you”
- Consciously or subconsciously, when the students comply, it reduces teachers anxiety and helps them feel more comfortable and in control
- It requires that we, as adults, get past our own issues of control, anxiety about what would happen if we deviate from the “norm”, and check in with why we are resisting the willingness to consider an accommodation—is it a past trigger and does the rigidity benefit the child and the classroom?
- Have empathy for educators, just as we have similar experiences at home parenting, but also have accountability to make changes
Are the Educators Being Micromanaged?
- Are administrators or others higher up very critical to what’s happening in the classroom?
- We need to respect individual teachers’ abilities to make decisions in the best interest of students and not micromanage or have policies being made by those far removed from the classroom
- Recognize the overwhelm that teachers and classroom staff face due to the really big systems-level issues/politics and the under-supporting of education in this country and this absolutely affects their demeanor
Supporting the Child and Teacher
- Ask “How can we best accomplish this/maximize learning ability for all the kids in this setting?”
- Kids need to learn to follow instructions, they need to learn to respect their teachers and other adults and to engage with them in appropriate ways, but we need to make sure that the instruction and the demands and the requirements are appropriate and workable for the kids as well
- In these situations, it’s important for educators to approach these topics through the eyes and perspective of the kids
- For example, carpet time could be problematic for children who need movement to learn, have sensory processing issues and the carpet is bothersome, they may have joint issues, etc.
Specific Steps for Parents
- Approach it with a collaborative mindset
- Start with the adult or teacher that is involved first. Schedule a meeting or send an email sharing your observations, concerns, questions
- If it cannot be resolved, then it is appropriate to go to the administrator in that building: principal, counselor, etc., or If you have a child who has a section 504 accommodation plan or an IEP use those processes to have your concerns heard
- Make your requests known in written form and continue up the chain of command in the school or district to make your concerns heard and have your child’s needs met
- In the end, parents have choices, if nothing is working, a different educational setting or different situation altogether may be best to meet their child’s needs and reduce the stress/difficulty that they are constantly having to deal with at the school
- If it cannot be resolved, then it is appropriate to go to the administrator in that building: principal, counselor, etc., or If you have a child who has a section 504 accommodation plan or an IEP use those processes to have your concerns heard
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Is carpet time essential? … 00:03:20
Teachers Denying Accommodations … 00:05:05
Acknowledge Control Issues May be a Factor … 00:08:38
Are the Educators Being Micromanaged? … 00:14:33
Supporting the Child and Teacher … 00:16:35
Specific Steps for Parents … 00:20:50
Episode Wrap up … 00:24:02
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the show. I am Dr. Nicole, and today I am answering a question about something I know that many of you unfortunately have to deal with at times, and that is getting accommodations to meet your child’s needs in the school environment. I want to preface my discussion of this by saying that I started my professional life as a teacher, I have taught in general and special education classrooms at several different grade levels. I also did consultation and administration work for several years in a wide variety of types of schools as well. Now, I sort of give this disclaimer where I tell you about this before I answer this question, because anytime I talk about educational issues, especially when I am providing a critique of some of the things that go on in schools, inevitably, some people want to deny the legitimacy of my opinion because they think I am an outsider to the world of education. They tell me I don’t have any clue how hard it is to be a teacher, they accuse me of demonizing teachers, and I just want to be clear: Nothing could be further from the truth. I completely understand the world of education. I understand how chronically underfunded and unsupported particularly public education and public educators are, and the many challenges that teachers and other school staff face today, so I get it. That being said, I am also a fierce advocate for the rights and needs of all students, and I don’t shy away from calling out my colleagues in education when there are issues that they could be doing a better job with, and calling on them to step up and do what is right, even though they are operating in a less than ideal situation.
So with all of that out of the way, let’s get on to today’s question, which comes to us from Amy, and she writes: “First of all, thank you for your awesome content and supportive info. I need help understanding the purpose of carpet time in the elementary school setting. My son has ADHD and sensory processing disorder and struggles with carpet time, because he has to sit so close to other kids, and he can’t move because it’s such tight quarters. I have been fighting for him to be able to sit elsewhere during carpet time since preschool, but the teachers just aren’t willing to budge. Is carpet time something that is taught to people studying elementary education as being extremely important or something? I just don’t get the point of it, if it makes it so the child can’t listen and learn. Any suggestions are welcome.”
Well, Amy, it’s a great question, and I especially like how you asked this question from the standpoint of, “Is there something that teachers are taught in their training programs around this carpet time or sitting together on the carpet being essential to child development and learning?” You are open to the possibility that maybe there’s something that you are missing here, but you are asking a really valid question, and I like how you phrased that. So I am going to start with the big picture, sort of bottom line response here, and then we’ll dig into it a little more. The bottom line is that no, it is not important, educationally necessary, or educationally valuable for a child to have to sit in a group on the carpet during any kind of instructional activity. It’s just not important. So you aren’t missing anything there. There is not something profoundly important about child development, or education or learning that you know that you are missing in your request for your child to not sit on the carpet in the crowd with the other kids. And the reality is your child is not going to suffer in their childhood or in their adulthood if they sit somewhere else and aren’t with the crowd on the carpet. In fact, I would argue that in trying to force the issue and make kids sit and receive instruction in ways that are not productive for them, that that actually is far more harmful than making some accommodations. So there are way more effective ways to handle this, and there is nothing that is taught in any reputable child development program, child care training program, education department or any type of teacher training program that would make teachers have this idea that this is absolutely something critical and we cannot make any kinds of accommodations for it. So that is a big picture answer.
Now let’s dig in a little bit more to figure out what might be going on when a child is needing, in this case, a very basic accommodation of somewhere different to sit during a circle time or a carpet time lesson, and teachers or educators aren’t willing to make those accommodations. So the first thing that I think is important to figure out is what is the real goal of the activity or the lesson in question? Is the goal to learn? Is the goal to receive instruction in specific content or skill development? Is the goal of this carpet time each day to build comprehension? To build listening skills, reading skills, communication skills, social skills? In other words, is the goal of this that students are going to benefit by learning information or practicing skills, or is the goal to learn how to sit still on a carpet for a set period of time? Now, this may sound ridiculous, but a lot of times when we have issues where students need accommodations, and adults are digging their heels in about making these accommodations, we need to step back and really look at what is the goal here, and therefore, what is the best way to accomplish the goal. If the goal is to learn from these carpet time activities, which means that the kids need to be able to hear what is going on, they need to be able to process what is happening, they need to be able to participate in the lesson or in the activities that are happening — If the goal is to learn, then sitting still on the carpet, smushed together with all of your classmates actually doesn’t have anything to do with it. If we look at it through the lens of the goal is to learn and to benefit from the instruction, then we should be wide open to any type of seating arrangement that is going to allow this particular child to benefit from the instruction and achieve the goal of what is happening during that time. If the goal is to learn how to sit still on the carpet for a set period of time, then I would argue that we absolutely need better goals. It would be ridiculous for that to be a goal. No one in the history of the world and adulthood has been successful or unsuccessful in their life based on their ability to sit in a crowd on a carpet totally still for a set period of time, right? So that would actually be a pretty ridiculous goal. But when we look at these goals, it helps us to see — Okay, what are we actually trying to accomplish here, and what is the best way to go about it? Because unless the goal is to teach kids to sit for a set period of time in a crowd on the carpet, then there shouldn’t be a problem with making an accommodation for that. So I think that whether we are talking about sitting on the carpet during circle time, or anything else that may go on in an educational setting, thinking about what is the goal here and asking the teacher or the adults involved: “Help me understand what is the actual goal of this activity, this lesson, this time during the day?”, and then that often just recenters the discussion on how we can help this child best meet those goals, and it keeps us from getting bogged down in sort of these petty arguments over like where the child is sitting. So that is one of the things that I encourage in how to think about these things.
This next piece of what is going on here is perhaps a sensitive issue, and one that my colleagues in education may feel some initial defensiveness about, but I think it is important to really pull back the layers and acknowledge that often what is going on when a teacher or whatever staff member it might be in an educational setting, absolutely refuses to make basic accommodations, it really comes down to issues that that adult is having with control. I have worked with a lot of teachers, a lot of teachers’ aides, a lot of administrators, a lot of people who work with kids in schools over the years. Many of them don’t have control issues that play out in this way, but there is a segment of the population of teachers and other adults in school settings who absolutely do have their own issues with control, and it shows up in these kinds of situations with students, where it really is not about the accommodation. It’s not about how realistic it is to make the accommodation. It’s not about what the goals for the student are. It really becomes at its core about this idea of, “You need to do as you’re told. You are a child in my classroom. You need to do as you’re told, I told you to do this, therefore, it’s important that you do it and not create problems, not do something different than what you were told, not need something else. You have to do this because you have to learn to do what you’re told even when you don’t want to, and even when it actually doesn’t work for you.” This is the reality, unfortunately, of what goes on sometimes. And I know many of you parents who are listening are nodding your heads with this because you have experienced on one or more occasions over the course of your kids’ school careers dealing with a teacher and administrator, someone in the school setting, who this really was their stance, and this was the issue. And it kind of goes like this from the side of the teacher or the adults involved, this is what is going on, I think, in their minds: “My ego as the adult is triggered by this child not doing exactly as I say. My past history of feeling unheard, feeling disrespected, feeling challenged, feeling ignored, whatever it might be, is now really taking center stage within my mind and my brain, and it’s no longer about figuring out how you can be part of this carpet time lesson and benefit from it. It’s now about my anxiety, of losing control of this classroom, losing control of this group of kids. The embarrassment, the shame, the frustration of that now has become my focus, and it is overpowering my ability to think rationally about this. It is now about me as the teacher needing to feel like I’m heard, I’m respected, and I’m valued. So you need to sit on the carpet with everyone else, because I said so, and because when you do that, when you do what you are told, it reduces my anxiety and helps me feel more comfortable and in control.” That is really, consciously or subconsciously, what is going on, on the adult side of things sometimes when these kinds of issues come up. I can have a lot of empathy for teachers who are in classroom situations that feel overwhelming to them, who have their own emotional needs that perhaps are not being met in many ways in their lives, who have past histories of trauma, of issues, of all that. I can have a lot of empathy for that. But we need to recognize, the very real ways that those issues show up in how we manage classrooms and how we manage and what we expect from kids in our classrooms, and unfortunately, this is a piece of what goes on sometimes, especially when educators dig their heels in and refuse to make even the most basic accommodations, which is really what we are talking about here. We are talking about a child who just needs to have a chair to sit in on the edge of the carpet, or who needs to be allowed to pace or have a taped-off square on the floor to stand on, or take their square of carpet and move it to the edge away from the group where they can have a little bit more movement. So what if 10 kids in the class need that? We can allow seating arrangements that work for kids, but it requires that we get past our issues of control, our anxiety about what would happen if we deviate from the “norm” with some kids, it requires us really getting in tune with what our barriers are, our emotional needs, what is being triggered in us around why this is something that we are not willing to consider. And I think it’s helpful for parents to understand that just like you get triggered at times in this exact same way with your kids with things that go on in the home, this is also happening for the adults that work with your kids in the school. So we can have empathy for that, but also accountability then for making some changes and working through that.
I also get that a piece of what can be going on for teachers in these situations is they are fearful of administrators or other higher-ups in their building or in their district being critical of what goes on in their classrooms. Unfortunately, this is a systems level issue that happens far too much in education where people outside the classroom, often with no real classroom experience or have not taught in a really long time are making decisions and policies and micromanaging what goes on inside classrooms. And that needs to stop. We need to respect individual teachers’ abilities to make decisions in the best interest of students. That should not be micromanaged by policies and administrators who are not in the mix of what goes on in classrooms, who do not understand the needs of individual children. So I understand that that is a piece of what is going on too. And I also get that it’s about the overwhelm that teachers and classroom staff face due to the really big systems level issues of under-supporting education in this country. Schools, by and large, are operating with not enough staff, not enough money, not enough developmentally appropriate curriculum. There are too many kids in our classrooms, too few teachers and staff members, and I get that that leads to this sense of overwhelm where teachers just think to themselves, “I just need everybody doing the same thing at the same time, because I can’t handle it otherwise.” I get that. So there are system level issues going on here. There are individual level issues on the part of what is going on emotionally within the teacher, and we can recognize all of that, and still at the same time acknowledge that those things aren’t actually the problem of kids in our classrooms, and we need to be able to look at, logically, what we can do to support them, even though there’s all these other things going on.
So some of the things that we need to understand about why something like carpet time and sitting like this could be an issue for a child, in this case with ADHD and sensory processing disorder, but really, with any kind of developmental issue, any type of mental health challenge, any type of behavioral kinds of needs, we need to consider what the experience is like from their perspective. Yes, kids need to learn to follow instructions, they need to learn to respect their teachers and other adults and to engage with them in appropriate ways, but we need to on our side, make sure that the instruction and the demands and the requirements are appropriate and workable for them. I would say, why should a child be expected to sit on the floor, criss-cross-applesauce, packed in like sardines? Why should we do that? No kid is going to learn that way. Some of them are able to manage that and hold it together, even though it’s not ideal, but the reality is nobody is learning well that way. We need to look through the eyes and the perspective of some of these kids. What if a child has joint issues and struggles to sit like that? What if they have sensory processing issues, and the feel of the carpet on their legs bothers them? What if it is a child who has some anxiety and they start feeling trapped or claustrophobic in that setting? What if it is just a child who has a brain that needs to move in order to process information? And that is the developmental piece of this. This mom asking this question has an early elementary age child. Kids at that age need to learn — it’s not reasonable to expect them to sit perfectly still all crammed together for longer periods of time. So we need to look at it through the perspective of kids and the developmental level that we are working with and what the actual goals of the activity are, and say, “How can we best accomplish this for all the kids in this setting?” My thought would be that as a teacher, if I’m presenting what I think is a valuable and important learning opportunity in this sort of circle time or carpet time, I want kids to engage with that in whatever way allows them to benefit most. So that might look like sitting on a chair. That might look like standing on the tile outside of the carpet area. That might look like lying down on your belly, or as I mentioned earlier, taking their carpet square and setting it to the edge or outside of the circle so they have more space. Maybe it’s sitting on an exercise ball. Maybe I tape off a spot on the floor, and they are pacing back and forth. I’m looking at it from the standpoint of “How can I maximize each learner’s ability to engage with this content that I’m delivering, or the skill that we are practicing, in the best way possible.” That may mean that if I’ve got a first-grade classroom of 25 kids, that I have lots of kids doing lots of different things, and it’s my job as the teacher to figure out how to organize that and how to teach kids to manage those needs and those different seating options in a way that is not disruptive to everyone and that works. Quite frankly, the simplest thing that comes to mind is just have everybody drag their desk chair up and space them in a way that works for them, and have them do that. That addresses a number of the issues right there, we don’t need to single out: This kid is having a hard time, therefore he is going to do something different.” We can even make modifications to how we structure lessons and activities in general, and have everybody do it in a way that is going to work better for them. The bottom line is: When we are willing to think outside the box of perhaps how we have traditionally done things or how things in classrooms have historically been done, we realize that there are so many opportunities, and it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to come up with some ways that we can make this work better, not just for the child whose parent is requesting an accommodation, but make it work better for everybody.
So those are some thoughts of what I think is really happening in these situations. Specific steps for parents to take when this stuff comes up: You always want to start with the classroom teacher, or whoever the adult is that is involved in the situation. Start with them first. Reach out through email and let them know about your concerns and questions, or schedule a meeting, to sit down and talk about it where you can share your observations and your concerns and ask your questions, and you can hear their responses. 9.5 times out of 10, things can get resolved, you can come up with a plan, and that works well. If you are not able to get anywhere with the teacher or the adult who is directly involved, then it is appropriate to go to the administrator in that building. Sometimes that is the principal, maybe it’s an assistant principal, maybe it’s a guidance counsellor. It depends on how the structure of administration in that building is set up. But it’s appropriate, then, if you have tried to be collaborative, and to politely but firmly raise your concerns with the teacher and you are not getting anywhere, then going to the building administrator is appropriate. If you have a child who has a section 504 accommodation plan or an IEP, because they are in special education, those are also processes that you can use, if needed, to have your concerns heard, and these accommodations documented, and then you’re able to hold them accountable for that. So that sometimes is an avenue to go as well if your child has one of those plans. As always, we want to focus on collaboration. We want to approach this like, “Hey, let’s work together to come up with a solution here.” But if that is not working, then you do want to make your requests known in writing, whether that is through email or sending a letter, and you do want to continue up the chain of command in the school building and perhaps even in the district to make your concerns heard and have your child’s needs met. Now ultimately, some of you may be in really difficult situations where you not only have a teacher, but you have a building and perhaps even a district that is just really unsupportive and unwilling to work with you on addressing the basic changes that need to happen, and then ultimately, you as the parent have to make a decision about what is worth your time and effort, and also what it’s worth for your child to be spending their days in an in an educational environment that is inappropriate, and maybe not only not meeting their needs, but creating more problems, and you always have the power as a parent to choose to do something different altogether. That may not be your first choice, I’m not recommending that that is where you start, but I have worked with many families over the years who have exhausted all of the options within the district, or within the classroom, or within the building, and in the end the parents just decide that they need to come up with a different educational setting or different situation altogether to best meet their child’s needs and to reduce the amount of stress and difficulty that they are constantly having to deal with, with the school. So remember, ultimately, as a parent, you have choices with that.
So to the mom who asked this question, so to Amy, and to all of the rest of you, as parents who are dealing with this kind of stuff going on in schools for your kids, I want you to know that you are exactly right. Requirements like sitting still on the carpet have no connection to what is educationally important or necessary for your child, and so I want you to trust yourself with that and to not be afraid to reach out and communicate and collaborate with the teachers and the other staff involved to get your child’s needs met. And I will say to my colleagues in education who are listening: Those of you who get this and who are already doing this, and this is sort of in your blood of how you are as a teacher or an administrator and educator, keep doing the amazing work that you are doing. You are creating classrooms and learning opportunities that benefit all students and that is amazing and please keep that up. But if you are someone in education who does not get this, who has been really stubborn, who has been unwilling to really think about “What are the goals here? And how can we best meet needs?” I really want you to take this message to heart because you are allowed to learn and grow and make changes over time too, and it’s okay to say, ”This is how I’ve always done it, but now I see this in a different way. I understand this differently, and I’m going to start doing things differently. What a great thing.” And so I would encourage you to think about how you might be able to have some more openness towards even some basic accommodations or thinking about how you can reconfigure some things to better meet the needs of your students. So, I hope that this has been helpful for Amy and all the rest of you who are trying to deal with getting some basic accommodations for your child in the school environment. Remember, if you have a question you would like to hear answered on a future show, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you, as always, for listening and I will catch you back here next time.