It’s time to talk about my favorite educational buzzword (phrase?) of the moment, and that’s flexible seating or #flexseating.
I’m not here to tell you how you should set up your classroom. I’m not here to tell you that desks are evil or that you aren’t doing what’s best for your kids. This post is just to share the benefits that I have seen for my students in a classroom environment that works for both myself and for these kids.
Is flexible seating right for every student? Every teacher? Every administrator? I don’t know, but here’s why and how I do it.
This was my space when I first decided to give flexible seating a shot. Mind you, this was 10 days before the school year ended (and I was going to be moving schools after that). So, any excuse that the school year has already started is invalid.
I was inspired by another teacher in the building. Actually, I am now teaching in that person’s old classroom (it must have been meant to be!). This teacher based her class on the “Starbucks Classroom” and her classroom was actually coffee themed. As a first year teacher, I saw the couches, yoga balls, and bike pedals in her classroom and knew I wanted to create a space like that.
This is what I was able to do at that time. I removed the legs from some tables to get spots where my kids could sit or kneel to work. I had a bench that was used for whole group instruction and seating at a table. I had soft stools for some comfort and storage, but I still had regular tables with regular (5 year old sized) chairs.
Jump to having a summer off brainstorming all kinds of new ideas and a few months into the next school year…
These were my flexible seating choices. Starting at the top…
- Storage stools used for seating at my small group instruction U-shaped table. They are popular in stores around Back-To-School College shopping times (and are on clearance a month later!)
- Gaiam yoga balls: I especially love the little legs on these that keep them in place better
- I made crate stools using milk crates, foam cushion, fabric, and a staple gun
- Tip: Lowe’s will cut wood to size for you, and they might only judge you slightly for bringing in a hot pink milk crate
- Scoop rockers: These are a huge hit! Kids are rock back and forth slightly to get those wiggles out. I would say that, based on their size, they would be best for PreK-2nd grade. They are available at a wide range of costs from different places. I’ve spent $4-$6 a piece finding them at Gordman’s, Walmart, and Aldi’s. They are available on Amazon and other sites, but they tend to be about $10 a piece.
- Couch: This couch is nothing impressive and has definitely been loved. Someone donated it, so it cost me zero dollars. It is a favorite spot in our class.
- Cushion: This is literally just a cushion from a butterfly chair that I put underneath a counter for a more private reading area.
- Stools: These were around $5 a piece at Gordman’s. Similar to the scoop rockers, I would say these probably max out on the support for middle-elementary level kids. The counter where these stools are is also a great standing workspace.
- Floor seating: I have bath mats, wooden chair cushions, and Dollar Store gardening knee pads available for floor seating comfort. Again, all super cheap
- A tee-pee that I borrowed from a coworker
- A two-person couch I got for free with Scholastic points
Taking the metal, extendable legs off of a table can also make for a wonderful stage! And that costs no money! (if your school has extra tables in storage…)
Flash forward to my current classroom!
You will notice many similar seating options. There is a black bench at the front of the room that was free because it came from my school.
Another addition is the tent in the back corner which I got from Target during a sale for $30.
There are a few lap desks located throughout the room, too.
I was also able to get the small black tables and pillows/cushions from coworkers who were “Clearing out” their house and knew that they were “my colors.”
Now that you’ve learned about how I’ve come about my flexible seating pieces, onto the how and why.
How do you manage the seating choices in your classroom?
I have varied the structure of flexible seating based on my students and simply to experiment. During my first two teaching years, students had free range and picked where they sat throughout the entire day. If they weren’t making smart choices then they had one warning before I picked a spot for them to work during that activity.
This year, I have a “home base spot” where students go when I want them in a more structured space, and typically this is during whole group instruction. These are assigned spots, but I picked many of them strategically. Some students are in scoop rockers or on a ball because I know that they could use that movement opportunity. Others are closer or farther from the “stage” based on their needs.
During most other times of the day, they choose where they sit. Similar to my first years, they get one warning before I have them switch to a smarter spot.
Do you have students fighting over spots? Do they always pick the same spots?
Nope. They’ve come to learn that even though they didn’t get to sit by their friend during reading, they might have a chance to during math. In contrast to having assigned seats, I feel as though my students have had many more opportunities for social interaction. They are learning more about each other than they could in a typical classroom environment. Plus, they are quick to learn that sitting by one person during math might be a really good choice because that person can help them, or they might sit by someone else during reading because they like the same kinds of books.
Why do you use flexible seating?
This little guy pictured above is a 5 year old who stayed in that spot and looked at books for 20 minutes. 20 minutes for a five year old! No joke. Is he laying in a scoop rocker? Yeah. Does that bother me? OMG NO LOOK AT HIM HE IS SO ENGROSSED IN THAT BOOK! He could wiggle, kick his feet, whatever he needed.
I want to encourage students to develop good learning habits on their own. I always tell my students
“When I go home and read for fun, do you think I sit at a desk? No! I crawl into bed or sit on the couch. When I grade papers do I work at a table? Sometimes, but usually I’m found in front of the TV with some snacks. While I’m doing grad school homework, sometimes I need to be at my desk and sometimes I need to read in a hammock on a beautiful day.”
I am blown away by the self awareness that students can develop by using flexible seating. I had two students last year who were the most social students I have ever met in my life. Seriously. In a school of 700+ kids I swear that they knew half of them. Anytime we walked in the halls they were waving to other kids and calling them by name. But when they were given an independent writing-based task to do they always picked an individual desk where nobody could sit by them. They focused, got their work done, and then moved on with their learning. A set of 5 year olds knew that they struggled with writing and wanted to focus without any distractions. During math? They rocked group work, always playing with a buddy.
Never doubt kids.
So what if this child isn’t sitting on a couch in the most typical way?! Look at that focus! And trust me, focus and staying on task aren’t some words I might use to describe her. Sweet and eager to learn? YES! Now provide a space that allows her to be successful.
There isn’t a classroom out there today that doesn’t have students that come in with all kinds of acronyms labeling them (ADD, ADHD, BD, ODD, etc etc etc). I had a student come in with bouncing-off-the-walls levels of energy. He bounced so hard on that yoga ball all day. Did it visually distract my direct instruction? Honestly, yes, but who cares? It’s not about me. I’m an adult. I’ve learned enough coping mechanisms to stay focused. That child was able to stay in my room all day and learn, and I’m not sure if that would have been the case if he was restricted to a typical desk. Could you have rows of desks and let the students that have some sensory needs use a disc-o seat or ball? Why not?
I’m not saying that you are a different quality teacher if you don’t use flexible seating. You probably have a much better hold on teaching strategies and academic concepts than me! I’m still learning. There are people out there (Like Hope King OMG! #teacherhero) who have rows but have the most amazing, engaging, blow-your-mind lessons. Plus, even with rows, her classroom is an incredible and captivating space that just can’t even be described.
Do what works for you and your students.
I wanted to create a space where kids felt comfortable and at home, and they had some sense of ownership. This is not my space, this is our classroom.
For more #flexseating inspiration, visit this article by Kayla Delzer. Her classroom is pictured below, and you can follow her at @topdogteaching or her students at @topdogkids on Instragram. I’ll be hearing her speak in February, and I can’t even begin to describe my excitement.