I navigated down the narrow, crowded hallway of my son’s preschool. Working my way against the flow of toddlers, I sidestepped mothers carrying crying babies and an abandoned craft.

As I neared my little one’s classroom, I saw the teacher standing, like a sentry, at the doorway. I watched her free each squealing child to his or her parent while trying to catch a glimpse of my waiting son.

We made eye contact and her smile tightened into a thin line. As the classroom emptied, she called for my son whose tackle-style hug nearly knocked me to the ground.

Curling her finger, the teacher beckoned me closer. “We had a little problem today,” She whispered. As I tried to keep my energetic preschooler still, I mentally ran through various possible scenarios, which would cause this particular look on the teacher’s face.

I wondered, did he bite, hit, hurt someone? None of these actions were ones I’d ever witnessed my son take but something serious had to account for the teacher’s ominous tone.

Taking a deep, shaky breath, I asked what happened. Seeming exasperated, she sighed deeply before informing me that my four-year-old couldn’t sit still for circle time. Slightly confused, I asked, “And what happened?”

Appearing as though it was obvious, she responded that he got up and tried to look at other things in the classroom with little interest to hearing the end of the story. I promised we would work on it.

Stressed, I lagged behind my son as he excitedly pulled me towards the playground. Watching my kiddo bounce up the stairs, I wondered how I was going to keep my active, curious, normal four-year-old still.

Then I wondered if I should.

It’s important to emphasize that I don’t let my child run loose like a crazed monkey. In our house we have rules, keep a consistent schedule, and insist on manners and kindness. We also, however, have very active boys.

It’s also important to me that my children understand the importance of school rules. I insist they learn and follow them, but what happens when some of the expectations are unreasonable?

I recognize and agree that circle time, depending on the curriculum, serves an important purpose in the cognitive and social development of young children.

Intellectually, they learn problem-solving skills and rudimentary mathematical concepts. During this time children are also given the opportunity to discuss the weather, animals, or other areas of interest, which enhances a child’s ability to make observations.

Circle time also helps children develop socially and emotionally by providing a nurturing and encouraging environment to share their thoughts and ideas. This time as a group fosters a sense of community, which gives children a sense of belonging.

For all these reasons, I want my son to be a part of and benefit from this time. However, the problem occurs when the structure is too stringent.

Child development experts say the attention span of a four-year-old is fifteen minutes, yet circle times sometimes go beyond this limit causing a small child to disengage and fidget. Also, at this age children cannot sit perfectly still with their hands on their lap. And if not interested in a particular activity, a child will disengage.

Setting realistic expectations, allowing children to move a bit, and discontinuing an activity when children’s interest wanes are all means to ensure a successful story time. These are also ways to make sure each child succeeds.

The following day, I neared my son’s classroom to see his teacher, smiling. Brightly, she said, “He sat very well today.”

I scooped up my little guy and smiled. I was glad he sat well. In truth, though, I am happier that he is an energetic, curious, and active little boy. After all, he’s only four and only will be for a brief and fleeting time.

So, are we taking circle time too seriously? Only when we forget they are still children and sometimes need their time to just be kids.

Sherry Parnell

A full-time writer, personal trainer, and professor, I am the author of Let the Willows Weep and Daughter of the Mountain. An alumnus of Dickinson College and West Chester University, I live with my husband and sons in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania. I am currently working on my third novel entitled The Secrets Mother Told.