Alternative seating is not something I learned about in school, university, or even student teaching. When I was going through all of those stages, classrooms had very limited seating options. There were carpets in the lower grade classrooms, elementary desks (the kind that the top lifted up and you kept your books inside), upper grades desks (the kind with a wire basket under the seat for your books), lab tables with stools, and that was about it. So alternative seating was something I learned through trial and error.
Alternative Seating Fails
As I’m sure you know by now, or will soon learn, not everything you try in your classroom will be a success. I have certainly had my share of, “This was a much better idea in my head,” alternative seating moments! Here are some of the things that did not work in my classroom:
These chairs may work fine with the youngest students, but my students found Scoop Rockers to be incredibly uncomfortable. I tried to get the largest, strongest scoop chairs I could find, but they just didn’t make the cut. Even my third and fourth graders declared them too small and uncomfortable.
Stools were also not a hit with my students, especially my middle schoolers. While they all thought they were great in concept, and even helped write the request for funding, the students quickly abandoned using them after they arrived. We tested several different types: adjustable height wobble stools, stackable round stools, and rectangular metal stools. They were all fun for a time but very quickly students started complaining about their backs getting tired and starting to hurt. Everyone agreed: if they are going to sit on something for any length of time, it needs to have a back to lean against.
This one was such an epic failure that it never even made it into my classroom. I’d seen cute pictures of chairs made from old tires and lots of videos about repurposing old tires into chairs and thought it’d be a fun addition to my classroom. I very quickly learned several things: old tires are not easy to come by, it is nearly impossible to get them clean enough to work with, and the DIY directions are much more complicated than they look. While I have no doubt there’s a person out there with more talent and patience than I have who can make this work, I did not want to put in the effort required or risk not getting it clean enough and having some student ruin his/her clothing.
Alternative Seating Successes
I’ve had plenty of other alternative seating failures, but those were my three largest. The good news is that I’ve had far more successes than failures. Here are some options my students have loved.
One year the PTA had some extra funds and gave teachers the opportunity to submit proposals for their classrooms. I told my students that if they completed the proposal form, I’d submit it on their behalf. Bungee chairs were one of the things they asked for and received. I will admit that when I saw them my first thought was, “Those look like the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever seen.” My students loved them though and would fight over the chance to sit in them for the entire class period, even going so far as to pull them up to our group tables for whole class instruction time. One day I was tired and told them if they didn’t stop fighting, I would take the chair and sit in it so none of them could use it. Being middle schoolers towards the end of the day, they didn’t stop fighting and I ended up with the chair. By the end of the class period I was so convinced I looked for and bought myself a bungee desk chair (that I still use and love years later).
The other thing the students requested in their proposal was a couple of saucer chairs. These were highly sought after as well but this time I wasn’t surprised. Many of my friends had papasan chairs when we were children and I loved sitting and napping in them. The saucer chairs my students chose were perfect because they were foldable and easy to move around the room. These too were dragged up to our group tables for whole class instruction time, making for some very crowded tables!
My reading corner consisted of an area rug and a bunch of pillows. One year I tossed a body pillow with a fun colored cover into the reading area just for fun. It quickly became the most popular pillow in the reading area. Sometimes students would take it out of the reading area, toss it on the floor somewhere, and lay on it during independent work time.
Another popular option, especially in classrooms with carpeting, were arm pillows. Most of the time they lived in our reading corner, but they tended to travel around the room as well. When working in small groups, one group would inevitably grab all of the arm pillows and move to a different corner of the room, leaving the regular pillows for whatever group was in the reading corner. They were also a hot commodity during independent work time because students could put their phone in the small side pocket and listen to music while they worked in a corner by themselves.
Short Table & Cushions
I mentioned this option in my post about Out of the Blue Favorite Classroom “Supplies.” I rescued a short table from a trip to the dumpster one year and it quickly became a popular place for students to work on their computers, or when they needed to write and use a textbook at the same time. Students would sit on chair cushions and my last class of the day would simply toss them on top of the table so the custodians could easily sweep around and under the table.
Tall Table & Chairs
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, another popular option was the counter height table and chairs. What always made me laugh was it was my shortest students, often those whose feet couldn’t reach the chair’s foot rest, who were most attracted to this table. This was easily the most expensive option and we only had one because it was donated by a family who was returning to their home country. If you want something similar, you might see if someone is getting rid of a tall dining room table set. Such a set would also allow for small groups to work around the table.
The final option was one that surprised me greatly, an old teacher’s desk. It had been placed in my classroom because I was supposed to be assigned an assistant that year. She quit to take another job very early in the year and was never replaced. One day during independent work time a student just sat at the desk. The next day another student chose to sit there. Very soon it was one of the more sought after locations to work. To this day I have no idea why an old metal desk was so popular, but they enjoyed it and it was free!
Do I think alternative seating is a necessary thing? Absolutely not, especially if you have to fund it yourself and are just starting out. It will never make my list of recommended classroom supplies, but it is fun to play around with if the opportunity presents itself. Whatever you end up doing in your classroom this year, I hope you have a great one. Happy teaching, everyone!