Across the country, teachers are replacing the traditional classroom setup, featuring rows of front-facing desks, with a “flexible seating” arrangement.
You may have seen these classrooms on social media. They run the gamut from brightly colored chairs and interlocking tables on wheels, to furniture with a café feel, like couches and armchairs. Unconventional seating like yoga balls and wobbly stools also make an appearance.
On Instagram alone, there are 110,000 posts using #flexibleseating, many from teachers showing off their freshly configured classrooms and sharing tips on how to do flex seating right.
What do these classrooms have in common? They offer students a break from the ordinary desk and chair by adding a variety of flexible seating options. Flexible furniture can be easily rearranged to fit the activity, whether that’s individual reading, small-group projects, or whole-class discussion.
The idea behind this classroom redesign is to make students more comfortable and invested in their learning, giving rise to more collaboration and creativity. Studies have shown that flexible seating done right can even improve academic performance.
The price tag may seem prohibitive, though. Some school districts have spent millions on upgrades that include flexible furniture. But there are ways to redesign your classroom on a budget. Try these five DIY flexible seating ideas in your classroom.
How to Implement Flexible Seating in the Classroom
Here are some simple (and cheap!) ways to add flexible seating in the classroom. Be sure to get your principal’s approval first.
1. Raise Some Funds
Looking to outfit your classroom with brand new flexible furniture? Organize a fundraiser as second-grade teacher Jenna Cress did. She wanted brightly colored wobble stools and roller chairs, plus floor cushions and lap desks for her classroom at Kent Elementary in Carrollton, Texas.
But new furniture doesn’t come cheap, so Cress started a GoFundMe to enlist family and friends to donate. So far, she’s raised $710 toward her $1,000 goal to create the type of classroom where students can feel empowered to choose where they sit and, as an added bonus, get their wiggles out during lessons.
Don’t want to hit up family and friends for donations? Post your flexible-furniture wish list at donorschoose.org. If you’re on social media, post your wish list on Twitter or Instagram with #clearthelist. You just might get it filled by nice people from all over the world.
2. Get Scrappy
Take a page out of Brooke Markle’s playbook. Determined not to spend her own money, Markle DIYed her seventh-grade flexible classroom in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania through a mix of maker skills and ingenuity.
First, she got rid of the desks and chairs. She saved a round table with plastic chairs for those students who preferred traditional seating.
Next, she hunted down a wide range of furniture. In storage at her school, she found a rectangular table, which she lowered to floor level by removing the legs. She arranged pillows around it for seating.
She got recycled tires by writing a letter to a tire company. Her husband nabbed gallon buckets from his workplace. A little spray paint (donated by a local hardware store) and some round cushion toppers, which she fashioned herself, and Markle had some funky seating options that delighted her students.
What she couldn’t make, she bought with money from mini grants. They paid for beanbag chairs and video-game rockers. A local grocery store donated Adirondack chairs.
Markle surveyed her students to see how they like flexible seating. “They say they can learn comfortably since they’re not stuck in one seat all day,” she says. “Switching seats from time to time allows them a brain break and helps them to stay on task.”
3. Do Some Bargain Hunting
Many teachers create the flexible classroom of their dreams by hunting for bargains. Be on the lookout for small couches, recliners, tables, wheeled chairs, rocking chairs, lamps, and more. Consider letting sellers know that you plan to use the furniture in the classroom. They just might donate the items you need, or give you a deserved teacher discount. See Tip #1 for more ways to fund your classroom makeover. Here are some ways to get flexible furniture on the cheap.
- Go shopping at local yard sales.
- Check thrift stores like Goodwill.
- Search Facebook Marketplace.
- Ask family and friends for castoffs.
4. Try an Open Floor Plan
Greg Smedley-Warren, a kindergarten teacher in Nashville, Tennessee, got rid of the desks and chairs in his classroom. He kept one table for students who prefer a more traditional seating option, and there’s also a big comfy chair in one corner for reading. Most of the time, students sit on bathmats on the floor, and use clipboards (and sometimes Chromebooks) to do their work.
“You can do art projects on the floor,” says Smedley-Warren. “You can do science experiments on the floor. If I need to work with a small group, all the kids have to do is stand up and walk to my table. The setup just makes everything so much easier.”
5. Keep Your Desks and Chairs
If getting rid of all your desks and chairs seems overwhelming to you, keep them. But instead of assigning seats, let students every day choose where they want to do their work. They may not choose to sit. They can stand at a desk, or lie on the floor. And there, you have flexible seating without swapping out a single piece of furniture.
“I hear a lot of teachers say, I can't do flexible seating because I can't afford to buy all the stuff,” says Smedley-Warren. “My response is you do not need anything. You don't have to spend a dime. Simply get rid of assigned seats. That's flexible seating, because you're giving them choice, right?”
More DIY Flexible Seating Ideas
Do you have creative ways for implementing flexible seating in the classroom? We'd love to hear your ideas. If you have tried any of our strategies, let us know how they worked out. Connect with us on Twitter (@HMHCo) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com.
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