Implementing flexible seating is a great way to have student choice in the classroom. It helps students feel more ownership in the classroom, and it has helped my students be more engaged in their learning. Having a flexible seating classroom that provides choice in their seats have made my students want to take care of our furniture more, as many have only experienced hard steel chairs in previous classrooms. In this post, I want to go over what flexible seating is, how it benefits my students, how I implemented it, challenges I’ve faced, and if it was worth the work.
If you would like to know which seats I recommend for starting flexible seating, check out my blog post about it here.
What is Flexible Seating?
Flexible seating is where students have a variety of seating options in the classroom. There are many seating options teachers can choose from, but it also affects student work spaces as well. Some tables are lowered so they can sit on a low-rise chair or on the ground, and some tables or desk could be elevated for students to be standing while working.
Chair wise in my classroom, I started out using camping type chairs that I got through a Donors Choose project. Then I did another project and got furniture that was geared toward the classroom. There’s a large variety of options now that flexible seating has grown as a market. I would suggest getting furniture that is durable, easy to clean, and safe for children.
How Does Flexible Seating Benefit Students?
Flexible seating has provided students more autonomy in my classroom by providing them options on where to sit and what to sit on. It increased engagement with students, as I never hear students say, “My butt hurts from my chair!” anymore. When they are comfortable in where they are sitting, they’re more likely to be engaged with their learning! It also provides many different textures, cushion types, and height levels for students to experiment and see what works best with them. This choice in sensory input can be a big deal for some students. Providing them options can help them be more successful in the classroom.
It also develops a classroom community that encourages shared work spaces. When I had assigned spots, students would be territorial and get upset if someone touched their stuff. Now, students are more willing to share what they have and clean up after themselves to keep our spaces clean for others. This is an important skill for students to learn.
My favorite part is seeing students collaborate on their work. I had many students come straight to me to figure out how to do things. Students actively search for working teams in my classroom now to find how they can accomplish a task. They’re developing the concept that they can accomplish far more working together than working on their own.
How I Implement Flexible Seating in my Classroom
Management can be scary when first starting flexible seating, as you’re giving up a lot of control and hoping it doesn’t turn into complete chaos! A great thing I use to start out every year is this anchor chart discussing our flexible seating guidelines. Credit to Haley Smith for making the template. You can get the template for the anchor chart here.
You have to be strict on following the expectations you set out for your students. If not, it will turn into a chaotic scene. Teach them the procedures for moving to their spot after being dismissed from the carpet, what to do if the spot isn’t working, what to do if two people got at a seat at once (we do a quick rock-paper-scissors), and what to do if someone is distracting you.
It will take students about a week to understand how it works, but once they got it, it will be magical. Just stick to your expectations and procedures!
Some Challenges I’ve Faced with Flexible Seating
There have been some students that did not do well with having so much freedom. I allow these students (maybe 1-2 in a class per year) that can have an assigned spot that’s there’s. I have also had students that would not follow our classroom expectations and procedures. Students need to know and have it listed what will happen if they do not follow these. For me, they get chances with consequences before I bring in a standard desk and steel chair for them.
- They card down and move to where I tell them
- They have their chair taken away for the activity
- They sit in traditional desk and chair
It’s important to remember that some students may want to have the traditional seating as an option. I’ve had one in my 3 years of doing flex seating that have wanted this for a short period of time. When students hit number 3 though, it sinks in and they try hard not to lose their choice of seating again.
Maintenance of the furniture has been something I’ve had to consider as well. Children can be rough to things. It needs to be explicitly taught how to use the furniture. Through normal wear and tear, I’ve had to repair a few IKEA stools, wash down the couches and beanbags, and machine wash the covers for my floor options (ground seat and pillows). It’s a lot more work than using traditional seating, but the advantages they bring make me happy to do it.
Has it Been Worth it?
I would say absolutely. What it has done for my classroom atmosphere and provided a student-centered classroom, it has far benefited my students. It can be scary starting out, but reach out to others and try to get funding through donation sites like Donors Choose. You can start small and gradually increase your seating options more and more. Just be consistent. I know as teachers we are told this for EVERYTHING to do, but it’s because it’s so true. We have moments where the easy thing to do is to let someone get away with not following one of the expectations, but it will snowball so fast.
The advantages of flexible seating far outweigh the cons. I hope I have motivated you to dip your toes into something that can positively impact your classroom! If you need ideas on which seats to use for your flexible seating, take a look at my blog post addressing that here!