Monday, December 28, 2015

Alternative Seating in the Classroom

I have been seeing things float around the inter-webs that really intrigue me. It's the idea of alternative seating. Teachers (and now researchers) are finding that allowing students choice and movement in their seating arrangements can greatly improve behavior and academic performance.

I have already posted about using yoga balls in my room and how well it worked for my students with ADHD. I have since seen sooooooooooo many more options that I LOVE. If you are new to alternative seating, or inching your way closer to thinking about it as a real possibility for your classroom, hopefully this post will show you different ways to make it work in your room.

First, what do you use? Well, from what I've seen, it can be anything! Teachers have used bean bag chairs Stabili-T Stools, carpet spots, bath maths, camping chairs, crates with padding on them, small tents, stability/exercise balls, lap desks on the floor, pillows, big totes with half the lid cut off (see below), peanut balls and just the plain old floor.

(NOTE: None of these links are affiliate links. I just searched on Amazon for some of the terms I had heard from other teachers. Seriously, who has heard of a peanut ball?? Not me. But they are pretty awesome.)

I know that looks kinda funny, but I have heard it helps kids feel safe and calm when they work. It can be really effective with kids that have sensory issues.

 Stabili-T Stools

I love the idea of using the Stabili-T Stools. My friend Debbie at K is for Kinderific did an awesome post on how she uses them with her SpEd students here.

I also like using crates with removable pads on them. That way you could store materials inside.

Some more pics of what you can use from Mr. Cayer's room:

I really like the idea of standing desks and bicycle desks. Our kids need more time to MOVE! This is a great way to let them wiggle while they work!

Some desks and tables can be set to a higher setting for standing so you don't have to buy anything new. The bike desks are pricey, but if you got your principal on board or wrote a grant, you could build up a few each year. You can find more information about the bike chairs, along with this spectacular 11 second video of a girl pedaling here. The ball chairs are around $70-$100 on Amazon.

Here is a bike chair in action:

The possibilities are really endless. Annnnnd now that my post is starting to also feel endless, I'll move on to how kids get to these fabulous seating choices.

The more choice and freedom we can give our students, the more they learn and grow. However, finding seats and sitting next to other students can be challenging for some kids (or groups of kids) no matter the age. I have heard some teachers call it "Make a wise seating choice" or even just "Smart Seat". This draws the student's attention to not only WHERE I sit, but WHO I sit by. You can go over what these mean to you in your own classroom. Do you want kids to be able to sit by each other? Can they handle knowing who will distract them and who won't? Will they move if they are uncomfortable or are distracted? Do you want your kids to be able to create their own sitting spaces (i.e. under their own desks on the floor) or do you want to have only certain areas of alternative seating?

 Setting Up for Second Blog

As with anything, I would MODEL, MODEL, MODEL. Show your students what it means to quietly pick a spot and start working. Show them what it looks like and what it sounds like. Alternative seating can become a routine procedure just like lining up or turning in work.

A teacher I spoke with said that her students are split into groups or tables. When it is time to work, she will alternate between which groups she calls first. The first group calls gets to pick their spots first. The second group goes second and so on. By alternating it daily, each student will get a chance to pick their spot first. This teacher has regular desks for students who prefer that work environment and alternative seating choices. She also lets them pick their own spots.

This teacher at Kindergarten Works has a great post on how she lets her kids choose their own seats.
 Choose their own seats

One last video from Edutopia about how teachers have used alternative seating in their rooms. It's kinda cool to see it in action.

Finally, will you have some administrators and parents who will freak out when they hear that their kids won't be sitting at desks? I'm gonna venture a wild guess and say yes! Some people might not understand what it is you are doing. Invite them in! Once they see the power in choice and of choice, they will come over to your side. They will also see that there are regular, old, normal desks or tables that their child can sit at too and that should stop most of them from having a coronary.

I found this FABULOUS note to parents that a teacher posted on her website. I would highly recommend sending out something similar. (Click on the picture to see the full text, with additional links, on her website.)

Note to parents

If you are looking for more ideas, I have a Pinterest board full of pictures, ideas, and blogs. My Alternative Seating Board can help you figure out what will work in your room!



  1. This by far is the most exciting and explosive article aiming at a need in all classrooms and all grades.
    I am a mother of four grown sons and a grandmother of 7 grandchildren.
    In that group are 3 on the autism spectrum, one ADHD. 1 just full of life and extremely social... the rest everyone would say normal desk sitters.
    Our family has tried for years and years to explain exactly what you are doing!!! We have begged, agreed to help furnish a classroom,get donations,and make calls. Anything to help these children. How many tears we parents have wiped away beause of something that has such an easy and accessible solution. You have helped in our endeavor to allow these children to blossom and grow and learn in the classroom setting. Some of the teachers just don't want change, and some don't know where to start or how. But you have spoken in a language that will provoke thought and change.Thank you so much from a mother and grandmother who has been involved with children's education for over 39 years.

    1. Vickie,
      I'm really glad that you liked this post. It is something that I am becoming very passionate about. I think alternative seating can be a big mind shift for some educators who think it means more potential behavioral problems. I'm very sorry that you have had struggles in trying to meet the needs of your family. Hopefully, the more we spread the word, the more alternative seating will appear!

  2. I have open seating available when it is time for them to do their independent work or group work. Whole group is taught with their groups at desks. This allows for collaboration and accountability. I allow parents to purchase stability balls for their child to use within the classroom. Those balls can be used for most anything. You should see how creative they get when it comes to reading or playing a game. Most lay on their stomach on the ball to read. I just love it. I wish I could get rid of desks, but there is not enough room in building storage. Thanks for posting this article. I very much enjoyed reading and learning from it.

    1. Your classroom sounds awesome! I wish all of our classrooms were as big as we needed them to be!

  3. I'm looking to start alternative seating in my classroom and had a question for you. The storage containers with half a lid cut off, do you know what would be the appropriate size to get?

    1. Hi Emma, that would probably depend on the grade you teach. I would get a middle sized one. Not the huge 40 gallon ones. I would just look at the size of your students and maybe buy one and have them sit inside to see if it fits before you cut. Hope that helps!

  4. Classie,
    I can't tell you how excited this post is for me. I just finished my 21st year of teaching and despite all the changes, all the struggles there have been more good times! I still love teaching today as much as I did when I first started!
    While some would say I'm still a little old school, I will try anything that is researched based and in the best interest of my students. With that said, I want to start using alternative seating in the upcoming year.
    My question for you is what is the best way to start? What are the best types of seating to start with? I have a love seat that I will be bringing in but what else should I start with?

    Thank you for posting your blog and for taking the time to answer my questions.

    Heather S.
    5th grade Teacher

    1. Hi Heather,
      I would definitely recommend starting small. Keep your chairs and tables or desks and just add in a few pieces. Traditional seating is still beneficial to our students, but it is nice to give them options. Add a couple bean bags in your reading area or a stool or yoga ball at your guided reading table. From there, you can see what your students respond too and go from there. If you can get a grant (or bribe your principal), standing desks are also really cool. You can even raise the desks you have a few notches (if yours are capable of doing that, not every desk is) and those can work as standing desks too. I know my kids loved the different seating options given to them and I'm excited for you to try it in your room!

  5. This is a very useful tip,even if dealing with Library rack

  6. Hi,
    I am a first year teacher and a graduate student. For my final class, my group and I decided to do research on flexible/alternative seating. If it is ok with you, I would love to interview you more on this subject. Please respond back asap if you are interested. If you are interested, we can better arrange a way to communicate.

    Thank you!!


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