Flexible Seating 101

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is something along the lines of, “Can you tell me more about flexible seating?”  

Yes I can!*

*I can tell you my experience, what I’ve learned, and how we use it in our room.
Because so much of what we use is modular, our room looks different a lot.  We swap things in and out regularly.
I had to toss that asterisk in there because flexible seating is an ever-changing, constantly adaptable entity where one size does NOT fit all.  At the time of this post, I’ve been implementing flexible seating for around five years and I can tell you this:

Each year the class is new and different and so is flexible seating.

When I first got interested in this type of learning environment, I did as much reading as I possibly could.  There are so many blog posts out there, as well as Instagram accounts.  I immersed myself in learning about it and began making tiny changes (I was teaching second grade at the time).

One of the first things I did was the cheapest. I (or, let’s be honest: I had our willing custodian) take legs off a couple of our existing tables.  By lowering the tables, we had fresh seating options, both on the floor and on the low table itself.
When I see a good deal (this set came from my local market and was $79 for all three pieces), I grab.
That led to wanting some floor pillows, which led to students moving to work, which led to purchasing a class set of clipboards, and so on and so forth.  It was very much, “if you give a mouse a cookie” with me. 

About a year or so into this journey, I wrote a grant via Donors Choose.  It was funded and that allowed us to get yoga balls (more on that later), wobble stools, a standing desk, and some lap trays.  You can click each type to get an idea of the product.

But, before you go ordering anything please hear me out. 

Flexible seating, to me at least, isn’t about the stuff. 

It’s not the fancy furniture or the resistance bands or the couches. 
Students form groups all around the room, all day long.
It’s about the choice.  It’s about giving students an opportunity to grow as learners and individuals.  It’s about trusting them to read while on their bellies or allowing them to take a test while standing at a counter.

And this is why, when asked, I say that my best flexible seating purchase was a class set of clipboards.  Clipboards, which technically speaking, have little to do with actual SEATING.

I allow my kids to move.  A lot.  In fact, I closely monitor the time I ask them to be working and break it up with movement.  If you walked into my class tomorrow, there would be kids (my beloved fifth graders) pretty much everywhere.  We sprawl out on the counters, we stand, we lay, and we take up a lot of space.  AND THAT IS SO GOOD.  It literally fills my heart with pride when a student KNOWS that he will do better on a quiz if sitting at a traditional desk or if a student crawls under a desk to read because she needs a distraction-free space.  Don’t we all want our kids to truly know these things about who they are as learners?
We literally work EVERYWHERE.  Countertops included.
Quick pause:  I typically have 32-34 students.  I have spaces all over the room to accommodate this but you need to think outside the box.  A perfectly perfect space COULD be anything from a spot on the rug to a beach chair in the back.

My students each have a home base and that’s where they can feel free to keep their pencil box or book box (see HERE for info on our book boxes) throughout the day.  I usually allow students to pick a new home base every Monday but again, it’s ever-changing, based on the class and their needs.

Some will choose to stay at their home base all day.  That’s great.  It works for them.  Some will move fluidly throughout the day.  That’s great, too.  Their bodies need a little more kinesthetic input and they’re encouraged to do what works for them.

We spend the first few WEEKS (my teaching motto: Go slow to go fast) practicing, modeling, and TALKING about flexible seating.  For a school year or flex seating launch, click HERE to read how it goes with us (spoiler: it works great!).

If this is sounding like gumdrops and rainbows, you need to know that it will NOT come naturally or easily to all students.  Many kids have been trained to sit in a desk all day, whether it works or not.  Freedom can be both liberating and terrifying.  I lean in close to support them and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have constant discussions (this is why I love morning meetings like I do).

And finally, a few FAQs:
What if students want the same spot?
They need to learn to solve it.  What if you and your teaching bestie want the same spot to eat lunch in at the lounge?  You solve it.  Kids are capable of great things so let them struggle a bit and grow as communicators.  My class knows that if I have to step in to solve a disagreement, I’ll be both disappointed and quick to assign a seat.
Our small group area was formed with Ikea table tops and legs
What if I don’t have the money or can’t write a grant?
Again, reframe your thinking about the stuff.  Give them choice.  It’s huge.  Also, shop your own house.  I’ve taken so much from my home to my classroom that my own family knows nothing is safe!  I’m not a great garage sale hunter but I consider myself an Ikea virtuoso and THESE stools are my favorite (but don’t let kids rock back on only two legs!  It’ll be a real quick $5 stool with bent legs!).
This is just a little spot in the corner and they LOVE it.  I buy these backrest pillows when Target rolls out their college/dorm stuff.  They make for a great little quiet corner.
What if my admin isn’t supportive?
I get asked this and to be totally honest, I haven’t encountered it.  In my flexible seating journey, I’ve worked under two principals who have truly respected me and allowed me to implement these types of things.  You can show them your research and findings, too.  But again, don’t go removing table legs until you have the okay!

What’s your deal with yoga balls?
I hate them.  There.  I said it.  Trust me, I tried and it’s okay if you disagree with me.  I always found them to be cumbersome, distracting, and at times, a touch on the wild side.  When my final one popped/deflated, I threw it out and that was that.  BUT, for students who need that sensory input, I 100% love and recommend THESE.  They sit on a regular chair and it’s everything good about yoga balls, minus the “I rolled across the room” aspect.
And look.  If you popped in our room, it'd probably look exactly like this.  But, everything gets cleaned up by the end of the day!

Good luck and give it a try!  I’d love to hear from you too so leave a comment if flexible seating is in YOUR wheelhouse!

12 comments

  1. Hi Jill! I was introduced to your resources during my student teaching semester and will be kicking off my career this fall teaching 5th grade! I am wondering if you could shed some light on how you roll this out in the first week. Do you assign seats the first week before you have your discussions and set expectations or do you start off right away letting students explore and move? As a new teacher, those first few weeks of expectation-setting seem to be the most daunting and I would love any tips, mantras, life-lessons, or nuggets of wisdom you can provide :) - Rachel

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  2. The click here button about your launch isn't working. Please lead me to the launch resource. Thanks!
    Kim

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  3. I just adore your Instagram and now your blog! Thanks for all the great info & resources. I, too, wanted to follow the launch of flexible seating, but the HERE link isn’t working. Any chance you could direct me in the right direction? Thanks so much!!!

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  4. Love seeing the different seating options. My grade twos love to sit all over the room. Like mentioned above, can you please look at the click here links?
    Thanks

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  5. Hello! I just want to clarify...so does every student have a home base seat (regular desk) and then there are flexible seating options in addition to that? When you teach whole class, where do your students sit? Is there a blog you particularly liked for flexible seating? Sorry for so many questions, I just really want to make it work next year.
    Thank you!

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  6. Where did you get the black numbers on student book boxes?

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  7. Hi Jill,

    I'm interested in learning more about how you launch your flexible seating from the start of the year but the click button isn't working. Would you be able to send me information about how you introduce flexible seating?

    Thanks!

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  8. Hi Jill,
    Can you tell me more about their "home base" ? What does this look like? If someone goes away from their home base, can another child sit there? I feel like I'm stuck on this...

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  9. I can’t access the link that you have for an alternative to yoga balls. I feel the exact same way as you about yoga balls in the classroom. Please share your alternative.

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  11. I rather prefer sitting on floor with chair that has back support, I got one floor seat from floorchair.org store

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