The "What, When, and How" of Flexible Seating
We've all heard of flexible seating. It's a growing trend in schools across the country—especially those that embrace innovation and creative change. Endless pictures on social media show how teachers can configure their classrooms to make learning both exciting and effective. Literature, blogs, and think pieces explore the flexible movement, but what, at its core, is it all about?
Many people have questions, and, having used flexible seating in my elementary school classrooms for several years, I have answers. They all boil down to this: by giving students choices to enhance their comfort, they can do better work and feel better.
What Is Flexible Seating?
Flexible seating is, essentially, a way to diversify seating options in the classroom while allowing students to choose what will help them do their best work. Different kids have different needs—some fidget, some prefer something squishy, and some prefer a gentle rocking motion. Provide several options, and let the students decide what works best for them.
When Do Kids Use Flexible Seating?
In my classroom, we divide time between gathered learning and independent work. Kids flock to a carpet at the front of the room during lessons and group discussions to learn together. My students are young, so I am with them for their core subjects. No matter the topic, we learn together as a group before moving to in-class work time.
When we finish a lesson, students disperse and choose a workstation. Depending on the assignment, the difficulty, or even the day, kids can choose the appropriate place to suit their mood. Each seating style may have its perks and problems for each student. However, one kid's last choice may be another's favorite.
What Types of Alternative Seats Are Available?
My journey with flexible seating began with yoga balls. I saw photos of imaginative classrooms in bright colors with yoga balls stationed at various workspaces. At the start of every year, I typically have about 12 of them. Since they're bouncy, round, and fun, I start by teaching kids how to properly sit on them. I tell them, "I shouldn't be able to hear your yoga ball" if they move too much.
Some kids prefer other active seating options, such as floor rockers or inexpensive scoop rockers. Others prefer softer options, such as cushions or modular shapes that can be stacked and moved to fit their needs. They can even sit at the teacher's desk. Different teachers employ different techniques and select suites of seats that are age-appropriate, size appropriate, and suit the demographics of their classrooms.
What About Traditional Desks and Chairs?
Some students prefer traditional seating to aid in their concentration. While nobody has a dedicated desk that's exclusively "theirs," there are several desks to work from as they desire. In my classroom, kids keep their personal supplies in one particular desk and use that as a touchdown point throughout the day. That all changes during flexible time—any desk is up for grabs, and everybody has equal access to any workspace.
How Do You Ensure Fairness During Flexible Worktime?
Yoga balls sound like the most fun, don't they? While some students don't prefer them, many do—especially when they're first introduced. We take an egalitarian approach if the interest outweighs the opportunities. Students can sign up for their use, and we cycle through them as needed. Of course, the appeal of yoga balls may wear off over time, and kids will usually find their perfect fit. Some will stick with yoga balls; others will move on.
There's always added interest when I bring in any new piece of furniture, no matter what it may be. I take a similar approach and ensure that everybody can take their turn and, as always, interest evens off after a while.
Does Flexible Seating Affect Students’ Behavior?
Absolutely. Over time, I have noticed behavioral issues decrease, especially as the students learn to collaborate and share. If kids feel comfortable, they're far more likely to open up and become willing to learn. Kids who struggle with sitting still tend to benefit from subtle movements that can meet their needs without derailing their concentration. Overall, flexible seating leads to happier students, and happier students are better learners.
Choice is notoriously absent in K–12 education, yet it is necessary in the real world. Flexible seating isn't just done; it's taught. And by its nature, we're also teaching children how to make decisions that work best for them. They take control of their best interests—a lesson that can't come from a textbook.