The topic of flexible seating in classrooms is everywhere I look! From threads on Twitter and Facebook to blog posts featuring pictures and explanations. For some teachers, flexible seating seems to be a new concept. I’ve even heard of it referred to as a fad. It’s not though. Rather, it’s a way of thinking and believing– it’s a part of a teacher’s Philosophy of Education/Teaching (remember writing one for college?! I wonder where mine is…???).
I started teaching in 1997. My classroom during the first two years were pretty traditional. Desks and assigned seating. When I moved to a different school in 1999, I remember that my teaching partner and I brought in a couch and some comfy armchairs for read aloud time. We soon found ourselves sitting in this area as a class for mini lessons and allowing students to choose where they’d like to work.
In 2003 I moved to Wisconsin. Recognizing the power behind student voice and choice in where they sit, who they sit with, and what materials they use to complete their work, stayed with me. Soon, my classroom had a wicker couch, four wicker chairs, and a big stack of pillows! Slowly I have been adding pieces as I learn about new options! This past year I added a few new options for my students. Read on to discover how flexible seating works in our classroom!
Stools and Chairs
I find that my kids prefer to sit on something rather than sprawl out on the floor. So our scoop rockers, traditional chairs, and stools are pretty popular. I wasn’t sure how to get my hands on Wobble Seats, as they are a little too pricey for my budget, so I decided to create a Donor’s Choose project in January. One of my parents wasn’t able to figure out the “matching funds” code, so she decided to forgo Donor’s Choose and ordered one from Amazon directly and had it shipped to us! What a nice surprise!! About a week ago, I found out our Read-N-Wobble & Wobble-N-Write project was fully funded! If you haven’t created a Donor’s Choose project yet, it’s not too hard. I recommend starting with projects that are under $300-400, and when you are given the option to share via social media, do it! You never know which of your friends/followers will donate!
Cushions and Balls
- Stability Balls
- Balance Discs
- Sitting Wedges
- Floor Pillows
- Bean Bags
Like I mentioned above, my kiddos love to sit on something. High, low, or in-between, it doesn’t matter to them. Our school was a recipient of the federal PEP grant, and with some of the money every classroom was given a “sensory tub” full of wonderful goodies. Many of these tools are a part of our flexible seating options — including the stability balls and wiggle cushions.
- Exercise Bands
- Think-N-Roll Foot Roll Fidgets
Our “sensory tubs” also had two different versions of foot fidgets. When I took them out and had the kids try them out, I was reminded of several exercise bands that were sitting in my basement collecting dust. Ha! Add zip ties, and wallah– you have yourself some inexpensive food fidgets!
Tables or Desk or Floor
- Tall Tables
- Short Tables
- Traditional Tables
- Floor Space
- Student Desks
Lowering and raising tables isn’t too difficult. I just needed a special hex wrench tool. Our custodial staff was very helpful in finding me several options to try. I used it to remove table legs to make a low table, as well as lengthen the legs on another. The raised table was still too low, and so I purchased a package of $11.99 bed risers from Target to make it taller.
When I first arrived in my classroom many years ago, it only had desks. I was used to student tables, so I had maintenance store the desks and they helped me find tables. I was very happy about that! But, there are some students who really prefer a space of their own. You see, we don’t have assigned seating, but occasionally I find that a student benefits when they have a special spot of their very own. So in these situations, our wonderful maintenance staff will bring a desk down for me. I love our maintenance staff!
Before moving on to the next section, I want to mention the tub/tote option. This was completely an accidental discovery for us this past year. I had emptied our “sensory tub” out to use for student lunches on a field trip. The next day I found one of my first grade friends all comfy, cozy, and content working in it! Ha!
Comfy Couches or Chairs
This happens to be my second set of wicker furniture in 10 years. It doesn’t last forever in a classroom, but you can get it pretty cheap on Craiglist. In fact, the set that you see in these pictures was re-purposed by other staff members in their at-home gardens, or trashed at the end of this school year. I’ve been using IFTTT as my “scouting agent” for “new” wicker furniture.
Privacy Screen Options
- mini offices
- 3-ring binders
- sound muffling headphones
I added a section about privacy screen options because it’s important to note that while flexible seating works for most classroom situations, there are times where students need (or desire to have) a little more privacy.
Depending on the temperament of my class, I may add assigned seats, with privacy screens on days we have Guest Teachers or during testing situations. Some teachers call these spots “frozen” or “permanent” or “home base” spots. We happen to have a class set of 3-ring binders that work well for privacy screens, but mini offices work too. So do classroom plants, if you’re in a bind and need a privacy screen quickly!
I mention noise canceling earmuffs because with flexible seating, your classroom will likely not be a quiet, no-talking atmosphere. It may be, but I find that mine isn’t and I’m completely fine with that! I want my students to learn from one another. I want my students to engage in discourse with one another — questioning and connecting in meaningful conversations! Earmuffs play an important role in these situations. Some students need the quiet, others need peer interaction. Earmuffs make it possible to meet both needs!
Other information about our Flexible Seating:
- We don’t assign areas/tools, instead, students self select an area in which to work and what they’d like to work with (tool/seat). I dismiss students one at a time. This motivates students to “be ready” to choose.
- We don’t keep track of who has used what, when, or where. I tell my students it won’t matter, and we don’t need to use precious class time to keep track, and that in the end, we’ll all have used what we need to or want to by the end of the year.
- We don’t sign a contract for use of tools/seats. Students know that improper use will result in a loss of privilege. It works well for us. Our expectations are 1) work the whole time, 2) work in one spot, and 3) work quietly [this doesn’t mean no talking, it means productive talking for you and those around you].
What about student materials? Where are they stored?
Click the pictures below for more information about where my students store their materials!
Need to read more information or inspiration?
- Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind you of Starbucks
- Flexible Seating: Student Centered Classrooms
- Flexible Classrooms: Providing the Learning Environment That Kids Need
- Do Students Learn Better in Chairs or Couches?
- Turn your Classroom into an Active Learning Environment
- Classroom Eye Candy: A Flexible-Seating Paradise
- Classroom Eye Candy 2: The Learning Lounge
- Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders