A Guide to Flexible Seating in the Classroom

Flexible Seating - Collaborative AreaFlexible seating is becoming a key element in classroom design. All students do not learn in the same way, nor do they all learn best with traditional seating. Want to know more about integrating flexible seating choices in your classroom? Hold onto your seat!

What is Flexible Seating?

Flexible seating is type and location of seat in the learning environment.

In my classroom, students have a variety of choices that include the standard, hard-backed chair with a table or desk. These varied choices include, but are not limited to the following: stools, wobble seats, bean bags, carpets, rolling tractor seats, living room furniture, gaming seats, standing desks, and rocking chairs. I encourage students to try various learning positions to fine-tune what works for them.

Why Flexible Seating?

Integrating flexible seating reflects many positive changes in the classroom. Resounding responses by my students convey that flexible seating is more comfortable, helps get their ‘wiggles’ out, and assists in focus. They also report that they enjoy being able to choose seats that fit their mood: relax and spread out on the bean bag, move around on the tractor seats, join a group on the wobble stools, or tuck into the corner chair to focus alone.

The mobility of flexible seating nurtures collaboration, teaches self-regulation, and motivates metacognition.

  • Students grab a stool at a moment’s notice to create a group
  • They self-check when they get preoccupied with the seats
  • Students learn to discern which seat is best for them; the ability to choose according to their preference encourages ownership of learning

What are the Challenges?

Flexible seating comes with some challenges, of course. I look at these issues as an opportunity to encourage, nurture, and model new skills.

Proper use and equal use top the list of these challenges. Students tend to become extra wiggly, sometimes distracted, occasionally unsafe, and possessive, when they first start to use the new seating choices. These challenges create a venue to explicitly teach kids how to use the seating, model the right and wrong way to sit, explain WHY we have the seats, and create as a class anchor charts of usage expectations.

I follow up with hanging these anchor chart reminders. If a student misuses a seat, I guide them back to the anchor chart, expectations, and consequences of misuse. Misuse can vary by teacher preferences. My use policy is that you get 3 reminders, and then you lose flexible seating for the day. This procedure may take time and patience, but the side benefit is practicing and learning self-regulation, accountability, and metacognition.

Additionally, setting up a system for equal use is important. At first, students argue over who uses what. Initially, I use an attendance grid to assign who has the seating for the day. After, students take charge of monitoring turns. This creates the opportunity to engage students in open dialogue about sharing. As with appropriate use expectations, this character-building time proves beneficial throughout our classroom community.

How Do You Implement?

I introduced flexible seating into my classroom slowly and in small steps. As we teach using best practices of modeling, chunking, practicing, and giving feedback, so is the process of integrating flexible seating. I started by creating a cozy reading corner with a few used chairs, a beanbag chair, and carpets. Student response was positive; they gravitated there to curl in and read. Next, I added basic stools from yard sales. The stools were embraced by students who loved to sit up straight and wiggle a little.

When I secured funding from our PTA, I ordered a few wobble chairs, KORE STOOLS, in various heights. These chairs were more challenging to integrate. In the beginning, learners were tempted to goof on them, causing some safety issues, falling off. Within a month, they mastered the use of these chairs, by modeling, practicing, and giving feedback on usage. They are now a class favorite for collaborative seating and effective at keeping students focused.

Next came more creative choices.

  • wheeled tractor seats
  • standing desks
  • gaming chairs
  • life-sized lego blocks
  • rocking chairs

With each new seating choice, we held a community meeting to discuss usage expectations, the sharing system, and goals of these flexible seating choices, to encourage focused learning and collaboration.

Students are now vested in our flexible seating classroom. They share using our system, sit (for the most part) appropriately, collaborate on them, self-regulate their choices for the day, and engage in focused learning. Integrating this classroom design has been a learning process for all. My advice would be to take it one seat at a time, model and explain the expectations, and have some flexibility. I cannot imagine my classroom without flexible seating.

About the Author:

Robin Lee is a recently retired middle school teacher. She has been in education for 25 years. Her goal is to continue challenging students with innovative ways to teach and learn. She is a 2018 Project Green School Award recipient, presenter at the Christa McAuliffe Science and Technology Conference, and 2016 Teacher of the Year nominee. Additionally, she is the founder of Curriculum with a Cause, an educational outreach firm. You can find her on Twitter at @LeapingLemurs2 and @CurricwaCause and Instagram at @LeapingLemurs .

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