Flexible Seating in the Elementary Classroom: Engaging ALL Learners + Creating a Space for Creating and Collaborating
I've always loved designing spaces. My husband and I are currently in our second full-demo and remodel mode of our home (channeling our inner chip + joanna gaines). We're tearing out and redoing every bathroom, bedroom, living room, kitchen, dining area.. you name it. Why? Because we love to invest our time in creating a space for our family and friends to feel at home in. We spend so much time here and want it to show our personality and style, while also being an inviting space to rest + commune with our people.
Why don't we treat our classrooms that way? Teachers spend 45+ hours in that space per week, and our students are spending 8 hours per day there as well. Don't we want that space to reflect our classroom family? Don't we want that space to be vibrant, cozy, + comfortable? Of course!! Let's talk about how we can make that happen.
Most people's first reaction to Flexible Seating is.. "It's too expensive and I don't have funding." Let me stop you right there! It doesn't have to be! Flexible seating does NOT mean colorful expensive yoga balls and expensive Lakeshore seating everywhere. It means offering students CHOICE of where and how they learn. & that looks different in every classroom.
So first off: WHY flexible seating? What's the point? What's the fuss all about? I created a #SketchNote awhile back to highlight my WHY. All taken from research done by Kayla Delzer (see end of blogpost for more info).
Where do you get the money?
So many options here! First and foremost, I would recommend using DonorsChoose. That's where I got my start. My $500+ project was FULLY FUNDED in five hours. FIVE HOURS. I'm not kidding here people! I shared it on all my social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) before school one morning and by lunch time I had an email from DonorsChoose letting me know my project was funded. I could've cried. You would be shocked at how willing people are to give and donate to classrooms that are truly wanting to serve and engage kids.
I've also scoured garage sales and craigslist and have been amazed at how many people are ready to simply give away fun kids seating that they don't need anymore. I got two cozy lime green saucer chairs in brand new condition for $4 each last summer!
Another tool is using Amazon Wish Lists! I have a tab on my classroom's website where I have a wish list linked via Amazon of items I want for our classroom. I always share it out with families at the start of the year, around the winter holidays, beginning of 2nd semester, and right around Teacher Appreciation Week. So often I have busy, working families who cannot donate time to volunteer in our school, and are happy to give financially. Almost every time I remind families of that wish list, I get a few small donations.
Also, apply for grants! There are so many out there, you only have to look.
Take some time to contact your PTO/PTA. Often they have funds they're looking to spend on ways to improve your school and teachers don't take the time to show off what they're doing in their classrooms (or would like to do!).
How is it not chaos? How do you decide who sits where? What are the "rules"?
I always start the year with telling students, "With a fun and flexible learning environment comes twice as much responsibility and higher expectations. If something gets broken, it will not be replaced."
If I've learned anything about kids, it's that they will meet you where you set the bar. If you set the bar low and assume they can't handle anything, that will indeed be the result you'll find. If you set it high AND hold them accountable, you'll see they can arise to the occasion.
So. My students enter the classroom and sit directly on the carpet every morning. We have our morning meeting, and end with kids being called by carpet color rows (groups of 4-6) to choose their morning spots. The spots they choose are the spots they work at up until lunchtime. If for some reason they discover quickly they cannot handle where they're at, they are welcome to ask me if they can move. After lunchtime, we regroup at the carpet and students choose their afternoon spots group-by-group. It works well for my classroom but you'll have to find a system that works well for yours.
We also make Flexible Seating Norms together. I say "Norms" and not "Rules" because students need to help decide what our environment needs to look like. This year ours are:
> Choose a working spot that helps you do your second grade BEST. (we also make a chart together about what this looks/sounds like)
> Respect those working around you and take care of our community supplies.
> Mrs. Knapp has the right to move anyone at anytime if they are not doing their second grade best in their chosen spot.
> If we can't handle a spot and use it irresponsibly, we will lose the privilege of working there long-term.
We make these together as a class, and visit them regularly to see if we need to add or change any norms.
Where do you keep all their STUFF?
Ahh.. the most commonly asked question (and was mine too!). Kids collect a lot of things. Supplies, books, folders, notebooks, headphones, etc. And unless you really don't care about messiness, it can get ugly quickly if students don't have an organized way to keep their things. I'm incredibly OCD when it comes to organization in the classroom and its how our learning space thrives. I'm a firm believer that learning is messy and chaotic most days, but there needs to be "organized chaos" if you catch my drift!
Every student in my classroom has a Learning Partner (LP). Their LP is who they share a cubby with. I have black plastic crates that I purchased at Walmart for $1.50 during a back to school sale, and purchased 13 (enough for 26 students). I flipped the cubbies on their side so it's more of an enclosed shelf, and students keep their pencil box, headphones, notebooks, and folders in their cubby.
At the start of the year we organize them super neatly, and I snap a photo of their organized cubby. I tape it on the inside as a reminder of what it should look like at the end of each day. Once they prove to me that they can keep it consistently neat and organized, I take the photo away as a sign of that LP pair showing me independence in their organization. They get so excited when they don't need the photo anymore! Occasionally the "cubby fairy" will visit in the middle of day while they're out at specials. Essentially, that's me dropping a note in their cubby that reads, "Your cubby is so nice and neat, come see Mrs Knapp after school for a special treat!" and they get a piece of candy at the end of the day. I usually do this when the majority of the class has gotten lazy with organization and neatness. You'd be shocked at how fast they all become magically clean after the cubby fairy visits. :)
I will say this is one area where I've tweaked with each year. Last year my students did so well with community supplies. They didn't even need their pencil boxes because they shared pencils, crayons, colored pencils, highlighters, markers, gluesticks, and stickynotes wonderfully so I sent them home. We hardly lost or broke things, and they did a great job making sure every work area was cleaned and picked up at the end of each day. This year's group is a different story in this area. We were consistently having broken pencils (like--snapped in half on purpose), missing gluesticks, and supplies generally missing or damaged. We we're having a Come to Jesus meeting about every few days about this and I was getting irritated (as were they).
SO.. what did we do? I met them where they were at. I assumed they were ready for independence in this area and they weren't (yet). I decided to bring out the pencil boxes and organize each one with: 3 pencils, 1 bag of crayons, 1 bag of colored pencils, 2 gluesticks, 1 pack of stickynotes, 1 expo marker, 1 highlighter, and 1 eraser. I used these pencil box labels and personalized them for each kiddo and hot glued them on each pencil box so we would know whose is whose. This method of organization has worked seamlessly for this group this year. They can pick up their box and take it wherever they choose to sit with them!
What about kids who cannot handle Flexible Seating? How do you handle that?
In my three years of using a flexible seating environment, I've had only two children who really could not handle making their own choice. There were many other factors at play, as their nature was very destructive in a way where it was a safety concern for them and the children around them. We had an accommodation for them that would've carried over into a classroom that didn't have the same environment. This was totally doable for the kids and I. Remember, flexible seating is about student choice, not throwing a kid in a work area that seems "extra fun". It's about engaging our learners and giving them what they need. If what they need is a traditional desk and chair, then by all means give the child a desk and chair.
What flexible seating options do you have in your classroom?
This is constantly changing! Right now, I have a couch (which I scored for free from another teacher who was moving to smaller classroom + didn't have room), I have two bean bags, I have two saucer chairs, I have floor mats, I have a standing table (simply raised the legs as high as they could go!), I have two floor tables (simply took the legs off the bottom), I have six yoga balls, I have two wobble stools, I have some IKEA stools, I have scoop chairs, and I have regular desk chairs with foot kick bands.
Here are some links to some awesome resources:
>Nugget (I DREAM of having one of these in my classroom!!)
>Kids Yoga Mats
>Yoga/Stability Balls (this is the brand I have--LOVE them. The little legs help so they don't roll all over!)
>Floor Carpet Mats (these are expensive--try out a home improvement store to get carpet samples instead!)