Once upon a time, classroom seating was so inflexible that desks and chairs were literally bolted to the floor. These days, flexible seating options let kids choose where and how they sit and listen, work, and learn.
What is flexible seating?
Flexible seating is about student knowledge and choice. It isn’t letting students move around aimlessly, or moving students into groups. Instead, flexible seating is about making sure that students have options for the ways they sit and letting them choose what works for them. The idea is that students know how they sit best to learn best and can make those choices themselves.
What does flexible seating look like?
Flexible seating doesn’t look just one way. You could have various options around the room—small-group work spaces, a few reading corners, individual work spaces—and teach students how to use each. You could also have various types of seating that students select from one spot and take to where they are going to work. For example, students who wanted a stool would grab one on the way to circle time.
Even if you have desks and chairs already, you can build in flexible seating. Check out how one teacher set up flexible seating in her classroom even after she started with a traditional setup.
What are the benefits for students?
Flexible seating can be a love it or hate it situation, but if you decide to incorporate it into your classroom, focus on the benefits.
Flexible seating provides students with a choice they can make that allows them to feel more in control and empowered about learning. (Teaching students how to make and manage seating choices is a big part of using flexible seating in your classroom.)
We love choosing our desk chairs, and students do too. When students are more comfortable, they’re better able to learn and work.
If you incorporate flexible seating into your classroom culture and encourage students to increase collaboration and choice, the community in your classroom will shift for the better.
Tips for setting up flexible seating
Once you’re committed, take these tips to make it work:
- Treat it like a procedure: Before you set out the seating options, explain the rules, then expect to review them often.
- Talk through choices: Especially if a student chooses a seat that’s not the right one for them (maybe they can’t handle the wiggly stool today), focus on choosing the best seat, not the trouble the current seat is causing.
- Follow through: If you set the expectation that students are going to use flexible seating to be more focused and productive, remind students of the expectations, then move students the moment you see them not meeting expectations so they don’t disrupt even more.
- Set parameters for choosing again: If a child has to move seats, let them know when they can have their choice again. After this assignment? After lunch? Tomorrow?
- Don’t be afraid to assign seats: Even with flexible seating, you can assign spots, partners, or even seats.
Have we convinced you? If you want to give it a try, these are some of the best choices for flexible seating on the market today.
1. Flex-Space Giant Comfy Pillows
These big cushions are generous enough for older kids to enjoy. And while you can find lots of oversized pillows on the market, these have a zip-off cover you can throw right in the washing machine.
Buy it: Flex-Space Giant Comfy Pillows at Lakeshore Learning
2. Kids Balance Ball
Also known as yoga or exercise balls, these giant balls allow kids to gently bounce while seated and encourage good posture. A stability ball is one of the most affordable flexible seating options.
Buy it: Gaiam Kids Balance Ball Chair at Amazon
3. Balance Ball Chair
If you love the idea of a balance ball but hate the roll-away factor, try adding a chair base underneath. The Gaiam Balance Ball Chair adds a level of stability that some kids need to make the balance ball work for them. For a cheaper, do-it-yourself option, try using pool noodles to make inexpensive stands.
Buy it: Gaiam Balance Ball Chair at Amazon
4. Kore Wobble Chair
These wobble stools are in classrooms all over the country. Teachers love them because they’re easy to set up (seriously, it just takes a few seconds once you get it out of the box), and they work for students of all ages. They’re very durable and come in lots of colors. There are also a variety of heights for different ages.
Buy it: Kore Wobble Chair at Amazon
5. Trideer Wobble Cushion
If you don’t have the budget for wobble stools, then try wobble cushions instead. They’re very affordable and can be used on the floor or with a regular desk chair. One teacher on Amazon says, “We’ve ordered 3 of these so far for our 4th grade classroom as flexible seating options. The kids LOVE them. I chose to inflate them at different levels to see what works—your most fidgety kids will like it fully inflated. I love that there are 2 sides: a poky side and a more comfortable side. Those that need sensory input will definitely appreciate the poky! Great product—great price.”
Buy it: Trideer Wobble Cushion at Amazon
6. KidsErgo Seat
Who could resist sitting on one of these? The accordion-style base compresses slightly to allow continuous small movements forward, back, and side to side. “This seating is a favorite in my first grade classroom!” says one Amazon reviewer. “It gives them just enough movement, but also offers more stability than the yoga balls or wobble seats.” They come in several sizes for students of all ages.
Buy it: KidsErgo Seat at Amazon
7. Gaiam Kids Stay-N-Play Children’s Balance Ball
Another balance ball option, this one comes with its own legs to keep it in place when not in use. When kids sit on it, it behaves like any other balance ball. These affordable flexible seating options come in various sizes and colors. Tip: Reviewers recommend ordering a size larger than you think you need.
Buy it: Gaiam Kids Stay-N-Play Children’s Balance Ball at Amazon
8. The Surf Portable Lap Desk
Some kids actually prefer working on the floor. If that’s the case, these lap desks are the perfect way to give them a sturdy working surface. They’re also terrific for taking students outside for class. They come in a big selection of colors. If you really like them, you can buy a pack of 10 to make them even more affordable.
Buy it: The Surf Portable Lap Desk at Amazon
9. Learning Lap Desk
Sometimes students want to sit on the floor, and a lap desk, like this one from HearthSong, is the perfect way for students to get situated and work comfortably. We like this desk because it’s light enough for students to lift and carry, and it has built-in storage to keep papers contained.
Buy it: Portable Lap Desk at HearthSong
10. Kindermat Story-Time Cushions
Every little one who’s ever been to story time at the library will recognize these cushions! They’re popular for a reason. A four-pack is affordable, and they’re made to last and last. Note that these cushions are small, best for the pre-K crowd.
Buy it: Kindermat Story-Time Cushions at Amazon
11. FDP SoftScape Butterfly Stool Modular Seating Set
Here’s another great choice for younger learners. You get six lightweight stools in a set, in several color ranges. You can choose from a 10-inch or 12-inch height. They have a wipe-clean surface and non-skid bottom too. One reviewer says, “My students love using these as a flexible seating option in our classroom. They’re durable, comfortable, and easy to transport.”
Buy it: FDP SoftScape Butterfly Stool Modular Seating Set at Amazon
12. Swivel Ball Chair
For younger students, these adorable chairs (is it a gumdrop or a mushroom?) are a good option for kids who need to wiggle in every direction.
Buy it: Runtz Swivel Ball Chair at Amazon
13. Lakeshore Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seat
Sit comfortably on the floor anytime, anywhere with this adjustable cushioned seat that’s ideal for ages 8 and up. At the end of the day, lay them flat and stack them up. Bonus: The fabric cover is removable and machine washable.
Buy it: Lakeshore Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seat at Lakeshore Learning
14. Scoop Rocker
Teachers love scoop rockers! Set these on the floor, and kids are ready to rock and recline as they work independently or in a group. This is one of the most affordable flexible seating options—less than $10 apiece when you buy a set of six.
Buy it: Scoop Rocker at Amazon
15. Storex Adjustable-Height Wiggle Stool
Looking for flexible seating options that will grow with your students? These stools are brilliant! You can buy them in 12-to-18-inch or 12-to-24-inch heights, in multiple colors. Simply add or remove center supports as needed. The slightly angled bottoms allow kids to wiggle quietly or use their core to hold the stool stable while they work.
Buy it: Storex Adjustable-Height Wiggle Stool at Amazon
16. Flex-Space Ergo Bounce Cantilever Chairs
These ergonomically designed chairs allow kids to sit up straight or lean forward, all with the right support. Plus, these chairs have a little give, so kids can bounce to get the fidgets out.
Buy it: Flex-Space Ergo Bounce Cantilever Chairs at Lakeshore Learning
17. Wiggle Wobble Chair Feet
If you want to get some flexible seating into your classroom but only have the old-fashioned chairs, try adding wiggle wobble chair feet to a selection of chairs. These turn any chair with four feet into a seat that kids can fidget in without disrupting the actual chair.
Buy it: Wiggle Wobble Chair Feet 10-pack at Amazon
18. Big Joe Bean Bag Chair
Add a couple of these to your reading nook, and your kids will be so comfy they’ll never want to leave! They’re part beanbag and part lounge chair, in a vinyl covering that’s easy to wipe clean.
Buy it: Kids Beanbag Chair at Amazon
19. Calming Colors 3-in-1 Chair Set
With this set, you get three flexible seating options in one. Flip the chair for a 6-inch or 9.5-inch seat or to make a 15-inch table. They come in sets of four, in a sturdy plastic that’s easy to clean and will last for years.
Buy it: Calming Colors 3-in-1 Chair Set at Lakeshore Learning
20. Twixt Active Seating Extended-Height Stool
Want to try stools with older students? These are a terrific option, especially if you’d like some to use with taller tables or standing desks. They’re also available in a standard desk height.
Buy it: Twixt Active Seating Extended-Height Stool at Amazon
21. Flex-Space Comfy Curved Seat
These curved benches can be arranged in a variety of ways, making them a truly versatile classroom option. The wipe-clean vinyl and strong wood construction mean you can depend on these for a long time.
Buy it: Flex-Space Comfy Curved Seat at Lakeshore Learning
22. Topeakmart Round Plastic Nesting Stools
Simple stools might not be comfortable enough to use all day, but they’re terrific for group work or pulling up next to a student who needs help. They stack up neatly so you can store them out of the way when they’re not in use. They come in sets of 5 or 10.
Buy it: Topeakmart Round Plastic Nesting Stools at Amazon
23. Flash Furniture Desk Chair With Arm
This isn’t so different from a lot of high school desks, except that it’s made to move around easily. We especially like the storage space underneath for books or backpacks.
Buy it: Flash Furniture Desk Chair With Arm at Target
24. Dragonn Ergonomic Kneeling Chair
For those who like to lean forward or even work on their knees, this stool is a great way to still support good posture. You can adjust the height, so it works for middle or high school students.
Buy it: Dragonn Ergonomic Kneeling Chair at Amazon
25. Gaiam Balance Ball Chair Stool
Balance ball meets rolling stool in this innovative design. It adjusts from 18 to 23 inches, so it’s appropriate for most older students. The wheels lock into place for safety.
Buy it: Gaiam Balance Ball Chair Stool at Amazon
26. Vidget 3-in-1 Flexible Seating
Clever flexible seating options aren’t just for wee ones! Vidget’s 3-in-1 pieces come in a variety of sizes, so you can use them from pre-K through high school. Each one can be a chair, desk, or stool. One teacher’s opinion: “The most popular flexible seating option in my classroom! Bought the 14-inch and is the perfect size for 5-to-8-year-olds! It is so versatile and the students have no trouble turning it or managing how they want to use it. Very sturdy, very appealing, and worth every penny! Love the Vidget!!”
Buy it: Vidget 3-in-1 Flexible Seating at Amazon
27. Library Trio
This set of three foam cushion seats is ideal for creating a reading nook. Tuck them among shelves filled with picture books to give young learners a place to cozy up while they turn the pages. The vinyl surface is made to wipe clean in a snap.
Buy it: Library Trio, Set of 3 at Discount School Supply
These smart benches double as tables for smaller students. When set up as tables, they can also serve as benches for adults. So many uses!
Buy it: Adapta-Bench at Discount School Supply
29. Zenergy Ball Chair
These ball chairs have a sleek, modern look with removable legs that glide across floors. When fully inflated, the chair measures about 23 inches high, making this a better choice for older kids.
Buy it: Zenergy Ball Chair at Amazon
30. TiltED Seats
Tilted stools are the way to allow students to move back and forth and in a circular motion without disrupting anyone. And there are lots of bright colors to choose from.
Buy it: TiltED Seats at Moving Minds
31. Wave Seat
We love this wave seat because it’s easy to flip from one seating choice to another. The material and light weight make it a great classroom-to-outdoor option. And we think it just looks cool.
Buy it: Wave Seat at Amazon
32. Three-Piece Stool Set
These multi-height stools give students options for which height of stool they want, and would look great at the back of a morning meeting space or reading corner.
Buy it: Softzone Colorful Stool Set at Amazon
What are your favorite flexible seating options for the classroom? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, check out 7 Teacher Desk Alternatives To Help You Get Organized & Free Up Space.