Some considerations before you decide
It’s no secret that children need to move. A traditional classroom set up has children sitting at one desk for most of the day. It’s no wonder that they fidget, get antsy, bored and tired. And in recent years doctors have been warning us about sitting for too long in offices and at home. Our children are also sitting for the majority of the day.
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I first heard about flexible seating about five years ago, although the concept of having children up and moving around is not a new one – ask any kindergarten teacher. Since then I have seen pictures of classrooms with sofas, balance balls, bucket seats and bean bags. I have seen classrooms with and without tables or chairs of any sorts. And I have heard positives and negatives that I wanted to share with you if you are considering flexible seating in your classroom.
- Movement: Flexible seating allows children to lay, roll, bend and sit in whatever way they find comfortable. It allows them to expend their excess energy in a relaxed, less formal environment.
- Choice: Depending on how your organize your space, and how you allocate the seating, flexible seating allows students a degree of autonomy in their work day. Some large corporations, such as Google, offer their employees lots of flexible working environments, such as standing desks, armchairs, beanbags and gardens, and have seen benefits in mental well-being and productivity. Given students a choice over how they complete a task may give them a sense of power and engagement that they would not have otherwise have had.
- Differentiation: Goes along with number two, and is such a buzz word, but flexible seating offers options for students with different learning styles, knowing that some do better in a quiet space, others like to stand and work and others like to sprawl out on the rug. When you ask students to choose a spot where they are likely to complete their best work, you are letting them take charge of their own learning.
- Collaborative Learning: Often desks are an island, and even when lined up or grouped together a student can feel detached from her peers. Flexible seating allows groups to come together more easily to collaborate and work together, and to make friends more easily.
- Space: Flexible seating truly converts your room. It is open and feels lighter. It allows you to sit as a large group together, to push the furniture to the walls to create a big space for games, and is easy to change up and reorganize to suit a particular study unit.
- Community: When desks are taken away there is a sense of community and ownership over the classroom. There is no longer one desk that belongs to a student for a year, but a whole classroom of special furniture that they get to use and also need to take care of. Sharing becomes even more important when resources are accessible to everybody.
- Storage: Where are students going to put all their things that they usually keep in their desks? Where are you going to house their notebooks? Are they going to share stationery? Where will they keep their unfinished work? Where will your store textbooks?
- Cost: Unless you work in a very generous district, the cost of some of the flexible seating may have to come out of your pocket. Do you have a spare sofa? Are you willing to invest in yoga balls? How much will your PTA donate? Can you use DonorsChoice?
- Classroom Management: You will need to have excellent classroom management skills to have flexible seating. Of course, I know you all do. You will need to be able to keep an eye on everybody and make sure that they are staying on task. You can be sure that the students that you don’t want near one another will always choose the same spot to work in.
- Handwriting: So I am old school and I realize that times are changing and I might be a bit of a dinosaur, but for our youngest students letter formation and correct handwriting posture needs to be learned sitting at a desk, feet on the floor, one arm holding the paper, the other hand writing. A clipboard doesn’t cut it.
- Noise: The noise level will increase. No ifs or buts about it. And that is OK if you are OK with it, after all, one of the reasons for flexible seating is for collaboration. But there are times that students need quiet, when reading, reflecting, and mulling over a tricky math problem. Also consider test prep and test taking – where will they sit?
- Physical Development Issues: You will need to be on the lookout for excessive slumping and students sitting in the “W” position, which needs to be corrected if noticed.
Ultimately whether or not to have flexible seating is the decision of the teacher (and school). Be sure to check on district policies regarding the bringing in of furniture from outside the school. Also check on health and safety guidelines – who will be at fault if a child falls off the yoga ball, or trips on a beanbag? Look over your IEPs to see if prioritized seating is given to any students, and if so how to address that. Ask yourself what is the benefit of having flexible seating for you and for your students in your class?
A good place to start if you are thinking of adapting your classroom to flexible seating is during your center time. This is a time when students often work away from their home desk, and sit in beanbags in the reading corner, or on cushions on the rug. Perhaps you could begin by slowly adding different kinds of seating until you can see how your students handle the furniture. As time goes by you could remove some of the traditional desks to make way for other kinds of seating arrangements. I would personally always keep a group of desks or some kind of table set for students and adults who need a space to work where they won’t hurt their backs (can you tell I am growing old?!).
If your primary goal is to get students moving, then investing in some under desk pedal machines might be the answer – available from amazon.
I think the biggest thing I have learned since really looking into flexible seating is that you need to take time and consideration into thinking about the benefits and negatives of flexible seating for your students. Whatever your journey – best wishes with your teaching!