Flexible seating options are not beneficial for every student. Yes, I went there.
The term “flexible seating” has morphed into the idea that teachers must have fun and elaborate equipment like couches, cafe tables and stools. And many terrific teachers have struggled over the fact that those items are expensive, and so they’re convinced they are somehow depriving their students of something important and necessary.
Because of all the variables involved, there are very little data to support the use of stability balls, balance stools, or other alternate seating options. But teachers know their students, and they know what’s best for them. Ten years ago I had a student “melt” in a traditional classroom chair. By the end of our work session, he would be so far down on his chair, he’d almost fall off. And of course, it had an impact on his work. I asked my administrator for stability balls to encourage him (and others) to improve core strength. I was so impressed with the difference that I’ve been an advocate of providing seating options ever since.
But I didn’t give my student a choice; I provided an alternative seat to meet his needs.
Over the years I’ve added other seats to my classroom: ottomans, a dorm chair, stability balls, stationary and balance stools, and wobble cushions. I’ve replaced some traditional desks with tables, and placed them at different heights. And I’ve kept 10 traditional desks and chairs. With each of these I’ve had varying degrees of success.
As with any changes teachers make in their classrooms, there must be an intentional outcome. Look at the students in your class: Are they particularly chatty? Quiet? Fidgety? Are there students who prefer to work alone? Students who would choose to read silently when they’re finished their work? Others who look for a classmate to work with?
Each of these descriptions provides teachers with an idea of what those students’ needs are. For kids who need to move, installing a thera-band on the feet of their chair might do the trick. For a petite child who needs the stability of putting her feet on the floor, using a foot stool could work. For a child with medical issues, or who is neurodivergent, a more traditional chair might be best. But these changes are intentional, rather than optional. Private conversations took place with any of my students who needed a particular seating “option.”
Even if you’ve never used thera-bands, foot stools, or stability balls, you’ve probably provided your students with other options while working independently or in small groups. While doing guided reading in my third grade classroom, I give my students tasks such as writing, reading independently, or listening to reading, while I work with my small group. Most of my students have a choice throughout the day to sit where they choose, with the expectation that they’re making the best choice to learn. I’ve explained that I will intervene when necessary. We are never working on the same task for more than 25 minutes. If kids are in a popular seat, they understand that at the next transition to a new activity, they’ll need to move to give someone else a chance. It’s a process for some.
TAKEAWAY: It’s not about FUN furniture, it’s about FUNCTIONAL furniture that meets the needs of your diverse learners.
Each of your students has unique needs. While one person might do well in a dorm chair, another might fall asleep (it’s happened!). Ball chairs are great for some, while others just bounce. Rolling chairs sound perfect, until one student starts spinning. With some guidance from you, they have to learn what works for them. And that might just be a traditional desk and chair!