Learning Environment

Tips for Flexible Seating Arrangements

Embracing alternatives for seating that allow students to experience a little more comfort, freedom, and wiggle room throughout the school day.

Put adults in hard chairs for hours on end, ask them to sit still and pay attention, offer limited if any stretch breaks, and see how long it takes for the coup to occur. Much research has been conducted that supports the fact that a coup would be justified due to the negative health implications associated with docile sitting for prolonged periods, yet many students experience this on a daily basis. Not to mention that kids are typically bodies in motion, and their seating options should cater to that idea rather than negate it. Moving toward a flexible seating arrangement with alternative options doesn’t have to become an overwhelming task. With these tips for making the transition, students will be well on their way to adding a little Ahhhh! to their Aha! moments.

Exploring the Options

DIY Seats– A few resources and a little ingenuity can add fun and function to some everyday materials. Armed with ideas that transform ordinary objects into creative seating options, anyone with a few dollars and a little sweat equity can liven up the learning space. Lots of DIY options are also stackable and storable for those that aren’t ready to fully embrace the usage of alternative seating on a daily basis. Standard desks may even have a quick DIY option of shortening the legs to make them a shorter work surface for a lower seat or a student choosing to sit on the floor.

Non-traditional Designs– Hard immobile chairs and standard-issue desks whether separate or attached are probably the norm for the majority of classrooms. There are endless options out there that can be purchased to replace these rigid staples.

Gently Used Seats– Finding functional options can also be as easy as dusting off some gently used items from rummage sales, donation drives, or a teacher’s own basement. That plaid couch may not fit with the décor at home any longer, but it’s a perfectly inviting and comfortable spot for students to delve into a math or history lesson. Be on the lookout for affordable futons, chairs, sofas, loveseats, etc. via social media and/or in-person garage sales, or put out a plea to family and friends for items that may already be headed for curbside donation.

Cozy Extras– An inviting and comfortable space for learning can be designed using a rug, throw pillows, bean bag chairs, and more. Sometimes no seat at all is just what a student needs to experience a level of comfort that lets them get lost in the learning.

Managing the Logistics

Removing the Old– As much as teachers (and students) want them gone, the current furnishings aren’t going to simply disappear. Transitioning to flexible seating is all about out with the old and in with the new, but the old has to find a new space too. Before tackling the transition, make a plan for the old desks and chairs that will no longer be utilized. This may be only a few or the entire classroom set depending on the level of change that is occurring. School or district storage areas may need to be utilized, or another teacher(s) in the building may be happy to take on some extras for their own transformation. This is an area where asking for permission as opposed to forgiveness needs to occur.

Making It Fit– If picturing the design is the issue, teachers can easily sketch or create a digital layout to ensure the idea in their heads can work in the space. While that 12-piece sectional may be amazing, it may not serve the right purpose for classroom use (at least not in its entirety). An affordable app like TapMeasure- AR Utility can allow teachers to design the space with their DIY, purchased, and/or gently used options. Students could even be charged with formatting a plan with the resources at hand. This could be a great learning opportunity for spatial design.

Designing Workable Spaces– While those atypical seats and cozy floor cushions may be comfortable, the key is that they are also part of workable spaces where learning can occur. Clipboards can take learning anywhere; they can even get a little DIY bling during the makeover. A variety of options is the best option to choose because everyone’s idea of function and comfort can differ. Ensuring that charging stations, resources, and whole-class viewing areas are easily accessible and/or layouts can be easily reconfigured to meet a variety of learning scenarios is key.

Trying out flexible seating arrangements doesn’t have to be an all or nothing undertaking. By transforming a single area/section of the classroom to test the concept and students’ acceptance of it, teachers can test the waters before taking the big plunge. Whether seating options or the logistics have been holding teachers back from making this student-centered change, these tips for flexible arrangements can help get the ball rolling.