The Flexible Classroom Seating Setup

Picture a traditional classroom. What do you see? Likely a blackboard at the front, next to a large teacher’s desk. On the teacher’s desk, of course, is an apple. The students’ desks are smaller, lined up in rows. Students sit at attention, their eyes on the teacher or they are working furiously. Ultimately, not a very flexible setting. Maybe you picture the classroom in A Christmas Story where Ralphie is dreaming of his Red Rider BB gun. Remember the drawer? Pretty much every teacher has one.

Who’s doing it?

With the exception of ‘that drawer’ modern classrooms are changing. Today, Oxnard School District, in Ventura County, California, is piloting a program where classrooms are anything but traditional. Children in their district who struggle to regulate their emotions attend a therapeutic classroom so that they can learn the skills they need to transition back to the regular classroom. This therapeutic classroom has a variety of places for kids to sit, from bean bags to couches, table, places to stand, and even a separate ‘quiet room’ where kids can go to calm down.

An increasing number of teachers are using a variety of seating arrangements to address the diverse needs of their students.

Sadly, we don’t all have space or resources to make all of our classrooms therapeutic. This change can be a bit overwhelming for many teachers; not to mention a little intimidating when it comes to the management aspect. However, all these challenges can be addressed.

Before you commit to the lifestyle

Focus on Goals: So, where should you start? Well, that all depends on what you want to accomplish. Do your students do a lot of group work? Do they need a space to work independently? A little of both? Do you need a place for direct instruction as a whole group, or will a small group only suffice? Again, just you can make these decisions so decide what to implement based on how you want your class to function.

Small Changes: You’ve probably already implemented ‘nontraditional’ changes to your classroom. Probably the first pioneer out of the ‘desks in rows’ tradition happened when a teacher decided to push some tables together to make a group. Nowadays, many teachers don’t even have desks, opting instead for their students to sit at tables all of the time. The great thing about tables is that students can talk and work together. Small changes have the ability to make a huge impact on the students– especially with their ability to focus. However, there are drawbacks about this seating arrangement (all seating arrangements have their own disadvantages,), especially for easily distracted students.

Incorporate Variety: The bad thing about tables is that students can talk. If a student needs to take a test or read quietly, or is easily distracted by others, they may need a more private space. However, no one needs to sit alone all day, and all kids need to work with others sometimes. This is why many teachers with flexible seating arrangements opt for variety. Perhaps some tables for group work, some desks for individual work, and a big carpet for whole group instruction.

Seating Choices– think outside the box. Many different seating choices may work for your classroom:

    • Cushions: These can be moved around and don’t take too much space to store. They are also pretty inexpensive.
    • The Floor: Sitting on the floor can be an excellent option for certain periods of time.
    • Scoop Chairs: These chairs are a more modern version of the old banana chairs. Ideal for little kids. They rock which can be helpful for kids who need to move. The chairs can be easily stored & thankfully, aren’t too expensive.
    • Wiggle Chairs: These are stools with a base that allows the child to move around or ‘wiggle.’ These a great solution for kids who focus best when they can move around a bit.
    • Exercise balls: Exercise balls provide a lot of movement opportunities for children as well. They are a bit more expensive though and may take more procedural teaching than other forms of seating
    • Stools: A tall stool at a tall desk gives a child the option to alternate between standing and sitting in the same space.


How flexible?

Give the Students a Say: Listen to the students’ opinions, let them make choices, and let them be partners in learning. One article from Edutopia explains how an ambitious study of 153 classrooms in the United Kingdom provides the best evidence that flexible spaces can boost academic performance. While some children focus best sitting at a table or desk, others focus better on other seating arrangements. Let children try many out and guide them to find what is best for them. Encourage them to honestly choose what helps them learn best, not just what is the most fun.

Keep in mind that there is no ‘right’ way to incorporate flexible seating into your classroom and it isn’t an all or nothing approach. Only you know what will work best for you and your students.

At the end of the day…

  • Don’t do too much at once: If you only have tables now, maybe try adding some scoop chairs or cushions and just let your students use them at specific times of the day, then expand as time goes on. If you change your seating entirely all at once, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed and then give up and go back to traditional seating.
  • Teach procedures: It’s essential to set expectations for students’ use of flexible seating arrangements. Make sure students know how to manage their seating choices and provide modeling and practice for them.
  • Give feedback: Discuss what is and isn’t working with your students. Help guide them to make good choices so that they can find a seating arrangement that works best for them.

By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

The Stanfield Way

The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.

Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.

Stanfield Special Education Curriculum

VideoModeling® Programs

VideoModeling® is a ground-breaking teaching concept originated by the James Stanfield Company that’s used in thousands of public and private schools across America and Canada for special education needs.

Read More
Journaling, mediation, and intentional talk aren’t just for adults. 5 ways we can facilitate healthy management of mental health in our children.

James Stanfield Co.

Stanfield Special Education Curriculum

My students were glued to the screen. Love Stanfield’s humor. This is the way to teach social skills.

Susan Simon, Principal

Using Humor to Teach Social Skills

Humor = Retention

We believe you learn best when you laugh. By making the classroom experience more comfortable and enjoyable, humor can make teaching and learning more effective, especially for the K12 segment. At Stanfield, we use humor as an integral part of our curricula.

If you as a speaker don’t help your audience to remember your lessons, then you’re wasting everyone’s time. Humor… can help accomplish that needed retention…

Gean Perret, Screenwriter
Learn more
Newsletter Image
Newsletter Image
Sign Up to receive news alerts, special offers & promotions.
Sign up now!

As a thank you for signing up for emails, you’ll have advance notification of exclusive offers, new offerings, and more.