How to Have the Best School Year with a Flexible Seating Classroom
Are you wondering what is flexible seating and if the benefits are worth the effort? If so, you've come to the right place. I will be entering my 16th year of teaching and for the past 5 years or so I have been hearing about flexible seating classroom, flexible seating ideas, flexible seating chairs and the overall benefits of flexible seating.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but my biggest challenge as a teacher has always been keeping students engaged. Not the whole class. I’m good with about 85-90% of my students, but that additional 10-15% kept me up on many nights trying to figure out what else I could do to help them.
You know the students I’m talking about. Those easily distracted, need to move, and off task precious babies that are the ones who need to hang on to your every word, but just can’t seem to do so. It truly bothered me because I knew they were capable of excelling, but since they lost focus so frequently and consistently, they missed crucial steps or instructions that kept them performing below their true potential.
Flexible Seating Benefits: 10-15 %
I had tried everything I could think of. Frequent redirection, chunking instructions and repeating them often, teaching and reteaching them in small groups, giving them individual copies of the lesson and checklists of what they needed to complete to help them stay on task. It would all work momentarily and then we’d be back to square one. It was exhausting and I knew something else had to exist that was a more permanent fix.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click and buy, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you). Please see my full disclosure policy for details.
The Power of Movement
Determined, I started to research. Almost immediately, I started stumbling across articles discussing ADD, ADHD and short attention spans and the reasons that a flexible seating classroom was a powerful way to combat those problems. I also read through many articles that encouraged the power and benefit of movement during the instructional day for students with attention problems.
Using movement resonated with me because a few years ago I had been chosen to and worked to pilot a healthy initiative project in my school. My students had brain breaks throughout the day where we would stand, stretch and move after set periods of sitting.
Brain breaks are opportunities in a day where students are led in movement to give them a break from academic work or mental processes. Brain breaks are meant to help students relax or become re-energized and involve getting oxygen and blood to the brain with guided group movement. It also seeks to get students re-hydrated.
In our fitness program, students were led through classroom aerobic type activities by their teacher for about 5-7 minutes at set intervals throughout the day. Students also received pedometers to track their steps per day to ensure they were receiving an appropriate level of movement daily.
As I recalled the success of that program, I started investigating ways that students could move, without too much interruption in the instructional day or without disturbing other students. Enter my greater understanding of flexible seating classrooms, ideas and chairs.
What is Flexible Seating?
I had heard the term mentioned before, but really didn’t have any thorough understanding of the concept of a flexible seating classroom beyond the fact that they looked cool and expensive. The more I dug into researching flexible seating classrooms was the more I became convinced that it was the solution to my problems.
Flexible seating is the use of varied seating options within a classroom setting to give students opportunities to move and sit in an area that makes them feel comfortable. It has gained popularity in recent years and there are schools of research that fiercely advocate or disagree with flexible seating.
When I started my research on flexible seating classrooms, I was intrigued, but unsure. However, as I looked at the different flexible seating classroom elementary options and thought about the problems I was trying to address in my classroom, I couldn’t help but think that flexible seating would be a great way to help the 10-15% of students I was so worried about.
I was excited about the potential success of a flexible seating classroom since I was searching for a way to encourage sustained reading and writing (which requires students to sit for the most part). After gathering all the facts I could find, I started specifically looking into the different types of flexible seating chair options to see which were the best, most highly recommended and wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Funding a Flexible Seating Classroom and Flexible Seating Chair Options
Though I found some decent deals, creating a flexible seating classroom and purchasing flexible seating chairs was still way beyond what I could afford on my own, so I decided to start a Donors Choose project to fund my Flexible Seating Classroom Mission.
For my flexible seating classroom, I decided to use the following flexible seating chairs: yoga balls, wobble chairs, a low table and floor pillows, crate seats, a sofa and stools. I selected these flexible seating chairs for my flexible seating classroom because most of these could be easily moved to facilitate small group or independent work, with minimal effort.
As I mentioned before, my main focus was in creating a flexible seating classroom setting that would encourage sustained reading and writing, so my flexible seating chairs options needed to provide to comfort and encourage snuggling up with a good book or journal.
I also wanted flexible seating chairs that would suit a wide range of students, since I teach students in Kindergarten through 5th grade. The flexible seating chairs needed to be appropriate for each grade level and accessible to all the students.
I was fortunate enough to have my Donor’s Choose Project funded in less than 48 hours. Let me know if you’d like a blog post on how to write and be successful on Donors Choose. They were instrumental in getting my flexible seating classroom up and running. Since most of my flexible seating chairs and other items came from Amazon, they were also shipped and delivered very quickly.
Unveiling and Expectations: Flexible Seating Classroom Management
Once our flexible seating chairs and supplies arrived, I rolled out the next phase in my project, implementing my flexible seating classroom. Prior to setting up the room, I created a Google Slide presentation to explain and introduce my students to our new flexible seating classroom. The presentation also discussed, step by step, the procedures to correctly use and care for our flexible seating classroom and chairs. I also found flexible seating contracts for my students to sign about the expectations in our new flexible seating classroom.
On the day of our afternoon school open house (school was already in session, but it’s a way to check in early and touch bases with parents), I set up our new flexible seating classroom and watched each student’s face light up in awe as they entered my room. It will definitely be one of my favorite memories in my teaching career. On that evening, I also just allowed them to have fun with the new flexible seating chair options.
They bounced to their hearts delight on the yoga balls. They twirled till they became dizzy on the wobble chairs. I think I had a few students curl up on the sofa and floor pillows. One or two may have even fallen asleep while I spoke to their parents. As each group of parents and students visited I explained that a more detailed introduction would follow and that I’d need their help so we could keep all our new supplies in good shape.
On the next day of class, when I saw each grade level, I rolled out the flexible seating classroom presentation, opened the floor to questions (they had several) and then had each student sign a flexible seating classroom contract.
Friends, what happened after in my flexible seating classroom even amazed me. The first group of students who I saw after our flexible seating classroom introductory overview and contract signing was fifth grade. I had hoped they would like it and it would help them to be able to focus more and remain seated long enough to read more and produce decent writing samples, but my expectations were far superseded.
Boys, I typically had to “fight” into my room, raced to class to select their preferred flexible seating chair first. Once in the room, they buckled down to read and write. It turns out that the research is absolutely right. If they are comfortable, they will want to remain seated and be engaged for longer periods of time.
The students I mentioned in the beginning that needed to fidget and move. They almost always bee-lined for the yoga balls, wobble chair or stools, and what's even more impressive, their other classmates allowed them to. You see the rule with flexible seating chairs in my room is that they had to rotate chairs, so everyone had a fair opportunity to sit everywhere, but guess what?
In my flexible seating classroom, my students started to self monitor. I would overhear conversations where one child said, “You need this seat, so you can be good. I’ll sit somewhere else” or they’d see the look of sadness on a classmate’s face and just go to another spot.
My students, who already loved to read and write, typically chose the sofa or the floor pillows, so they could get truly lost in their reading and writing. The greatest surprise was with my students who had not enjoyed reading or writing so much. Once they started sitting in flexible seating chairs that allowed movement, they started to improve drastically in their desire and actual execution of reading and writing.
Everyday, when it was time to leave my flexible seating classroom to go to the next teacher in our rotation, the whines would begin and I’d have to tear them away from whatever they were reading or writing. The class waiting would be buzzing with excitement and whispering about where they planned to sit and what book or writing they were working on. I was floored.
I started inviting my administrators and telling every teacher friend I had about the miracle that was unraveling in front of my eyes in my flexible seating classroom. I saw students who had never had a good history of checking out books, writing in their journals or taking and passing A.R. tests start to do so. By and large, they would settle in their chosen flexible seating chair and get lost in reading or writing.
Traditional Seating in a Flexible Seating Classroom
Now, I did leave some traditional seats in my flexible seating classroom, and I had the students who preferred to sit in those seats too. Some of the comments I heard about those choices were, “ I might fall asleep over there or I don’t want to get in trouble bouncing too high on that ball.” It made me happy that they were self aware and also following the requirements of our Flexible Seating contract to choose daily, or by activity, the flexible seating chair that would allow them to be most successful.
In my humble opinion and experience, a flexible seating classroom is a worthwhile investment. It has worked wonders for my students who had attention issues and even had positive effects on those who were already doing well to begin with.
Here is the video that I used to create my nautical crate seats that are pictured below.
Potential Issues: Cons of a Flexible Seating Classroom
Some other cons of a flexible seating classroom or things to consider prior to implementing flexible seating, that I did not, were the balance component with the wobble chairs and yoga balls and the inflation of the yoga balls. Yes, there will be some stumbling, but I modeled and frequently taught and retaught students how to safely use our new flexible seating chairs.
As it relates to inflation of the yoga balls in our flexible seating classroom, they do come with a hand pump, but it would have taken forever and too much effort to inflate them. Lucky for me and probably for you too, the P.E. coach at my school is a team player and once I explained what I was doing, he used his industrial grade pump to inflate them for me in no time.
To address safety again, it is extremely important to set clear boundaries and expectations with all flexible seating chair options because students could hurt themselves. For example, with the yoga balls, the expectation in my room is gentle bouncing and I consistently model and repeat what appropriate and inappropriate use of each flexible seating chair option looks like. I was pleasantly surprised that most students liked to lay on the yoga balls and gently rock back and forth while reading.
With my younger students, I actually chose to deny access to the yoga balls and wobble chairs until we had had two opportunities to practice what it should look like safely sitting in those flexible seating chair options.
The Best Unexpected Result
Aside from seeing improvements in reading and writing stamina, I got something even more valuable and meaningful by creating a flexible seating classroom, the happiness of my students. I cannot explain to you the drastic effect my flexible seating chair options had on some students who used to hate coming to my room. Not because of me, but the content. I had the students who hated to read and write because they thought they weren’t good at it.