Another school year is in the books! For me, this was one of the best years ever in 30+ years of teaching. Truthfully, the year ended before I was ready to say goodbye to my wonderful group of students. What made them so exceptional was the great mix of personalities. There were no major behavior challenges, and the year ran like a well-oiled machine most days. I really needed a year like that! Hey, WE ALL do! My thoughts have already turned to next year, and how my classroom will work for new students beginning kindergarten.
Flexible/alternative seating has really taken hold as the newest buzz word in education. But I can assure you it has been around much longer. Any teacher worth his/her salt has, at one time or another, provided space for students who do not fit the mold for chairs/desks. During my very first year of teaching, it became clear that two of my students needed private space to keep down distractions. I went to our SpEd teacher and borrowed a portable wall. This saved my sanity, but more importantly, it gave those students a chance to shine. As the years have passed, more seating choices have been added for the benefit of all students. So, while I have not given over completely to full time flex seating, it has been in use in my classroom almost 30 years.
This year will be different. Practices change, more staff see the need for adjusting class environment, and it’s just TIME! During the past more than five years, I have experimented with different types of flexible seating. This grand experiment began when my husband built some little adirondack chairs one year. Placed in our library center, I soon realized these chairs had value, and provided more secluded areas for students who needed more space to work. In addition to those chairs, I have gradually added bucket seats, wobbles, crate seats, scoop seats and in the new year, will introduce stability balls and small area rugs as choices for seating. I am also having my husband to modify a rectangular table for floor seating! More on that in another post.
Both buckets and wobble seats allow students to rock, surprisingly! Some kids need a stable regular chair, so I kept enough for six to ten students to use at any given time.
Something I love to do is integrate my centers with seating areas. This year, I made a cute pig math game to go with a new brown rug I had purchased for flex seating. The rug doubles as a mud puddle for students to do counting, grouping and number recognition activities. Kids are going to love this! You can find the Piggies in a Puddle set here. The cute piggies are from Amazon.com here.
All of these choices start out as the go-to spot for everyone. Then gradually, the novelty wears off and the real reason for flex seating becomes clear: Students discover where their best working/thinking happens.
Here is an outline of how flexible/alternative seating works in my kindergarten classroom. The following are factors to consider in implementing new and varied seating:
1. Placement for Flexible Seating
Your classroom needs to work efficiently in order to optimize learning. Therefore, placement of seating choices needs to be a priority in classroom design. Can your students move about quickly from area to area? Have you designed clear pathways for movement from centers to seating areas? Are noisy seating areas separate from your conferring/guided group areas?
2. Beginning of Year
It can be so tempting to just turn students loose to find a favorite area to work, but at the beginning of the year you have routines and procedures to teach! If you take time to teach and reteach/practice routines, your year will go better. I recommend beginning with small group rotations to each seating area. Each day one group gets to use a particular type of seating. The following are the main seating areas for our classroom. Groups will move to the next type of seating on the list until, by Friday, all students have rotated to all areas. By having students spend an entire day in a certain type of seating, you can observe what clearly works best for each student.
Group A: Stability Balls and Traditional Table
Group B: Chairs and Traditional Table
Group C: Floor Cushions and Low Table
Group D: Clip Boards and Floor Mats or small rugs
Having explained this, you will know your students the best. If you have a group that can choose and work well from day one, then good for you! I like observing kids the first two weeks before making seating open for anyone to choose. Teachers can pick up on so much during those weeks. Does little Susie work well when little Jenny sits near her? Can Bill and Ted work in the same area without turning it into American Nina Warriors? These personality points need to be considered.
2. Teacher’s Choice
As with all groups, there will be students that need boundaries to do their best work. If a child is constantly fidgeting, poking, chattering…this is a sign he/she may need more space apart from friends to work his/her best. If this happens, I try to move the student back to choice in seating as quickly as possible. It may take several days of gradually increasing time with choice seating while maintaining a home base at the table with chairs. It is also important to remember teacher choice can be implemented any time students slide back to disruptive behavior. Teacher choice should not be limited to chairs at tables. It may work to put students in a more private area with a clip board. Observe the body language. Is the child a wobbler, a tummy on the floor worker, a bucket rocker, a crate-desk worker or other type of flex option?
Flex seating is for everyone! Teachers can and do find balance in how it works in their classrooms. If you have a rowdy group, you can still do flex seating with rotations. I will end with this final story:
Years ago, I had an older elementary student who needed to stand to work. He also needed to be away from other students to focus on his work. We attached a clip board to a closet door. Between the floor or his desk for reading, and the clip board for written response, he improved. Sometimes flex seating is no seat at all for a short period of time.
For ideas on flexible seating, you can refer to this post about my bucket seats “on the cheap”. Or you may want to look into wobble seating at this address: http://rainbowswithinreach.blogspot.com/2016/08/student-choicestudent-voice-alternative.html