Classrooms offering flexible seating to improve learning


Gone are the days of wooden desks all in a row in many school classrooms. Now, many teachers prefer classrooms with a little more style.

"In my room we have stools that they can move," explained Casey Meidl, 5th Grade Teacher All Saints Catholic School in Antigo, WI. "We have wobble core chairs, which have kind of the ability to sit but also still move and wiggle without being as obvious. We have ball chairs. We have a bungee chair. We have some other different types of chairs in the room. We also have clipboards and lap desks so that they can move to other places and on the floor and still work, or we also have bed risers they can raise their desk on the riser so they can stand."

A flexible seating classroom puts an emphasis on providing the learning environment that children need as individuals.

“You can move around in it,” explained fifth grader Ethan Buchman. “So you can spin, you can just like wobble on it, so then you don’t have to just sit in one spot.”

“I like it because you can bounce on it or wobble on one of those chairs,” said fifth grader Luke Bastle.

“Whoever gets in here first and puts their clip up and then whoever can go and grab it and come back to their desk will get it pretty much,” Ethan said. “Well that’s a good incentive to get here on time. Yeah!”

Flexible seating means more than wobble chairs and ball seats. Teachers have the flexibility to create different areas in the classroom where kids can stand, sit or lie down.

“I've seen classrooms where students have couches that they're sitting on, and I've even been in a classroom where they had an old clawfoot bathtub filled with pillows and the kids could sit in,” said Elizabeth MacDonald, Middle School Language Arts Teacher at All Saints Catholic School. “It just gave the kids a variety of seating to change up their atmosphere. It kind of gave them more control of their own learning environment and made it more of their own.”

“I think I've noticed with my students that they do better academically when they're given the option,” said Casey Meidl. “A lot of my students are not wanting to just sit in their desk all day long. They want to be able to get up. They want to be able to move and sit somewhere else and work. Being able to be more active in their work. I don't want to sit all day, so I'm sure they don't want to sit all day.”

Even kindergarten classrooms are embracing flexible seating. This classroom is mostly desk-free.

“For some, it’s more of a focusing thing, where they want to be alone,” said Terri Zinchuk, 5K Teacher at All Saints Catholic School. “For the wigglers, it’s good to be standing. And some just prefer to be laying down and working that way.”

Educators say when children can take more ownership in their classroom – like by choosing where they’ll sit, or bounce, and are given the freedom to move around when necessary – they become more engaged.

“It gives the kids an opportunity to move around, look for the space that's going to promote their learning the best,” said MacDonald.

And while flexible seating works for some, for others – a traditional desk may be preferable. Flexible classroom design can help make children feel comfortable – both physically and emotionally.