Flexible Seating. It’s all the rage in classrooms these days. But what’s all the buzz REALLY about…and is it a good fit for your classroom?
If you haven’t yet jumped on this trend, consider this your starter guide. Sit back, relax, and get ready to find out what flexible seating is, isn't, and how to implement it in your classroom.
What is flexible seating?
Flexible seating is when a student-centered classroom has a variety of choices (both locations and seating options) for students to use.
Its origins are research-based, and studies have shown that students are better able to process certain types of learning, on certain days, with the use of flexible seating. Moving around is much healthier for our students, (and us, i.e., the growing popularity of treadmill desks).
For our kinesthetic learners, flexible seating is a lifesaver!
Teachers acquire a variety of chair types, such as flex balls, standard chairs, beanbag chairs, cushions, scoop rockers, stools and the like. In addition to seating options, there are options in work areas as well. Workstations of various types are set up throughout the room, they can be a table, a wall, a counter, a sofa, or the floor, just to name a few.
Another important element of flexible seating is that sometimes, it’s not ‘seating’ at all! Sometimes students will work while leaning, standing, squatting, or even kneeling.
What flexible seating isn't…
Flexible seating can't be one-size-fits-all, and it can't be too rigid. If you are a teacher who struggles to keep everyone focused when your students come sit on the carpet, flexible seating might not be the right fit for you.
Early on in my career, I had a classroom full of yoga balls for the student seats. I would argue that, while really cool, this wasn't a flexible seating environment because it didn't offer my students much choice in their seating. (Although, I did keep my chairs and stools so kids could swap out if they were needing an alternative seat…or couldn't follow the rules.) It was, however, a great start into the world of flexible seating, and I saw some great results like these.
Flexible seating also can't be a free-for-all. If seating choices are impairing your ability to keep students on task, you're losing precious instructional time.
The goal of flexible seating is to help students get into a spot that is most conducive to learning. Therefore, if you're seeing more off-task behavior as a result, it is time to consider re-teaching rules or modifying the environment.
Prepping your classroom for success with flexible seating
If you decide to implement flexible seating in your class, there are a few key elements to consider as you move forward.
1. Think about a whole-classroom makeover before you get ANY new seating!
Yes, this sounds simple. However, many people skip this step. Flexible seating will take up space in your classroom. It will change the traffic patterns and requires an initial investment.
Before you drop your hard-earned dollars, take the time to make a plan. Think about where things will go. Consider how it will impact student movement, volume, and instruction.
Making a plan first can really help reduce disasters and disorganization. Consider things like:
•Cost & upkeep
•Where the types of seating will work
•How much open space you need
•Traffic flow in your classroom
2. Set up expectations (yes, RULES) with your class about the seats and the workstations.
Decide what’s important to you…for example, in my classroom I allowed my students to do “little bounces” on their yoga balls. However, other teachers allow no bouncing.
You must decide your expectations ahead of time and make them clear to your students.
3. Consider consequences and exceptions.
This was something I didn't do prior to bringing yoga balls into my room. BIG MISTAKE!
Make sure you have a plan for how you'll address when students break the rules. Also, consider how you'll approach special situations – medical issues, etc. – prior to the occurrence. This helps things go more smoothly if you have a student show up with a broken leg…or a student who just can't handle having so many options.
4. Inform families.
Many parents are unsure about flexible seating classrooms. They can look more chaotic and less structured to a parent popping by or volunteering.
Educating parents on the benefits of using flexible seating is an important step in helping them understand why you've decided to make this change and addressing issues if they arise.
A simple letter home or a conversation during your Parent Night events is a great way to get started.
Where to shop for flexible seating options
It can be easy to spend a lot of money on flexible seating, but no one REALLY wants to do that. There are great ways to stock your classroom with seating options on a budget. You can also set up a Donors Choose project to help finance some of your plans.
If you're wondering where to look to get started, here are a few great shopping options if you are looking for seating on a budget.
- Amazon.com: Amazon has some great options for flexible seating that go on sale throughout the year. January is a great time to look because many of the best flexible seating items are also fitness equipment…and with New Year's resolutions, the sales abound. They've now got a whole search area related to flexible seating options.
- Target: Okay, this one is a no-brainer. Teachers love Target. However, if you check their exercise equipment and clearance, you can often find some great deals on items for your flexible seating classroom.
- IKEA: This is my least favorite place to shop because it is literally a human maze, but I love the inexpensive options for my classroom. They have so many good things for so little. In fact, Tales of a Tenacious Teacher did a whole post on all the great things she was able to find at IKEA. You can read more about it here.
- Garage Sales: This is a cheap option, but it does require some digging and persistence. Of course, hitting up five garage sales only to end up with 10 stools for under $5 seems worth it to me.
Of course, there are lots more options, but these are just a few of my quick and easy favorites.
So now that you know more about the ins and outs of flexible seating you can make the decision about whether it's right for you and your students.
You might also want more information! If so, check out my post about the critical things to consider BEFORE you get started.
Whether you go full-bore or just grab 1-2 items to dip your toes in the water of flexible seating, I hope you've found these tips useful in getting started.
Be sure to check back for my upcoming post that will help you troubleshoot common issues that arise with flexible seating!
I hope this article helped clarify some things about flexible seating. If you’d like more ideas, be sure to follow me on: