Teaching

Do Classrooms Need Yoga Balls and Bean Bag Chairs? Teachers Weigh in on Flexible Seating

By Caitlyn Meisner — August 17, 2023 3 min read
Robbi Giuliano teaches her fifth grade class as they sit on yoga balls at Westtown-Thornbury Elementary School on Feb. 4, 2013, in West Chester, Pa. Replacing stationary seats with inflatable bouncers has raised productivity in her fifth-graders, making students better able to focus on lessons while improving their balance and core strength, she said.
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Flexible seating options have been trending in classrooms for students of all ages in the past few years. Instead of requiring students to sit, sometimes for hours at a time, at traditional desks and chairs, educators have experimented with all types of student seating options: Repurposed tires, bean bags, yoga balls, and couch cushions are just a few examples.

These options have been found in studies to increase student engagement.With flexible seating, students can choose where they sit, which can allow them a greater sense of control over their own learning environment.

“It’s beneficial, so incorporate it where you can,” said Kia B. from a recent post on Education Week’s Facebook site. “Most of us won’t be able to ONLY have flexible seating but having a few to rotate or use as incentives can be great.”

A 2019 Education Week opinion piece resurfaced on social media last week, which sparked dozens of fresh comments on flexible seating. But these innovative classroom arrangements may not be for every classroom. Educators across the country weighed in on the idea’s affordability, space restrictions, and other practical issues that present challenges for using these options. Here’s a roundup of their thoughts.

Footing the bill

Some educators pointed to the cost of providing extra seating in the classroom, which can be expensive and add to the hefty out-of-pocket expenses teachers already have.

“Yes, flexible seating can be great but not if teachers must buy or create with their own money. Few receive grants, most pay initial price, cost of upkeep and cleaning cost.”

Wendy L.

“There are grants out there like she used and I was able to get. Target has lap desks and those round floor cushions this year. Points from Scholastic book clubs can be used towards it. When parents asked what can I do or get to help…? Thrift stores?”

Mary Jo R.

“If schools aren’t willing to pay... In what other profession would I need to write a grant proposal to get appropriate seating for myself, my team, etc? If this is what is “needed” for kids to learn, school boards should financially support it.”

Michele L.

Squeezed for space

Educators emphasized how tight classrooms can be, leaving only enough room for district-provided desks and chairs.

“No room for flexible seating anymore unless they all sit on the floor. Have to fit everyone into a small classroom like puzzle pieces to make it work.”

Elaine R.

“Does anyone actually have a classroom that big?”

Joelle B.

“On my campus I must keep the furniture assigned to my room so there is no room for anything else.”

Patricia L.

Not fit for older students

Educators also pointed out that flexible seating options may only cater toward younger children and their learning habits.

“I just struggle to find flexible seating meant for older kids! They are still kids but in more adult bodies, they want fun chairs too!”

Taylor B.

“I was given 3 standing desks with dry erase desktops for my HS classroom. The students seem more interested in the desk surface than the standing aspect, so is it really about the flexible “seating” or the novelty? And what are colleges doing? Are we setting unreal expectations?”

Michele L.

Possible complications

Flexible seating can be a great alternative for some students, but educators said this might give way to social and physical challenges in the classroom.

“How do you keep kids from sitting with friends and just goofing off all class? Tried it and this was a huge issue.”

Amanda B.

“My students who receive special education services are much more successful with a consistent seating routine. Even if they have the same seat, having the other kids switch around all the time can be distracting.”

Theresa E.

“Some of my [special education needs] kids have had proper meltdowns because of flexible seating. They can’t cope with some of the personalities of pupils and the constant switching around which changes the classroom setting dramatically for them on an hourly basis. My seating plan is so carefully constructed to avoid this.”

Kate W.

“Fire regulations don’t allow for us to have anything that isn’t purchased by the school or fabric that isn’t flame retardant. This includes all the fabric I had to remove from my bulletin boards and throw away along with curtains I made.”

Jennifer T.

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