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The Better Behavior Show with Dr. Nicole Beurkens

Oct 25, 2021

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