Alternative seating or Flexible Seating is a hot topic these days. Many teachers are talking about adding some seating options, but they don’t know where to start or what options are available. Kelsey Parrish’s Second Grade classroom does not have a single desk anymore, not even a teacher desk. What do the kids think? They love it! What do the parents think? They support her with seating donations! What does the administration think? 100% support.
Last week I got to talk with her about how she has incorporated this alternative seating approach, and her advice for other teachers considering making the switch. Here is our conversation-
What sparked your interest in alternative seating?
I was looking for something that would spark the interest of my students, so I felt like my classroom was very traditional and I wanted to change that and go more “21st century” and I thought this would also help the kids to be more invested in their classroom and their learning.
Where did you first learning about flexible or alternative seating?
My mentor during my first year of teaching did it at Carl Junction. My plan was always to transition alternative seating so I started with tables. Everybody else used desks. Then I changed school districts and that slowed down my transition a little bit. So…my first year in the Diamond School district, I had desks, then I got tables and this year I got 100% alternative seating.
What sort of seating do you have?
I have yoga balls, which is probably the most popular. I have bouncy chairs, rockers, bean bags. A lot of the students really like sitting under the tables on carpet squares. And I also have a standing table.
Are there any seats that have turned out to be a flop?
At first the yoga balls were a flop. They were rolling everywhere and the kids were bouncing. So I learned that if you deflate them some, they work so much better. I figured the standing table would be more popular but I only have one student that goes to that. That surprised me.
Are you the only teacher in the district doing this?
Yes, but I know there are some other teachers looking into it.
What did you tell the kids when you introduced all of this?
I started on the first day of school by explaining the expectations for each seat. I gave them a few guidelines-
1)They had to use them safely.
2) It had to be a learning seat. So if they weren’t learning then it would be their choice or my choice to move them. (I quickly learned that that was not a good rule because the kids figured out if they said the words “I’m not learning in this seat” that they could switch anytime. So…I quickly threw that rule out.)
What have the parents thought of the seating arrangements?
So far, they have loved it. I do offer a table for the students that want that structured seat, so that may help me out. A lot of parents have even donated things. One mom saw that I had two bouncy chairs so they asked if I wanted more, and they just went out and got them. When I started I had two rockers. When a mom found two more at Walmart, she bought them and gave them to the class. So…
Where did you get all the different types of seats?
I went and got most of it on my own, but all of it was donated or very cheap. My (student’s) parents gave me some of their old stuff and we scrounged at garage sales. I also went to “give and take” sites. where you can find things for cheap. I have seven bean bags in my room that I got for $10. And when people realize that you are a teacher, a lot of times they will just give you stuff.
What are some of the big differences between last year with traditional seating and this year with alternative seating?
It’s really helped with behavior. If I notice that they are not behaving in the seat that they chose, then they have to go to the table.
So, do the students see the traditional desk as a punishment?
In my class, some students definitely see it as punishment. They lose the chance to choose their seat and they don’t get to sit with their friends. That’s the biggest piece- they don’t get a choice.
Do you notice any difference with grades?
It is hard to compare the students from last year and this year, because they are completely different students, but I have had parents tell me that I’m getting more out of them now than they got in the past.
If you were going to start this all over, would you do anything differently?
The structure would probably be different. When we started they were able to choose their seat at the beginning of the day and they could change throughout the day. But now they have to choose at the beginning of the day and that’s their seat for the entire day. Some teachers have their students keep the same seat for a whole week, but I don’t want to have to remember where each kid is supposed to be.
If there are not enough bean bags for everyone, what do you do?
I tell them to suck it up and be faster. They are pretty good at getting the seat they want. They have 3 or 4 options so there is usually not a fight, but if there is a fight, neither of the students get that seat. So…they are pretty good about letting one person have it today so they can get it tomorrow. They are getting good at solving this problem themselves because they don’t want to lose the opportunity to have it at all.
Do you plan on getting more seating options?
Yes, I want to get some wobble stools, and I’m really going to work on improving my standing table because I think that should be more desirable and I’m not sure why it’s not. Maybe putting a band underneath it so they could put a foot on it and bounce. That’s my summer goal.
If another teacher wanted to try some alternative seating, how would you suggest they start?
My favorites are the rockers and yoga balls. I would also try some beanbags because they are very flexible and easy to place.
How do you have a place to store all these different options?
The yoga balls go on top of the table at night
Are there any downsides to alternative seating?
Some teachers may be concerned because they plan to transition the students back to normal desks.
What else is important to know about alternative seating?
First, if a teacher wants to try this, they need to figure out how they are going to organize it. Transitioning from desks to tables to alternatives seating really made me think about where you put everything when you don’t have a desk. Second, I recommend for the teacher to get rid of her teacher desk.
Since you don’t have a desk, what do you use?
I’ll sit on the floor with the kids, or use a yoga ball. I have a teacher chair, but sometimes the students are using it, so I’ll just grab one of the alternatives. The teacher sets the standard. When they see that I don’t have a desk they know that we are all doing this together.
What do you use to write on if the kids are on a Yoga ball?
Clipboards mainly, but there are also several tables in the classroom.
Kelsey Parrish is a 2nd grade teacher at Diamond Elementary. For more information about how she has incorporated flexible seating in her classroom contact Kelsey at email@example.com.