Have you decided to implement flexible seating but are slightly freaking out about how exactly to do it? My intention is to help you set up flexible seating in a way that is as successful as possible and to hopefully relieve some of the fear and anxiety that happens when you make any major changes in your classroom. If you read my last post about flexible seating, you know exactly why I believe it is an essential component of any successful classroom. If you haven’t had a chance you can find the post here. Here I share all the nitty gritty details on setting up- from acquiring seat choices to expectations, and how to manage flexible seating throughout the entire school year.
My two biggest pieces of advice I have with flexible seating is, model, model, model, and model some more and learn how to let some things go. Let go of some of the control, let go of how things look and sound because trust me, it’s going to be different. But if you do let go, wonderful things can happen! Did I know know everything diving into this? No. Did things go wrong? Absolutely! Could things be different for your classroom? Yes. But in learning to let go, you’ll read how even when things went wrong, they turned out perfectly okay.
Acquiring Seat Choices
Seating options = magic. They can also equal a lot of money. However, there are many ways in which you can furnish your room on a budget. Donors Choose is an amazing tool where you can create a project to get funded (this is how I got a lot of my seats). Amazon is super convenient with 2-Day shipping (if you have Prime) and tons of options. Donors Choose even has a nice feature that allows you to pick out options from Amazon. Ikea has many cheap options that kids love. Hobby Lobby and Michaels often have their lap desks on sale and you can use their coupons that they always have available to save even more. Garage sales are also a great resource for finding seats that you can make your own with a little DIY project. I have collected different seat choices over the years and slowly built up the options I have so the cost didn’t overwhelm me. My best advice is to try and get as much funded as possible. If you have to pay yourself, look for sales and deals and slowly start to build up over time. I have included a list of some of my students’ favorites with links:
- Yoga Balls -I ended up buying the ones with the legs because the other ones rolled everywhere it and it drove me crazy.
- Wobble Stools – These are a bit pricey but they hold up well and the kids love them.
- Crate Seats – You’ll find the link to how I made mine. These hold up really well.
- Scoop Rockers – I bought these from Walmart when they were on sale.
- Lap Desks – Target has started selling these! I always look for whoever has the cheapest and best coupon. I think I ended up getting most of mine at Hobby Lobby because they always have a 40% off coupon you can use on 1 item.
- Regular Desks are also pretty popular with students. Sometimes they just like to sit in a regular desk and chair! Although, I do like to put these fidget bands on the chair legs for students to still help with the wiggles.
- Standing Desks are also pretty popular for students who don’t like sitting for long periods of time.
*These are the options that worked best in my classroom. Next year will probably be different just you’re your classroom will probably be different. Be open-minded to trying different options and see what works best with you and your students.
When deciding to implement flexible seating options in the classroom, organization of all things has to be thought about thoroughly.
- Will you have individual or classroom supplies? A combination of both?
- Where will students store their materials, books, folders and such?
- Where will you store different seat choices?
- How will students access seats and materials?
These are the kinds of questions I asked myself when prepping my classroom. I did a combination of individual and classroom supplies. Students used pencil boxes to store their personal materials and they doubled as their portable name plates to help them ensure they were able to spell their first and last name. (This was needed for first grade but may not be needed for others). Sterilite bins housed extra materials, such as scissors, glue, and crayons, which my students may need and they had access whenever they needed. To house the remaining student materials such as books, folders, and notebooks, each student had their own bin with their number on it. This also became the way students would choose their seat. Students would arrive, grab their bin for the day and place it at the spot they wanted. It was a first come first serve basis (this process is discussed later in teaching expectations). When deciding where to store seats, I knew that I wanted them to be spread out throughout the room so that students weren’t all going to the same place all at once. To start the year, I had different table options that would be “The Yoga Ball Table” or “The Wobble Stool Table”. If they wanted those choices, they would have to sit at that table. Other options, like scoop rockers or lap desks, were stored around the room that they could grab and find a spot. The tables later changed so that students could grab a seat and sit wherever they wanted to work. This set up worked for my classroom and my students. You may want things to look different for your students. It’s whatever you feel comfortable with. It’s ok if things don’t work out how you plan….. that’s usually how it goes anyway right? It’s ok if you have to change things around multiple times. The way I started the year with flexible seating, is not the way I ended the year. Things change but you and your students adapt and it’s all a learning experience. An experience that will push you farther than expected but so many great things happen because of it. The biggest mind shift in changing my classroom environment was so that it would be student centered and this is what helped my students thrive.
Materials to Teach Expectations
To ensure I was ready to teach ALL expectations for every seat to my students, a lot of behind the scenes prep took place. I gathered materials and picked resources that I felt would work best for me, but you may find something different that works for you and your classroom.
- Polka Dots Please has a great comprehensive resource that talks about Smart Spots. I love using that term with my students so they know that the seat they choose is a spot where they learn and work best. I printed and laminated all the spots I had and we went over them all. After reviewing them, I turned it into a book and kept it in our classroom library. My students loved reading it all year. She also includes a contract that I have the students sign at the beginning of the year after we have gone over all expectations.
- Just A Primary Girl also has a great editable resource that I loved using to write out all my expectations for each of the different seat choices I provide. I used the posters to explicitly teach about each seat. One management strategy I love using is to take real pictures of students following expectations. I would look for students following expectations in their seats, take their picture and put it right on the poster for students to see. She also has mini versions of each seat that can be used on a magnetic board for students to pick their spot.
All of this prep work I did over the summer to help myself be prepared for a successful flexible seating implementation. I am a huge proponent of setting up clear and precise expectations from day one. This has helped me successfully run my classroom for many years. I strongly believe that both of these resources truly helped my classroom be successful for the entire year. They provided awesome references that were super easy to review as needed.
So now that you have your seats, you’ve organized and set up your classroom, you have your materials to teach expectations for all your seating options, we’re ready to go teach right? Oddly enough, this is the moment when I totally panicked. I started wondering, “Where are they going to put all their stuff when they come in?” “Where are they going to sit on the first day of school?” “How in the world am I going to teach them how to use all these seats?!” Amongst a million more. Well I’m here to help you not panic!
First, let’s talk about meet the teacher and the first day of school. With flexible seating it looks MUCH different. Parents aren’t sure where to sit, siblings are playing with yoga balls, and it can get a bit chaotic. For meet the teacher, you might want to consider displaying a few seating choices for parents to see but mostly having chairs for everyone to sit on. Totally your choice! For the first day, I found it most effective to have students bring their backpack and everything right to the carpet, which is where we start out every morning. After getting to know each other, unloading and collecting supplies, we began to learn about a few seat choices. It was previously decided which seats would be introduced first, starting with the most basic like regular and standing desks. We went over our posters and students practiced what it looked like, whereas I would practice what it didn’t look like (students never model what it doesn’t look like). This is how I teach all of my classroom expectations: what it looks like, almost looks like, and never looks like. You can find more information about this in the Back to School Teacher Guide .
We spent the first week of school learning about different seats and practicing them. We always learned the same way. We would sit on the carpet together with our expectations poster and practiced what it looks like and doesn’t (again, only I practice what it doesn’t). We would discuss what seat choices we want and how we would use them. I would then randomly call on students in a way that everyone had a chance to get to pick a seat first. After picking seats, we would practice doing a low level activity, such as reading or a worksheet, to get students used to being in the seat. After all the seats have been taught, which usually takes about a week or so, I encourage students to try out each type of seat to see which they like and how they work best. We discuss how they may not like every seat and that’s ok. When introducing seats, we discuss the term “Smart Spots”. We discuss what a smart spot is and what it isn’t. We discuss that a smart spot does not mean a spot next to our friends. Instead, it’s a spot that we work best and that we want to sit in. With my group, we really had to discuss Smart Spots quite a bit there was A LOT of reminders on how they are not next to a friend. We also discuss that students get one warning and I’m very strict on this rule. ONE warning and then I can move them. They know that these seat choices are a privilege and can be taken away if not used correctly.
Let’s discuss how students choose their seats. Again, this is all up to you and what works best for your classroom. In our classroom, students had a personal bin that housed all of their materials. They would come in the door in the morning and put their bin at the spot they wanted to be at. Other students knew that they could not move that bin or that seat because it was taken. This process also took some practice after teaching students to really pay attention to other people’s belongings but this became pretty fluid. After a while, students knew exactly what to do when they came in during the morning. This also taught them that if they wasted time, they might not get the seat they wanted. Of course, even after all of the practicing and all of the modeling, everything will not be perfect. They’re kids! There will be arguing, upset people, and it’s ok. Many days were spent learning how to manage conflict. I really encouraged my students to share and be kind with one another. In the beginning of the year, a student might have come really wanting a yoga ball only to find that they’re all gone. I might ask my students if anyone is willing to give up a yoga ball, especially one who has already had the yoga ball that day or week. I would facilitate these solutions but over the year, most of the time students were able to handle this on their own. Here’s another scenario of managing conflict with kindness- John, Katie, and Michael have their bins in front of the Wobble Stools. Lucy didn’t pay attention and put her in bin front of one too even though there aren’t any left. Now it’s time to get started and there is an argument about who can sit there. What do you do? 9 out of 10 times someone will just move somewhere else with no problem because they know someone would do the same for them and they know they will get another opportunity to sit there. You must really model this with students and praise students when they do this to help encourage this behavior. It’s all about modeling kindness and fairness and helping students manage conflicts on their own. Yes, first graders can do this!!
The biggest take away here is… MODEL, MODEL, MODEL! Be very explicit with your students so they know exactly what it looks like and exactly what it doesn’t look like. Just like with any classroom expectations, be firm and consistent! Flexible seating is a new challenge but so worth it. Students love being given choices and you will be amazed at what they can do when they’re empowered to do it. I believe if this works with my firsties, this can definitely work with your kiddos! If you’re looking for more beginning of the year tips and set up, you’ll love the Back to School Teacher Guide I discussed earlier. I go through every detail of setting up a classroom to help you successfully set up and have a smoothly run classroom. Even if you’re a veteran teacher this guide can still help you think about things you may not have before!
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