Monday, May 9, 2016

A Journey into Alternative Seating

Ready? Set? Go!


I had been dabbling with the idea of alternative seating for years, and once even bought some exercise balls for my second grade classroom, but that didn't end well when I went on maternity leave and the balls turned into play equipment rather than seating equipment.

This year, with my move to a new school and a new grade level, first, I decided was THE year. And I will never go back.

Alternative seating, also known as flexible seating (if there is a difference, please educate me, but until then I'm going to continue acting like I know what I'm talking about), has transformed my classroom in a way I couldn't have imagined. It has lowered stress and anxiety levels, heightened focus levels, and has allowed me to personalize the learning that goes on in my classroom.

Here is a panoramic view of my classroom in all of it's flexible glory!


Here is how our journey unfolded, in 3 steps!

Step 1 - Adjust

Provided to me at my school were a lot of tables and chairs, so I started by adjusting the use of what I already had by removing legs from a few tables for floor seating, raising a few tables to standing height, and leaving a few tables at chair height. Each step that I will be outlining involved a lot of class meetings and discussions about how to monitor what your body needs, and that everyone's body needs something different, and this one was no exception. After a couple of weeks, when everyone had had the opportunity to try out the different tables, most had settled into an understanding of what was best for them.

(Notice the stacks of chairs in the back of the room? Yeah, we don't use them anymore.)



Step 2 - Acquire

The next step in our journey was to acquire some new seating options. This can be an expensive step in an alternative seating journey, but thanks to the age of the internet, I did it with very little out of my own pockets. The only thing I bought myself was a set of 5 sturdy laundry baskets. They were $7 each at Walmart, and I was anxious to get started, so I went for it! I don't often shop at Walmart, but when I do, it's for cheap laundry baskets and school supplies.


Next on my list of desired seating options were wobble stools, balance cushions, and bouncy bands. Those were the more expensive pieces, just one stool is over $60. Definitely above my budget... Donor's Choose to the rescue! If you have not used this website yet, you have been missing out. I had 8 Kore Wobble Stools, 5 balance cushions, and 5 Bouncy Bands funded in less than a week's time! When I posted my project on Donor's Choose there was a matching code where every donation up to $100 was matched by Donor's Choose, and they do matching codes often if you keep your eyes and ears open. I got permission from my principal to send a letter home to the families of my students, posted a link to my friends and family on Facebook, and boom! It was fully funded in under a week. (A lot of people have luck with anonymous donors as well.) About a week later, the new seating choices were delivered to my classroom. =)






Now, if you don't have immediate luck on Donor's Choose, and haven't won the lottery, there are some cheaper options out there. Bathmats and pillows are something I've seen used, but I prefer hard plastics over cloth because of a debilitating fear of lice. I've heard good things about Scoop Rocker chairs, as seen here (http://www.overstock.com/Sports-Toys/American-Plastic-Toys-Scoop-Rocker-Pack-of-6/10458964/product.html).


Step 3 - Acquaint

This step addresses the biggest question I get about flexible seating; How do you introduce this concept and the different seating options to your students? Don't they fight over the stuff?

My answer - Take. It. Slow.

I acquainted my students with one thing at a time. And each introduction was sandwiched with class discussions. I like to call this routine the "Expectation Sandwich". First, we circle up and talk about what is about to happen. What are the expectations? How will we appropriately use this space or this tool? Then, everyone gets a chance to try that particular seating option out properly. Finally, we have another circle discussion about how that particular seating choice is helpful, who it is helpful for, and how we know it is helping.

In the expectation sandwich discussions, a big piece of the conversation (multiple times a day in the beginning) is that everyone is different, and everybody's body needs something different. Some of us feel just fine working in chairs at tables, some of our bodies prefer to lay on the floor with clipboards. Some of us like to stand up to help us focus, some of us like to sit on the floor. Some of us like to wiggle and move as we work, some of us like to be cozy and tucked into in a small space. I even had a mom come tell me after school one day that her daughter told her about our new alternative seating options, "I don't use the wiggle stools much because my body doesn't really need it as much as some of my friends." Perfection.

In the beginning, yes, there may be a certain level of excitement due to the novelty. But if you can be very methodical in acquainting the children with the seating choices, and very patient in reminding them about how to choose their spots, the novelty will wear off, and it just becomes the regular day-to-day routine. Kids settle into the areas and options that they prefer, and there is now, in my classroom, absolutely zero conflict or disruption caused by flexible seating.





The change that alternative seating has made in my classroom has been invaluable. My students have learned how to self-regulate and listen to their bodies. They have been given the gift of choice, the choice to do what is best for them. They are more focused, more centered, and more productive.

This is the perfect time to start thinking about how you can make shifts in your own classroom for next year, so go for it! Remember - Adjust, Acquire, Acquaint. And how can I forget my #1 most important rule/motto with the kids about alternative seating - "They are tools, not toys!"


Please feel free to hammer me with questions!


21 comments:

  1. I have used exercise balls with my 1st graders, but found them to be a big distraction (and, when they are all bouncing, I found it to make me “sea sick” looking out over the class). I have also purchased wiggle seats. I feel that we have had a lot more success with these, as they are not such a distraction from our lessons.
    This year I had a donation of a standing desk…this has a swinging bar down by the feet, that allows the child to stand and work while rocking his foot on the bar, swinging it. There is also a stool that he could use to sit on at this desk, but he has never used it. What a great idea for those kids that like to stand. I only wish that they weren’t such an expensive option!
    Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts about your classroom. I can see how this could take some time to set up, but in the end I see that it would be worth it. :)

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    1. That desk sounds so cool! I've recently seen pedal contraptions that can go under a desk or table, they look super cool too. It is so so worth the energy it takes to get the kids acquainted with the seating choices. And I forgot to mention how much I love to use the wiggle stools too! =)

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  2. Love you ideas! I teach first grade and am thinking about alternative seating. How do you handle whole group teaching activities? Do students have a "home base"? If not where do you keep their things? Thanks

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    1. We have a big rug with color squares that the kids come to for whole group. Our whole group lessons are so short, only about 10-15 minutes at 1st grade, that most of them are fine sitting on the carpet for that amount of time. I do have a few that need wiggle spots at the carpet, but the rest of them know that those things are saved for extended independent or group work times. As far as a home base goes, we have these great cubbies where the kids keep their backpacks and all of their folders and books. In the past, I've used bookcases with magazine holders (Ikea has cheap, but thick, cardboard ones that hold up GREAT) to house folders and books. I've also used crates at each table, and kids were assigned to a crate as their home base, but then could take their stuff to wherever they chose to work. I've seen people (especially in the higher elementary grades where kids have more stuff) use sterilite drawers at each table with a similar system... you have a place to store your things, but you can take those things as you need them and move about the room. Does that make sense?

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    2. Oh, and we do all shared supplies! So there are caddies on each table for anyone to use.

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  3. Wonderful blog post! I am a music teacher and am thinking about trying this out next year, for when we do centers and group work. I love the idea of laundry baskets (hadn't seen anyone else post about that!) but maybe that wouldn't work past 2nd or 3rd grade....(I teach K-5.) I hadn't thought of asking parents to donate to the Donors Choose project! Love your ideas, will be bookmarking this post to come back to it. Thanks!

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    1. My kids also like to sit the laundry baskets up on their sides and sit in them that way, which I think would totally work for 2nd and 3rd grade! Good luck with Donors Choose!

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  4. I love how accepting of this idea you (some teachers wouldn't be), your school, and students are. I am a high school teacher, but I see that many of the things would be great for them as well. We often think of young kids as needing to move, but my teens need to move just as much and most high school teachers and administrators are NOT understanding of that. Now if I only had a classroom to put alternative seating in - it may be too much to fit on my cart :(

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    1. Arg, yes that would be difficult. I can't imagine fitting my life onto a cart! You must be Super Woman!

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  5. I recently just took the flexible seating challenge in my middle school class and will never go back! I too hesitated wondering would it work and if the excitement of choosing your seat would be overwhelming or just a "sit by your friend" situation....To my surprise it's been the exact opposite! I truly believe when you give up the power of assigned seating, you are gaining soooooo much more and able to accomplish way more....More than you even realize at the time! Thanks for sharing this with us!

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    1. Yes! It completely eliminates the power struggle, and even my little bitty first graders learn how to self monitor! It's amazing!

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  6. Thank you for such a wonderful blog post on alternative seating. I have been given the green light to use alternative seating in my classroom next year. I am excited about jumping in with both feet but still working out the minor details in my head. ;) Love how you have taught the students that it is a tool, not a toy. I have bookmarked this post to come back and revisit. :)

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    1. Yay! So exciting! You will NOT regret it.

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  7. I did flexible seating for a few years in kindergarten before I moved into a support role. The kids loved it, I loved it, and it just took our classroom community to another level. They knew I trusted them to make good choices. Now that I'm back in the kinder classroom and settled in my new school, I'm excited to get back at it! Thanks for the post, it was the nudge I needed. It'll be interesting to see what people at my school say because it seems pretty traditional. I may end up being the black sheep but I can't conform anymore, I need to do what's best for kids!!

    I got some Yoga bands that I plan on cutting and tying around the legs of a few chairs similar to your black ones. What's the purpose of the PVC tube looking thing? To help hold the band up?
    ~Kelsey

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    1. Yes! The PVC part of the bouncy bands keeps them up so that they don't get pushed down, thus eliminating the ability to bounce! Let me know how the yoga bands turn out, it sound promising. Rubber against metal legs, tied really tight... seems like it should work fine. And by the way, you are not going to be the black sheep, you are going to be the revolutionary trend setter! I started the bug in my school, and now lots of people are following suit. =)

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  8. This is the "HOW TO" post that I have been searching for! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love your realistic implementing strategies. I'm sending it to my teaching partner, and saving it for my principal!! (We're proposing using this in our shared Grade 3 classrooms next year, and this is EXACTLY what we want to be doing... minus Donor's Choice, that isn't available in Canada!)
    - Rachel <a href="www.poetprints.ca”>Poet Prints</a>

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  12. Thanks for all your great ideas and photos. My room is so small. I hope I can make this work for my students. I have noticed a lot of primary grades having great success with alternative seating. I would like to learn what you think about intermediate grades using flexible seating. Do you or your followers have suggestions and thoughts for my 4th graders? Thanks so much!

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    1. I also wanted to mention that my partner teacher and I switch for ELA and math as well as for content classes. I would love to have any suggestions for making flexible seating work for this sort of situation. Thanks!

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