Dear Lord Baby Jesus,
Please make this flexible seating thing work. Please help my students not feel homeless. Please help me find a place to store everything. Please help me figure out how to incorporate comfy spots into my seating. And finally, Lord Baby Jesus, please help me not go crazy trying to figure it all out.
I may have prayed this prayer a few times while I sat in my newly redesigned classroom. If you missed my classroom redesign you can check it out here: https://levelupbychristinecullen.com/2016/05/30/the-new-f-word-my-journey-through-flexible-seating/
Designing my classroom was just the beginning of my stress. I had these new tables, couches, and comfy chairs. Was I just going to let a child come in and sit at a couch for the day??? I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that. What would kids do on the first day of school? Here are the major decisions that I made to help make flexible seating work for my room:
Helping Kids not Feel Homeless
- At back to school night kids chose their spot for the first day. They placed their name tag at the spot. I was worried that this would stress kids out. They loved it!!!
- Each day kids had to choose a different spot. I was worried that there would be a couple of favorite spots in the class and the kids would fight over them. They really didn’t. They wanted to experience the different areas of the room.
- I created sub spots. This was important because I could provide subs with a seating chart. Kids knew what to expect when a sub was in the room. I was also able to use these spots on days I needed extra behavior support.
- Book bags were my biggest concern. They wouldn’t fit in cubbies. They wouldn’t fit in mailboxes. I wanted my kids to have easy access to them. You might not have book bags, but you might have something similar. I decided to have 2 kids share each of my regular desks for storage. They could each put their book bag in the desk and easily get to it when needed.
- Five words will make flexible seating easier: Be nice to the custodians! I was able to get an extra set of mailboxes because I said, “Pretty please!” This helped because I had kids store their binders and iPads there. In actuality, I could have done without the extra storage. However, it eased my stress about storage.
- I had kids store everything else in their cubby. Each morning they brought their name tag and pencil box to the desk they chose.
Comfy Spots and Tables
- I decided to use my comfy spots and my tables as part of our center rotations for both reading and math. It worked beautifully! It allowed students to have choice in a structured way. I am a one to one classroom. Each of my students have an iPad. Therefore, the comfy spots were where kids went during their technology rotation. The table spots became where the kids went for their partner work rotation. During independent work the students sat in the regular desks. I have never loved set rotations, until this year! The noise from partner work was spread out because my tables were spread out. Kids got to experience the comfy spots at least twice a day. The kids were happier and more engaged.
- Students could choose a table spot as their “spot” for the day. However, I did not have kids come in and just sit at a couch all day. I still can’t wrap my head around that.
The Mishaps that Did Drive Me Crazy (on the first day of school)!
- I know you may find this hard to believe, but my most rambunctious boys all managed to sit at my low table on the first day. It was like a moth to a flame. Oh, the fun they had! Rolling under the table, hitting each other with the pillows that were meant for sitting on, using the shared supplies on the table for sword fights, all while I was trying to greet new students who were walking into class and trying to prevent tears. I will let you decide whose tears I was trying to prevent.
- Pencil Box Insanity- Each time I started to give new directions, I had kids digging through their pencil boxes and checking out their new supplies. There was no, “out of sight, out of mind.” The supplies were definitely on their mind because they were sitting right in front of them.
- The stomping of the pillows…oh the horror! You think to tell kids to push in their chairs. I did not think about teaching kids to push in the pillows they were sitting on. The first time we transitioned, I watched all my brand new pillows get shoe prints from each child that walked by.
Fixing the Mishaps
- Next year I think I will start the year with sub spots. The kids loved picking their spots on back to school night. However, it gave me no chance to separate behaviors. It turns out, that is important when you also have not had a chance to discuss expectations.
- Forget shared supplies on their desks (markers, glue, Kleenex). By the second day of school, I had emptied all my tubs that were sitting on the desks and tables. The tubs became the homes for our pencil boxes. This helped a great deal with kids always wanting to get into their pencil boxes. It also got them out of the way during rotations.
- Save the pillows! I am not going to start with the pillows on the floor. Their first grade bottoms will be fine until we can discuss expectations. No, they are not used for pillow fights. No, we do not step on them. Yes, we push them under our table or desk just like a chair.
Once expectations had been set, the kids did fantastic. I encouraged certain students to sit with each other by pointing out what amazing learning partners they were. I also moved kids frequently. “I can tell we are going to have a hard time being great learning partners today. Let’s find a new spot. Do you think tomorrow you can think about that choice, so I don’t have to think about it for you?” Those were my famous words and it turns out the kids really did think about it. Sometimes they set out to prove to me that they could handle sitting with their friend, and other times they avoided sitting together. Both options created students who were taking responsibility for their learning.
Nobody’s mishaps with flexible seating will be the same. The important thing for me was that I found easy fixes. Once I jumped in, I could see what didn’t work. I might need to fix different things next year because I will have a different group of kids. However, as teachers we wouldn’t know what to do if we didn’t have to change things each year!