The Truth About Alternative Seating

Ya'll, I am going to be real with you: alternative seating is not for everyone. As many of you know, last summer I did a Donor's Choose project for alternative seating in my classroom. I had done my research on the effectiveness, I had chosen a plethora of seating options, and I was ready to dive in head first!

I was thrilled to have ALL.THE.COLORS. that matched perfectly with my classroom decor. See- look how wonderful it all came together!


So, my 2nd graders filed in and were THRILLED to have landed in Mrs. Bright's class. Mrs. Bright had the cool chairs, Mrs. Bright had tables with exercise balls! Thank you, Mrs. Bright for understanding that my seven year old son needs to wiggle.

Yes, all of these things were said, and yes they are were true. But, what I didn't take into account was the newness as a whole both for me and for my students... but I will get back to that. I also didn't take into account that SOME alternative seating may have been easier to manage than ALL alternative seating. You see, I wanted to dive in and I needed my kids to quickly learn about each seating arrangement because, umm, where were they going to sit in the mean time? So, by the end of week 1, my students were sitting in wobble chairs, ball chairs, bean bags, and beach chairs. NEWS FLASH: THAT'S WAY TOO MANY OPTIONS AFTER ONLY 5 DAYS OF SCHOOL. 

 But, what about the research I did? I couldn't give up on the thousand dollar transformation I gave my classroom. I had to make it work. So, what did I do? I allowed my students to learn about the final few seating options in week 2.  That was a terrible idea. 

Don't get me wrong, my students absolutely loved it. They loved the freedom, they loved to be able to wiggle and not get in trouble. But the research I did about students being more attentive- I felt like they were just as attentive and engaged in years past. I thought I was losing every last bit of teacher mind I had left.

See, before I transformed my room into an alternative seating chaotic classroom, I still allowed my students to move around the room during centers and independent or partner work time. I was totally fine with laying on bellies, or grabbing clipboards and working practically anywhere in the classroom. So, as I mentioned before, the newness of the idea of alternative seating was something both I had to get used to, but also something my students had to get used to. My group of students were a rowdy bunch- one of my favorite classes, but rowdy nonetheless. I thought we had modeled, modeled, and modeled some more the expectations of the seating. I allowed my students to choose their seats every Monday morning. Some of my students chose the ball chairs each Monday if they had earned first choice. (They earned it based on turned in work, clip chart choices, and being a respectful student outside of our classroom walls). The problem was, the students that really needed to wiggle and the ones who became overstimulated quickly were the ones choosing last each week. I had one particular student who NEEDED to be in a ball chair. He needed to wiggle, he needed to be active. He barely ever earned the ball chair based on the above criteria. I didn't want him on a ball chair, or any chair for that matter, because of his destructive tendencies. I felt like I was fighting a losing battle.

So, I guess what I am saying is alternative seating was not for me. I felt overwhelmed, I felt like I was constantly blowing up exercise ball chairs, and replacing beans in the bean bag chairs. I felt like I had gone through a rather large classroom transformation that was not reaping the benefits I had read about the previous summer. I know now that I rushed into the seating, and lacked the procedural practice this kind of change desperately needs. I needed to allow myself to change back.

As I head to a brand new school, at a brand new grade level (first grade :)), I will take with me a few alternative seating thoughts:
-students can sit and work anywhere in the room
-students should have a seat to call their own, one that won't be "taken" from them each Monday
-it's ok to try something and not completely fall in love with it, it doesn't make you or the people who use that strategy bad teachers
-DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU- A CONFIDENT AND COMFORTABLE TEACHER CREATES CONFIDENT AND COMFORTABLE STUDENTS 

So you've read through this post and may be wondering what I plan on doing with the Donor's Choose alternative seating I have. Don't worry, it will still be used in my classroom. I don't have as many choices as are seen in the picture above. Some of the items were worn out or just plain nasty. But, some of the bean bag chairs will be in our math centers, some of the ball chairs will be used at small group, or with particular students that need them.

The truth about alternative seating is it's not for everyone, and sometimes heading back to the basics are just as effective. 

17 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I am not ready to jump in with both feet making alternative seating available to all students, but I do plan to make some new options available to my students. They don't spend much time in their seats anyway because we do so much partner and group work. I appreciate you sharing your experience so I can learn from it if I do decide to go total class alternative seating.

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    1. Melissa, I am glad you found this post helpful. It is definitely something that is do-able, but I think you are on the right track as far as slow and steady wins the race!

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  2. I have been using ball chairs in my classroom for the last 3 years. I have 3 different size ball chairs and for a total of nine chairs. Because I don't have enough for everyone we rotate them every 3 days. When it is time to switch I pull numbers and students pick the ball chair they want to sit on. They have the option of not taking a ball chair. Last year I had several students who didn't like them or only preferred to sit on size so if it wasn't available they remained in their regular desk chair. My problem came when the balls would get a hole in them and loose air. I haven't been able to find a way to mend the chairs. If you have something that works for you I would love to give it a try!

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    1. Yes! I was unable to find a way to mend them too. Especially the ones that fit in the little chair frames. I ended up buying 8 ball chairs from 5 Below since they were only $5 so if they popped, I didn't stress so much. But those other ball chairs are still unusable because I feel like I have tried everything!

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  3. I went deskless this past year and I too put up a donors choose project to get some other seating for my classroom. I am glad I kept it simple - puzzle tiles and seat cushions. (I did keep 3 desks and 2 reading tables.) I mainly kept it simple because I don't have a large room and I don't have a lot of storage space.
    I currently have a donors choose project up now for hokki stools for one of my reading tables.
    Baby steps :-)

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    1. Baby steps are my exact advice, Stacey! What is your Donor's Choose project name? I'd love to search for it and donate. :)

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  4. I have about 8 of these cushions and several kids each year buy their own. With that and clipboards allowing kids to move around we are doing pretty well. I do want to raise a table or few desks for a standing option when some just need that. https://www.amazon.com/Yes4All-Stability-Disc-13-Purple/dp/B00IYZFFOY?ie=UTF8&qid=1437546480&ref_=sr_1_15&s=sporting-goods&sr=1-15

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    1. Laurie, great ideas! I have heard a lot of people going to the stability discs you are talking about. Simple enough, but effective for wiggles- I like it!

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  5. I'm so glad to read this! I wrote a grant to try to get alternative seating and it was not funded. I am so bummed about it, but this makes me feel better. Maybe just getting a few alternative seating option would be better instead of the whole room I was planning. Now, what to choose...

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    1. Denice,
      Thanks so much for reading. I am glad I could help you feel at ease. I would absolutely take it slow and just start with some bean bag chairs or exercise balls. Best of luck to you, and take it slow :)

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  6. Thanks for sharing this! I too have slowly transitioned into alternative seating in a formal sense (always allowed movement as you did) & am anxious about it. I have 2 cushions, 4 ball chairs , and 2 wobble seats- wobble chairs/balls will be at my teacher rotation table for a while as we practice proper use/decide what seating is best for me (DC project open for 6 more chairs) morehttps://www.donorschoose.org/project/lets-get-moving-flexible-seating/2049765/?rf=link-siteshare-2016-07-teacher-teacher_2960604&challengeid=20595550

    I replaced 12 desks with tables (computers are holding some of the desks should I need them back). Hoping everything runs smoothly with the changes. I'm only teaching math/ss/sciene, so I'm not terribly concerned with my homeroom feeling like they need a permanent spot (they will moved between my teammate and myself).

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    1. Erin,
      It looks like you are off to a great start! Best of luck to you- remember to do what works best for you and your students.

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  7. Thanks for the informative blog post! My students have desks, but I also allow them to sit around the room during work time and I have exercise balls, bean bag chairs, comfy seating, etc. Our desks are also on wheels which is amazing for those students who really enjoy the focus of sitting at a desk but want to pick their place in the room. Anyway, I really related to this and I think what you've put into practice is really great.

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    1. Thanks so much! Your classroom sounds similar to mine as far as seating for this upcoming school year. I am glad your kiddos are still having a sense of ownership and choice. Best of luck to you!

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  8. I appreciate your post. I slowly rolled out my flexible seating last year and it worked like a charm. I teach 1st Grade and we started the beginning of the year all in desks and actually all facing forward. I like that for the first couple weeks to get to know their faces, attention or lack there of, to see who needs to sit close to the board, see who can & can't transpose from the board, identify my standers, rockers, etc. Then I moved the desks into collaborative groups of 6 and introduced 6 stability balls, a stander table that accommodated 6, and a floor table that accommodated 4, and lots of clipboards for on the carpet. I rotated each group through the different seating for 1 week at a time (floor table meant each day 2 different people used a clipboard on the carpet). Then I introduced box seats and scooper seats. Then for a few weeks I drew sticks with students' names and allowed them to choose their seating & encouraged them to try out something new each day. Then for a few weeks I let all students in one group at a time choose seating each day. Then for a couple weeks, students came in and moved their name magnet into the seating they wanted. There were seating options on the board with the number of students that could choose that option, and students had that choice for the day. So after 2 1/2 months, then finally students just came in and grabbed what they wanted, moved, wherever & whatever they needed; and they could change during the day. I gradually released control, but I felt good in that fact that students had opportunity to try everything out and find what works best for them and I could definitely see what was good or not so good for students, as well. The students loved choice. Although it went well last year, this year I'm wanting to get rid of a lot of my desks and that makes me nervous starting differently.

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    1. Kelly- what a great plan you had last year. Looking back, I just jumped in too quickly. I am glad you slowly introduced everything and each kiddo could try out each type of seating. Good luck on your transition to less desks. Let me know how it goes!

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  9. I started my alternative seating last year much like Kelly Karakas did - very slowly and with caution! Lol! I teach first grade and I didn't feel that they were developmentally ready until the second half of the year. Choosing your own place to learn and who to learn by is a big decision for 6 year olds!

    This year, I have a class that is still develpmentally young, active to the point of distraction, and very talkative. I put the seating into place just like I did last year and it has been a disaster! This class (as a whole) is just not ready and most likely will not be ready this year. I am planning on taking it back out - not as a punishment - but because it is causing more difficulty for them then good. It is hurting their social relationships and they are having a hard time settling and working. I will still encourage movement - math centers, science centers, a just right reading spot, etc but I believe each kid still needs a home base. Some years it just won't work! I will try again next year with my new class (or maybe I won't! I've seen that Kinder group! ) :o)

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