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6 Problems with Flexible Seating (and Easy Solutions for Them)

In education there will always be trends and Pinterest certainly fuels that. The latest obsession with teachers everywhere is “flexible seating in the classroom”. But, is an alternative seating classroom best for every student or teacher? Flexible seating success completely depends on a few things. First, it depends on how strong the teacher’s classroom management skills are. Second it depends on the flexible seating design. Finally, it depends on how the teacher presents, implements and maintains it. I don’t want to be the buzzkill on the buzzword! However, it’s important to recognize that there are some problems with flexible seating that need to be discussed.

This post will provide food for thought for teachers who are using or considering using flexible seating in their classrooms. It will point out potential problems and things you may not have thought about if you hopped on the flexible seating bandwagon without weighing all the pros and cons.

Designing your classroom in an alternative manner provides your students with the opportunity to work in a relaxed environment. It sets the stage for collaboration and real world simulation. There are a lot of benefits and when executed properly alternative seating can be beneficial to your students. I caution you not to jump into flexible seating without thinking through all aspects involved and encourage you to reflect on your current classroom design if you have already begun using it. Read below to learn the 6 problems with flexible seating and get solutions for each of them.

6 Problems with Flexible Seating

Below are 6 problems with flexible seating and solutions for them.

1. Kids need structure.

Childhood anxiety is at an epidemic level. It’s important for students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments. Not knowing where they will sit day to day can be a further cause for feeling anxious about going to school. For most children the need to have a defined, consistent space is real. Does that mean they need to stay seated in one spot all day? Absolutely not. However, they do need to know there is a space that is their own.

Solution: Offer a variety of seating and work spaces within your classroom but designate a table or a desk for each student’s exclusive use.

2. Be aware of IEPs.

The second on the list of problems with flexible seating is to think about the students in your class with IEPs. Many student plans specifically include language about ‘preferential seating.’ Some students have disabilities that affect their abilities to see, hear, pay attention to, or participate in activities. Preferential seating means that a student’s seat is placed in a location that is most beneficial for his/her learning in the classroom.  It is not only good practice, but a legal requirement. Make sure your flexible seating design is in compliance with every student’s IEP.

Solution: Collaborate with the SPED team to define what preferential seating means to each student and guarantee those needs will be met prior to bringing in other seating choices. Have a plan that ensures the students with IEPs are not made to feel excluded from those alternative seats.

3. Safety should be a priority.

When I first started teaching my teaching partner removed the legs from a classroom table so it was close to the floor. The kids sat on the floor when working there. This seemed like a fun idea until a classroom aide delivering copies to the teacher tripped over the table and broke her shoulder. Many districts have rules against bringing in outside furniture of any kind. Be responsible and also know the liability you face if a students falls off a stool provided by you and chips a tooth or rolls off a yoga ball and cracks a skull.

Solution: Discuss your plans for your classroom with your principal. If you have his/her support determine how you will communicate the design to your students’ parents. Have them sign permission slips for their children to use the alternative seating arrangements. Spell out exactly what those seats include specifically.

4. Classroom floors are disgusting.

The fourth on the list of problems with flexible seating is the cleanliness factor. Think about how many kids have peed their pants or vomit on those floors over the years. Then add in the sneezes that have made their way down there. Now factor in that kids use the school restroom where little boys have “missed their target” and remember that the same sneakers that were just standing next to the urinals are now walking on your floors. And while we are at it lets also take into account all the other nastiness those shoes walk in daily.

Solution: Have your students each bring a towel or yoga mat from home to sit on when working on the floor.

5. Be cautious with use of the term “research-based.”

If you are telling your students’ parents and your administrators that you have elected to use a flexible seating design in your classroom because it is research-based be sure to look into the actual research. There is a lot of evidence that sitting at a desk all day is bad for the health of children and adults. There is also research that supports the benefits of physical and psychological comfort in the classroom. However, the lack of traditional seating has the potential to cause other issues that research has proven to be harmful. Often when you look at photos from classrooms with flexible seating you’ll see children sitting with their legs in the W position or else slumped over with curved spines.

Solution: Be aware of all the related research. Also, be prepared to speak intellectually if you need to defend your choices. Have articles at the ready to share if needed.

6. Choice seating means the students actually have a choice.

The last on the list of problems with flexible seating is to remember to offer students choices. Some teachers are removing all the desks from their classroom and having the students work on the floor or at the one table that remains. Others have created elaborate rotation boards for the various seating options in the classroom. Twenty-five kids fighting over one beanbag chair is not flexible seating.

Solution: Provide equitable options for seating. As I mentioned I successfully used alternative seating options in my own 3rd grade classroom for many years. I kept things simple though. I replaced my desks with tables, but every student had a designated seat that was their home base. In addition, I kept my counter tops clear so students had the option to stand and work if they wanted. Lastly, I had a class supply of clipboards and the children brought towels or yoga mats from home which meant students also had the choice of working on the floor.

6 Flexible Seating Examples

In addition to repurposing what you already own or doing a quick DIY project, you can get flexible seating tools from the following places: IKEA, Amazon and Five Below. Check out the items below from Amazon!

Is flexible seating part of your elementary classroom set up and design? If so, consider simple classroom seating arrangements, challenges, cheap choices, management, rules, research, options, storage, organization, expectations and a contract, affordable furniture, choice board, chairs, desks, tables, layout, arrangement, and benefits. #classroomsetup #classroomdesign Is flexible seating part of your elementary classroom set up and design? If so, consider simple classroom seating arrangements, challenges, cheap choices, management, rules, research, options, storage, organization, expectations and a contract, affordable furniture, choice board, chairs, desks, tables, layout, arrangement, and benefits. #classroomsetup #classroomdesign Is flexible seating part of your elementary classroom set up and design? If so, consider simple classroom seating arrangements, challenges, cheap choices, management, rules, research, options, storage, organization, expectations and a contract, affordable furniture, choice board, chairs, desks, tables, layout, arrangement, and benefits. #classroomsetup #classroomdesign
Is flexible seating part of your elementary classroom set up and design? If so, consider simple classroom seating arrangements, challenges, cheap choices, management, rules, research, options, storage, organization, expectations and a contract, affordable furniture, choice board, chairs, desks, tables, layout, arrangement, and benefits. #classroomsetup #classroomdesign Is flexible seating part of your elementary classroom set up and design? If so, consider simple classroom seating arrangements, challenges, cheap choices, management, rules, research, options, storage, organization, expectations and a contract, affordable furniture, choice board, chairs, desks, tables, layout, arrangement, and benefits. #classroomsetup #classroomdesign Is flexible seating part of your elementary classroom set up and design? If so, consider simple classroom seating arrangements, challenges, cheap choices, management, rules, research, options, storage, organization, expectations and a contract, affordable furniture, choice board, chairs, desks, tables, layout, arrangement, and benefits. #classroomsetup #classroomdesign

If you do decide to implement flexible seating, please consider the problems with flexible seating listed above and learn from my experience using storage cube ottomans! In the summer of 2011, I frequently roamed around Target. Not only did I enjoy their free air conditioning, but I also spent the time coveting the storage cubes that line the center aisle waiting to be snagged by college students. 

I NEEDED them for my small group area. But, at $17.00 a pop, it was hard to justify buying six of them for my small group teaching area when I had a surplus of chairs in my classroom. As I started to set up my classroom that year my desire to add the cubes increased. Ultimately I talked myself into buying them based on the fact that I hadn’t spent much on my classroom that summer and instead had repurposed things I already owned.

Well, it’s now 18 months later and they are starting to bite the dust. In the past month or so, three of them have met their demise. There are two things to note: I teach 3rd grade so my students range in size from itty bitty to small adult. Kids can’t seem to sit in them and instead rock.

With that being said, I think 18 months is a pretty good lifespan. They’ve been used all day every day for 1 and 2/3 school years. I still prefer them to chairs because they allow me to fit 6 friends comfortably at my teaching table. Adults have sat in them for 2 years worth of parent teacher conferences. They provide a good amount of hidden storage (I love hidden storage). They are lightweight and very easy for a kid to move around the classroom.

In closing, I hope you found this post about the potential problems with flexible seating and solutions for them helpful. I am a strong believer that by planning for the potential challenges, you will be better equipped to overcome them or avoid them altogether. If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in these:

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