Flexible Seating for a Collaborative Classroom

Flexible seating classroom with classroom tables

…The teachers have nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of bulletin boards, classroom set-ups, and flexible seating danced in their heads. That sounds about right as we head into the busy back-to-school season! Teachers everywhere are busy setting up their classrooms and turning their four walls into a magical learning environment that inspires and welcomes their students. Part of setting up a classroom involves the design of the room- particularly, flexible seating options. What is a flexible seating classroom? A classroom with flexible seating includes a variety of seating options that the students can choose to use while they work and learn. Years ago, for many teachers, the idea of flexible seating seemed like a new, scary, and intimidating concept. Today, flexible seating options, resources, inspiration, and products are popping up almost everywhere.

Why?

Although classrooms with flexible seating can often look more spacious, not to mention creative and fun, the move from traditional seating to flexible seating involves much more than appearances. Let’s take a look at what research says!

What Research Says About Student Choice

One of the foundations of the flexible seating initiative comes down to student choice. Teaching and guiding students to make their own choices is one of the most valuable lessons we can give to our children. In fact, it’s so important that parents and guardians start this process at a very young age with babies and toddlers. “Do you want milk or water to drink?” “Would you like to put on your blue shoes or your brown shoes?” “Do you want to walk to the car or march to the car?” As a mom to a toddler myself, I’m constantly providing choices for my toddler because it boosts confidence, helps him learn cause and effect, increases independence, and promotes problem-solving skills. The concept of choice is equally as important within our classrooms.

  • Dr. Marzano explains that providing student choice within the classroom led to students perceiving as more important and motivating.
  • Providing choice in where students sit allows each child to find a comfortable spot in the classroom that works best for him or her. A comfortable classroom keeps students focused and limits distractions both physically and psychologically. (Herman Miller, 2008)
  • For years, Montessori Education has embraced a classroom environment that includes a set-up that accommodates group work, quiet independent spaces, and decor that provides a feeling of home. Dr. Montessori’s work has led to highly independent students who grow into responsible citizens and lifelong learners.

It’s fair to say that providing choices when it comes to student learning is critical and necessary. Therefore, it makes sense that flexible seating – a classroom that allows for and promotes choice when it comes to seating options for learning, REALLY WORKS to engage students, minimize behavior issues, increase attentiveness, and boost learning independence. As a result, I knew I wanted to add lots of new flexible seating options into the set-up of my first-grade classroom this fall. My goal was to create a classroom that was bright, child-friendly and inviting.

Favorite Flexible Seating Options

Hands-down, my most adored pieces of flexible seating that I added to my classroom this year has come from Lakeshore Learning’s Flex-Space furniture line. I’d love to show you some of these favorites that I hope will quickly become my students’ favorites, too!

A big thank you to Lakeshore Learning and their wonderful Flex-Space line for sponsoring this blog post. This review and my opinions are entirely my own and I only support brands, resources, and products that I truly use and love! 

A bright and colorful living room area for flexible seating in a first-grade classroom.

This is my FAVORITE spot in my classroom this year! It feels so cozy and home-like, especially when I have the lights off and all of our lamps on. The Lakeshore Flex-Space Couch can be wiped down and the color is gorgeous and bright! I added some IKEA pillows, the IKEA storage shelves and tubs, and painted an old coffee table that I had in my basement. The coffee table will be a great floor table for my students to work on throughout the day. The Flex-Space Wobble Cushions are tucked underneath the table at the moment. I think my students will love using these durable pieces of flexible seating while they sit at the coffee table and collaborate with one another!

Balance balls and ottomans for flexible seating options in the classroom

Balance balls are an affordable way to add flexible seating options to your classroom. The Lakeshore Balance Ball is truly made of high-quality material. Unlike a lot of the thin and flimsy balance balls that I’ve tried in the past, this one is made to last! The one pictured above is the 17-inch balance ball. It’s really easy to move around the room, so I can see some of my students using this at their table in exchange for their traditional chairs. The ottomans are from Target and I chose these as seating options because they double for storage and they could even act as “tables” that students can play math games on. (You can learn more about our math games here.)

comfy foldable floor seats from Lakeshore learning and a student lap desk

Doesn’t this little area with these Comfy Floor Chairs make you want to curl up with a book beside a friend?! These chairs are truly ah-mazing! The best part is that they fold flat for easy storage. The little table in between the chairs in this picture is actually the Lakeshore Student Lap Desk. It’s really well made and I know my students are going to get a lot of use out of it while they work around the room. It will make a great spot to work on our Chromebooks or write a great story during Daily 5!

flexible seating options for the primary classroom

giant comfy floor pillows for flexible seating from Lakeshore Learning

This is a little peek at my whole group carpet area. (My carpet came from Kids Carpet.) The huge and comfy floor pillows are Lakeshore’s Giant Comfy Pillows in orange, green, and blue. They make this spot look so inviting, cozy, and warm! I absolutely love that the pillowcases unzip and can be thrown in the washing machine. This is really important anytime you are having fabrics within your classroom! The Flex-Space line has truly thought of every detail when it comes to flexible seating!

The classroom rugs in my photographs come from an awesome rug company called KidCarpet.com I have purchased or ordered all of my classroom rugs from this website for years. They are fire-rated, which makes them ideal for our public school setting. The rug I am sharing in this blog post is the Chevron Kids Rug Black and Gray. It is the 7’6 by 12 size and the 4 by 6 size is shown underneath my coffee table. I have always found that the classroom rugs from this site to be durable, soft, and vibrant! They also offer preschool rugs in adorable designs!

flexible seating beanbag chair from lakeshore for classroom design and classroom decorI hope you loved getting a little tour of all of the new flexible seating options I’ve added to my classroom this year! I can’t wait to share this beautiful space with a new group of students. I just know they are going to love these options that allow for an easier way to hold discussions, work in groups and partners, or even find a quiet spot to read independently. In the picture above, I’m sitting on the Lakeshore Beanbag (the big size) and it’s perfect for sharing a read-aloud with my students!

Flexible Seating with a Twist of Traditional

One of the most popular questions I have received about my new flexible seating options is: “Is your classroom entirely set up for flexible seating?” Even though I’ve shared how valuable flexible seating is, the answer to this question is actually no! I fully believe that flexible seating is so important to students, but it’s also important to me for students to have a set spot in the classroom from time to time. Specifically, having furniture such as a table to work at when needed.

Have I completely confused you now?! Here’s the thing. Students need choice. They thrive on it. Therefore, flexible seating options allow for me to reach all learners within the classroom environment. However…

There are certain times throughout the day when I want my students to be sitting at a table or hard surface, and times when I need them to have a designated spot that is entirely their own within the classroom. For example, we are in our seats during our math mini-lessons, some science experiments, and during some writing activities. For some teachers, this is not needed and full-blown flexible seating (without any designated spots) works for them! The point of this part of the blog post is to share with you that I believe it’s okay to do what works for YOU as a teacher and for your students. My students have SO MANY opportunities during the day when they get to sit and work wherever they’d like. Likewise, there are also a few times during the day when they sit in their seat for a brief period of time. That’s okay, too!

So how did I mix my viewpoints of flexible seating with a twist of traditional seating? Since this was a big summer of reflection for me when it came to classroom design and set-up, one important change I made is the move from desks to tables in my first-grade classroom. I felt like the desks were far TOO traditional for the way we learn and work together in our room. Tables, however, allow my students to collaborate and work together more easily and effectively. Tables create an open-concept within the classroom and they set the tone that we are a classroom family who works together. Tables also help to facilitate student discussion, and oral language has a huge place in my heart within the primary grades. To put it simply, tables make more sense in our classroom and our attempt to promote 21st-century learning.

As you can see in the photograph below, I opted for two round tables and three rectangular tables from Today’s Classroom in order to mix up the design and allow for further choice within the room. Today’s Classroom has TONS of options for classroom furniture and they were so wonderful to work with!

classroom tables for collaboration and classroom organization and set-up

The round activity tables that I purchased from Today’s Classroom can be found here. The rectangular activity tables can be found here. The quality of the tables are wonderful and I know they are going to last for years, be durable, and promote collaboration in my room!

Our beautiful tables allow us to utilize a ton of flexible seating in our classroom, while still having space for a designated “space” or “seat” for each student when needed. It’s truly the perfect mix and a great solution for my students’ needs and contributes beautifully to my teaching style and the learning environment I had set out to achieve.

Shopping Guide

If you fell in love with some of the pieces that were highlighted in this blog post, I’ve included an easy list of links for all of the items that are shown in the image below. These items come from the Lakeshore Flex-Space Line.

Lakeshore Learning Flex-Space furniture shopping guide for flexible seating

1. Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats 2. Flex-Space Wobble Cushions 3. Flex-Space Balance Ball Seat 4. Flex-Space Giant Comfy Pillows 5. Flex-Space Beanbag Seat (Size Big) 6. Flex-Space Comfy Couch

Flexible Seating Can Be Flexible

Is there only one specific way to do flexible seating? No way! That’s the beauty of it. I hope that this review of flexible seating options has been helpful for you. I am SO excited to share these new classroom features with my students. I also hope that if, like me, you want to implement flexible seating but also keep some aspects of traditional seating in your classroom, that you see how possible and easy it is to mix the two. You can offer plenty of choices and places around the room for independent, partner, and group work, but at the same time, your tables and desks (my suggestion is to push your desks together to form tables) can be used at times, too. If you’re doing what works for your students, then always be proud of yourself!

If you enjoyed the images and would like to pin it to Pinterest to refer to in the future or share with a friend, feel free to use the pinnable images below. As always, thank you so much for spending some time in my classroom today. I hope you’ll stop in again soon!

flexible seating options for a collaborative classroom learning environment

Merge flexible seating options with a twist of traditional seating by using tables for collaboration

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21 Comments

  1. Your room looks fantastic. Your flexible seating reminds me of Barnes and Noble or a coffee shop. So much fun to choose your best working spot. Well done!

  2. Love this! Thank you for sharing! I have one question… How do you handle kids arguing over who sits where?

    1. We spent a lot of time discussing what it means to be a classroom family, and we also talked about how we may not always get our first choice for seating. I do limit the couch and the super special seating to students who are doing Read to Self time or reading their Raz-Kids books on the tablet. We made a rule that writing and word work must take place on a hard surface, so they are limited to where they want to sit at the tables or around the room on the floor.

  3. Thank you! Thank you! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is exactly how I have my room set up. I love that you call it Flexible with a Twist of Traditional! Thank you for putting my thoughts into words!!!

  4. You room is very inspiring. Are you in a private school setting? We must have approval from our district to purchase ANY furniture for classroom use. Which is difficult. If we don’t, and use our personal money for tables, they are not responsible if damaged or lost during summer/holiday cleaning. Our rugs must be approved too. If they are not school purchased, our custodians are not required to vacuum them. Although these ideas are amazing, wonderful and researched based, unfortunately some districts limit us to what we can do within our 4 walls. Even down to our fire codes of how much space on our walls is covered with student work/data. They even check to make sure the “chair sacks” are fire retardant along with any “curtain/cloth” material hanging in your room. We must save labeling to prove such things. Sad but true. I’m very happy you can enjoy your beautiful, flexible-seating,research based classroom. MY hope is for districts to let
    teachers teach and do what is best for the students so they can learn in the best environment possible. I have little ones sitting at desks and chairs way too big for them. Their feet don’t touch the floor. It breaks my heart. I’ve requested the right size for many years. We are using what is available. I’ve not given up hope. I still make requests and apply for grants to purchase items to help my students learn in the best environment possible every year. It’s year 30 for me and I have no plans of stopping anytime soon. I have HOPE that we can change the mindset of communities and districts that we need to be more flexible and allow the teacher to do what is best for the students—even if it means changing the seating and tables.

  5. Love your Flexible with a Twist of Traditional! I moved to a new school this year and decided this was the time to make changes. I turned most of my desks around to make “tables” since I was only able to get 2 tables by the time I moved. My firsties have bins where they store their pencil box and workbooks plus book boxes. They have their “spot” at a table for our mini lessons, then off they go to work at their favorite spots. The big lowered table and the small rugs with clipboards are the favorites.

  6. Oops! I forgot to say before that your “flexiditional” classroom is fantastic! I was just looking for the calendar wall and wondering if maybe you do something different than the traditional calendar wall.

    1. Hi Karen! Thank you so much! I don’t do a calendar time. We use our behavior calendars to talk about what day of the week/month it is, but other than that, we decided that by first grade calendar skills are covered during our instructional math block anyways, so we use that precious time for other things. 🙂 I hope this helps!

  7. Hi! I love this style of classroom!! I was wondering if you could share where you purchased the chairs from that are at your rectangle and round tables. I looked at the website mentioned, but there are so many options I thought I would ask if they have a specific name. Thank you!

    1. The chairs were provided by the district, so I’m not sure where they came from. Thank you! 🙂

  8. Hi! Love your flexible seating! I was wondering are those black sleeves that slide onto the students’ chairs. Where did you get those from ?:)

  9. Love this! Can you let me know where you got your orange tubs and your rug? I was able to order the things from Lakeshore that you recommended, I am so excited to get things set up, just need the tubs and rugs. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  10. I love the Flex Space furniture line. How do you find it is holding up? How durable is it (especially the sofa)?

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