Alternative Classroom Seating

Saturday, October 31, 2015

UPDATE: This post has received so much amazing feedback so I've reached out to Dawn & Carla to answer some of your questions. Please note, the pictures below are from Dawn & Carla's classrooms, these are not pictures from my classroom.

Lately I keep seeing blogs, instagram posts and tweets about teachers who are using alternative seating in their elementary classrooms. Naturally, I wanted to try it out. But, for the first time in a while I thought to myself, "Hey Melanie! Maybe you should research this before you go full steam ahead." So what better way to research alternative classroom seating than to talk to teachers who actually DO this in their classroom?

First, let's take a minute to meet the teachers who shared all of their best ideas with me! 

Meet Dawn - She is a first grade teacher who has also spent time working as a reading specialist, a title teacher, a 2nd and 4th grade teacher. Dawn is a tech lover and dreams of attending the Ron Clark Academy (don't we all?!). When Dawn is not teaching she is focused on being the best dog mom and tennis player.

Meet Carla - "My name is Carla Ryan and this is my 6th year teaching 2nd grade. I teach in Virginia Beach, Virginia at the same Elementary School I went to when I was a kid! This year we were selected to be a digital anchor school, so every child is 1:1 with technology. We have laptops in my room this year which has been a fun learning experience."
You can follow Carla on Twitter @MrsRyans2ndgr.

So I asked my 10 most burning questions to 2 fabulous teachers. Take a look at part 1 of a 2 part series. 

1. What seating options do you have available for your students?

Dawn: "I currently have 13 yoga balls. In addition, I have two little IKEA tables with 4 small kids yoga balls and 2 IKEA stools. I have a tall bar table, with 2 bar stools (donated from Krogers of all places because I loved the color) and room for another student to stand. I also lowered one desk to the floor and they can sit on a pillow or feet stretched out. 3 short stools. 3 poufs and two pillows that students can move around to a comfy spot. My meeting area is two big rugs. I also have a small ottoman (wasn't using at my house). Kids also love to lay stretched out on the floor with clipboards."

Carla: "In my classroom I offer students a choice between floor pillows, stools, crate seats, and regular desk chairs. Students are also free to work on the floor if the activity permits. I have clipboards available for students to use if they choose to work on one of the rugs in my room. In the beginning of the year I also had several individual desks for students who prefer to work by themselves. I found that this year my students prefer to work in groups so I got rid of the desks. However another teacher in my school who is doing flexible seating says that her individual desks are one of the more popular choices! See what works for your class, each grouping of students is different."

2. How did you get your hands on all of these unique items?

Dawn: "I started last year with trying yoga balls! I bought 1 yoga ball and let kids try it and wrote a letter to families last year with research as to why kids need to exercise, move, how it helps them concentrate, and included the fact that we only have 1 recess a day after lunch. I had 35 yoga balls donated within a week! A few families sent in money for me to get them. All sizes and colors. I found that 5 Below was the cheapest and cutest at $5 each. I got rid of half of my school chairs.
The school year was coming to and end and I realized that just switching to yoga balls met some of our needs but wasn't the right choice for everyone. I kept 13 balls (I have 26 kids this year) and sent on the rest to second grade so my kids could still use them.

I wrote a grant for $100:

  • 3 short stools $5 each
  • Bar table from ikea $25
  • Pillows from target on sale total $20
  • 2 rugs from ikea $20 each
Target gives out $25 gift cards to teachers frequently. I have no problem asking companies if they will donate to me. The worse they can say is no. And of course my paycheck. I had a couple things at my house I wasn't using. It's important to note I got rid of some random tables, two big file cabinets that were not used, a giant reading table. And I did not have an official teacher desk. I use a table that my computer sets on. One goal I had was to create more space."

UPDATE: Many of you have been asking how Dawn was able to get gift cards from Target. She says... 

"As far as the Target gift card, Target has a donation request form at their Customer Service Counter. It was a quick and painless form. They accepted it on the spot. Lot's of places love to donate to teachers, you just have to ask. I'm not afraid to get a 'no!' I ask for donations for everything (local florist for Open House flowers, free movie tickets to pass out to students as rewards, seeds and soil for the spring science lesson, etc.)

I also have written a few grants for various supplies and received them all. I am waiting for 10 ErgoErgo chairs to be delivered from the latest grant. 

Parents are more than willing to help too. The district I am in is high free or reduced but I wrote a letter about the benefits of alternative seating and I had so many yoga balls donated in a week. I gave 30 to another teacher in my school. I let the family send in $5 or bring in balls from Five Below, whatever was easiest for them. I was also able to purchase a couple of Wiggle Cushions from Amazon with the money. I had the custodian lower the legs on a table and the Wiggle Cushions are on the floor."

UPDATE: These stools can be found at Five Below.

Carla: "The seating I have accumulated over the past few years. I already had some stools (from cvs, and ikea) that I used at my guided reading table and computer table. The crate seats I made to keep in my classroom library. This year the only purchase I made was 4 pillows from Five Below. Those I used at a lower table in my room. I plan to set up a gofundme or donorschoose project to purchase some yoga balls later this year. I would say that thrift stores, and donations from teacher and parents of old chairs/seats would be the easiest place to start."

Learn about how to fund a successful DonorsChoose project here.

3. How do you introduce alternative seating to your students at the beginning of the year?

Dawn: "We talk a lot about expectations, and how learning looks and sounds. We talk about how our learning space makes us learn better. I model, model, model. They know if they do not make responsible choices."

Carla: "During teacher meet and greet prior to school starting, students were able to come into the classroom and see the different seating options. This allowed me to explain the concept to parents and prepare the students. On the first day I had name tags out at each seat. I explained to students that this was their seat for the day. After morning meeting, one of the first things I did was to model sitting at each of the different seats. I had students model how to sit on the pillows, and stools. We talked about not leaning back while sitting on the stools, or lying down on the pillows etc. Each day for the first week I put the students at different tables. This way in the first week they got multiple opportunities to sit at each table. I also stressed that they would get plenty of chances to sit in the different areas throughout the year. They were to think about where they learned best. Starting the second week I would let students sit anywhere during morning work. Then each time we moved from the rug to the desks I would call rows on my rug and say "Blue row you may choose a spot where you learn best....Red row you may choose a spot..etc" Now students don't even need me to say this they just choose an empty spot and get to work."

4. Do you have clear rules/expectations for picking a work spot? If so, what are they?

Dawn: "I told them that not all seating is the best for everyone. I told them I thought I would like the big stools best but didn't like that my feet didn't touch the ground. Our yoga ball rules are: little wiggles only, keep sharp objects away, two feet on the floor. If they choose to sit around the room, they must be in their own personal space (unless it is a partner activity)."

Carla: "In the beginning of the year I stressed that if there was fighting over the seats, then the seats would go away. Students saw how many opportunities they had to sit in the different areas so this has not been an issue for me. I also stressed to students that they should choose a spot where THEY learn best. I have had to say that some students are no longer to sit at the same table. Some students just cannot resist sitting by a friend that they constantly get in trouble with even after reminders. In the very beginning I told students they could not sit at the same table more than once during a day (we move from the tables to the rug several times during the day). However now I find that I no longer need to enforce that rule as the students just choose empty spots without issue. Also keep in mind that not every student will always be able to handle making these choices. Going into this I was fully prepared to assign some of my "behavior challenges" to specific seats. I occasionally remind students that making choices is a privilege, and will be taken away if they cannot handle it. Fortunately this has not been an issue this year, however had I used flexible seating in years past it might have been a different story. :)"

5. Do students ever "fight" over spots?

Dawn: "I have enough awesome comfy spots they seem happy."

Carla: "Only a few times have I had students fight over spots. I simply remind them that if they fight over the spots the entire seating choice (stools, crates, pillows, etc) will go away. Once or twice I have had to tell students who were arguing that both students needed to find a different seat. This really has been a non issue in my classroom. I think the key is allowing them to change seats frequently and to provide enough options so that there isn't "one table" with fun seating. I have 1 pillow table, 2 crate seat tables, 1 stool table, and 2 regular chair tables."

Be sure to check out part two of this series. In our next post Dawn and Carla will answer the following questions:

6. How do parents respond to it? Do you do anything to explain it to them?
7. Where do the kids keep all their stuff?
8. Do you still have a meeting place (carpet) for mini-lessons?
9. What do  other teachers in your building think of your set up?
10. What is your best advice to a teacher who wants to try alternative seating?

Do you use alternative seating in your classroom? I'd love to hear from you too!

UPDATE: Some other questions that came up were about end of year testing, class parties and transitions. 

  • State Testing
    • Carla says, "For end of the year state testing in 2nd grade we do not have to take the VA SOL test. Instead we take quarterly citywide tests. For those tests (or any tests) I give in my room students simply choose a seat and put up 'offices' their dividers. Students are not allowed to sit on the rug and must remain seated and quiet until all 'offices' are down. To make these offices I purchased tri-fold display boards from the dollar store and cut them in half. So far the offices are going strong on their 4th year! This may be different in upper grades who do state wide testing, as I'm not sure what the regulations are but for me it hasn't been an issue."
  • Class Parties
    • Carla says, "For class parties we simply clear off the table boxes and party! Often parents will set up food on my back horseshoe table and again students can sit at any table for the party. I do have more seating options at tables than students in my room so each child does have a table spot at all times. This would be much more difficult if you relied on carpet spots in your total number of seats."
  • Transitions
    • Carla says, "For transitions I often play short music clips. Students clean up prior to the music ending. I will announce before I play music 'rug' or 'table'. Then the students know where to go when the music is over, again during this time they know if I say 'table' students must choose a table spots and cannot sit in the scoop rockers on the rug, for example. The only issue I have had is when we have push in specialists, ex. gifted or guidance. They would make a big deal about the kids having to work with groups or in partners before they choose their seats. This then caused students to rush to find seats with their friends. I spoke to the specialists and asked them to dismiss students from the rug first, and then give instructions so they were not rushing to create groups."
    • Dawn says, "In my grade we did switch for Social Studies, Science, etc. The other teachers had traditional seats so I always needed to talk about expectations when a new class came. I did a lot of modeling! I would catch my students using the seating appropriately and take pictures to show the other students."


  1. You have awesome ideas. I would love to see Part 2. I am really interested in using this.

  2. Where did you get the 2 green rocker chairs?

    1. They have those at walmart for only $5! I just saw some the other day but seem small for my fourth graders.

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  3. Interesting that you said Target gives out giftcards to teachers? How do you go about getting those?

  4. I also wonder about the Target giftcards and how you find out about them. Where did you get the stools for $5 that are posted in the picture?

  5. These are great ideas. However, make sure to decide how much the chairs will be used. I teach art and started working at a different school this past year. Every seat in the room was the 5 dollar stools from ikea. They were less than a few months old when I started there.They were incredibly flimsy. I had 7 out of 30 chairs break while the students sat in them. While they look really cool and are fun they were certainly not suitable or stable enough for the amount of students that I taught each day.just be careful. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

    1. I tied ribbon through the holes, and my broken stools are now usable again. We used them that way all last year. Simple and easy fix. Expecially if you buy the inexpensive buto cute ribbon at Sams Club

  6. I appreciate these helpful comments and I like the pictures of the classroom. Is there a teacher's desk in that photo? I have a very small work station, but do not have a formal desk. I love student choice, but also feel this will help with space limitations. It really seems like a great choice. I am wondering about transitions and storage. Thanks!

    1. My students switch classes for math and ELA as well as content classes. I am really interested in your thoughts about this challenge. Thanks!

  7. Do you have sample charts that you use for each type of flexible seating to go over expectations?

  8. What grants did you get for the ErgoErgo seats?

  9. 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!!

  10. How are the stools from Five Below holding up? I paid $60 for 5 of them through Amazon thanks to funding but I would like to get more. Thank you!

  11. Do you have a copy of the letter you sent to parents?

  12. I teach 3rd grade and will love to try this. But I'm a bit concerned when it comes to state testing. What do you do in this case.

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