Independent sitting requires strong neck, shoulder, and core muscles. It also requires balance and good proprioception (feedback from joints and muscles to your brain). Vision can also play a role in developing sitting skills. 

In the earliest stages of development nondisabled children take anywhere from 4 to 9 months learning to sit independently . For children with significant disabilities this can be a much longer process. They need regular and systematic support to achieve this very important skill. Active Learning, because of its intensive focus on movement, can help work on this important skill outside of specific therapy time, increasing the practice time so necessary for the student. 

Your physical therapist is an invaluable support in developing a plan to work on sitting. Discuss strategies and activities that will meet your individual child's needs. Here are just a few ideas to show that working on sitting can be done in a variety of environments and activities:

  • Spend time working in prone on a Support Bench to increase core and shoulder muscle strength and improve head control. 
  • While positioned on his/her back have the learner reach up for objects overhead using a LIttle Room, Mobile, or Echo Bucket. 
  • From lying or supported sitting reach up and clasp an adult's hands to play hand games.

Practice being in an upright position is important. In addition to activities done while in supported sitting, use a HOPSA dress with the student and have varing surfaces (both texture and height) underfoot.

Balance is a part of sitting as well. Some children who have vestibular issues, may have great difficulty feeling secure in a sitting position.  Activities that might be included:

  • sitting on an ESSEF board and playing with items on an Activity Wall,
  • shifting weight to maintain an upright position in a HOPSA dress, 
  • sitting in front of or in the lap of an adult and rocking side-to-side and forward-backward, or
  • lying on his back and coming to sitting with support (check with your PT about specific strategies).

Children with some vision can be encouraged to hold their heads up by placing visually interesting items on mobiles in front of them while they are in prone or supported sitting.

Some children because of cerebral palsy or other conditions may not ever achieve independent sitting.  Yet they may be able to improve their overall skills in this area if given plenty of opportunities to practice daily.

The photos on this page show a variety of ways in which to promote independent sitting in a number of different of learning environments.  Each of the photos demonstrates the importance of proper positioning with a selection of interesting materials located within reach.  

All photos are from the Narbethong State School in Queensland, Australia.

A girl in supported seat with active learning materials on both sides. 

 

A young girl sits with legs extended in an adapted chair.  Her left hand rests on a wooden cage with balls inside.  Her right arm is positioned next to hanging metal chimes.

 

 

Boy sitting in Active Learning classroom.

 

 

A boy sits on an ESSEF board with a position board in front of him.  A textured ball is under his left hand and a tray of colorful flashlights is located on his right side.

 

 

 

A girl sits independently in a Narbethong classroom

 

 

A girl sits with her legs extended and a reflective "space blanket" on her lap.  A large mirror is positioned directly in front of her at a slight angle.

 

 

 

A girl sits next to a position board.

 

 

 

A girl sits with her back against an ESSEF board, with her left hand resting on a position board with strands of different colored beads.

 

 

Collage of Promoting Sitting