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Flexible Seating: What, Why, and How!

Our students’ brains LOVE and NEED all these elements in the learning process: music, art, reading, emotions, repetition, imagination, mnemonics, relevance, love, de-cluttering, organization, smiles, change, frequent breaks, review, reading, story time, wait time, good nutrition, trial-and-error experiences, play, pretend play, change in lightning, seating, volume and building design, new tastes, different aromas, positive social experiences, and movement. Out of all these strategies, the one thing that the brain appreciates the most is MOVEMENT.

So how does flexible seating fit in? Flexible seating is about providing opportunities to move while learning, and not as a separate activity from learning. As Ostroff[i] states, “Rather than trying to get children to sit still and stop fidgeting, we must design learning spaces that embrace children’s movement and action as necessary prerequisites for developing attention.”

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Students need to try many alternative postures throughout the day: standing, kneeling, walking, bouncing, laying down, rocking, tummy touching the ground, back touching the ground, sitting, sitting with feet up, and more. Flexible seating is not about sitting comfortably. We want students to move, because movement is the best way for students to learn better according to the vast results from brain research. In addition to physical, you will see social and cognitive benefits.

So, how do you get started? Funding can seem intimidating, but doesn’t need to. Creativity and enthusiasm are free! Make frequent trips to your local thrift store. Check Amazon. Consider publishing a list of the items you need and why or create a GoFundMe account. This allows your school and church community to jump right in to help. Here are some ideas to include:

  • tall table so students can stand while working
  • low table with cushions around it
  • couch
  • bean bags
  • stools
  • use the floor as much as possible, you already have it and students love it!
  • mats
  • tent or reading nook
  • scoop chairs
  • rocking chairs
  • pillows to set on a rug by the library
  • mats to work on tummy or back
  • bouncy balls, it is best if they have a back support but this is expensive and can wait
  • wobble chairs, this too is expensive and can wait

Be sure to provide options for various postures and balancing options with and without back support. In addition to the furniture, consider the lighting, music, colors, sounds, smells, and temperature in your classroom. Allow for variation and student choice.

One of the great things about having a flexible environment is that it is flexible. You set it up according to you and your students’ needs. It will be a trial and error experience. Try new things. If they don’t work, try something else until your classroom becomes functional! Remember that classroom spaces affect how we think, feel, and behave in a myriad of ways. Spaces can and should inspire CURIOSITY. In classroom design, as in architecture, form should follow function. Vary, change, and play with your furniture. Be ready to endure the mess, this is when inquiry based learning happens. You need flexible spaces, so students can find opportunities to move all day long!

Read the author’s full article in CIRCLE for more details on setting up your classroom, as well as her personal experience in structuring the school day in the learning spaces she and her students created. Also check out her blog, Let’s Celebrate Learning, where you can find books supporting flexible seating, links to seating options, and much more!

[i] Ostroff, W.L. (2016). Cultivating Curiosity in K–12 Classrooms: How to Promote and Sustain Deep Learning. ASCD.

Yanina Jimenez

Yanina Jimenez. Ph.D. Student at Andrews University
Third, Fourth, and Fifth Grade Teacher at Downers Grove Adventist School in Illinois, USA. Blogger at www.letscelebratelearning.wordpress.com
Let’s Celebrate Learning!
Yanina Jimenez

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