Learn about alternative seating and how to use it in the classroom to promote attention, motor skills, and more!
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As pediatric occupational and physical therapists, we believe in the power of movement! We believe that if students have the opportunity to choose alternative seating options throughout their school day, their bodies (and minds) will be awake and ready to learn!
So let’s dig right into the nitty gritty of alternative seating!
Awhile back, we polled our Facebook followers about alternative seating for the classroom and had an overwhelming response. First, we asked if you currently use alternative seating in your classroom and 75% of you say that you do.
So what is all this buzz about alternative seating? How do you introduce it? Why is it used? What are the options?
The Benefits of Alternative Classroom Seating
Our survey also asked participants what they have found to be the biggest benefit to students who use alternative seating options in their classrooms. The top answers included: better attention/focus, less restlessness, and increased participation.
And the research is consistent with these answers. Physical activity is correlated with higher academic performance, better overall health, and improved behavior. Studies have found that short bursts of movement or movement breaks in the classroom contribute to better on-task behavior, with the most improvement seen in children who were the least on-task initially. (1) And offering changes in positions and movement opportunities throughout the day provide these short bursts of activity.
As therapists and teachers, we know that a multi-sensory approach to learning contributes to better learning outcomes, attention, and behavior. Research supports the idea that dynamic seating options can be used to improve attention in students. (2, 3) Just as adults need to get up and take a walk or pace the room while we think and brainstorm, kids also need outlets for moving and fidgeting during the school day.
When kids are taught to identify and honor their preferences for movement, fidgeting, and alternative positioning, they feel that their needs are being acknowledged, contributing to increased engagement and motivation in the classroom as well as an increased sense of community among the students. (4)
Alternative seating can also promote core strength, balance, coordination, and posture. Simply by being exposed to subtle movement experiences throughout the day (e.g. bouncing lightly on a ball while they read, rocking on a wobble stool during a video), kids’ bodies learn to make slight adjustments in their positioning to “catch” themselves from rolling too far to one side. They build core strength by having to hold themselves upright on an unstable surface. They build coordination by transitioning into and out of different seating options.
And the benefits don’t end there! Allowing kids some control over where they sit turns them into problem solvers who can identify how they’re feeling and choose what works best for them.
The bottom line? Kids simply aren’t meant to sit still all day long…none of us are. Maria Montessori stated her observations of the negative impact of kids sitting in chairs in pretty serious terms – “When chairs were used, children were not disciplined, but annihilated.”
How to Introduce Alternative Classroom Seating
We know what you are thinking. A bunch of big, round, colorful therapy balls rolling around a classroom sounds like a chaotic nightmare, right?
In our experience, it helps to set some ground rules for use of alternative seating. Kids need to know that this is an tool to help them focus and keep them engaged in the classroom. Initiate a classroom contract that your students must sign before being able to try out a piece of equipment (you can find a printable contract in the Wiggle Worms ebook).
We recently posted some great tips for introducing fidget toys and other sensory materials into the classroom. These tips work for introducing alternative seating as well. Here are some other suggestions:
Sit on a therapy ball yourself and show kids that it CAN stay in one spot and that you don’t have to bounce as high as the moon to get the benefits of a calmer body.
A therapy ball is only the beginning when it comes to alternative seating! Allowing kids to explore what works for them will send the message that they have some control and responsibility. Frame the seating options as a privilege that can be taken away if not used properly.
Get some parents to buy in!
You can try getting parents to buy in and even provide ball chairs or disc cushions by sending home a simple letter. Ask them to purchase a therapy ball for their child, explain the benefits of alternative seating and get permission for them to use it in the classroom. You can find a printable letter template in the Wiggle Worms ebook.
Classroom Seating Options
Do you have a student who can’t sit still in their chair? The child that is constantly laying their head down on their desk or flopping sideways, practically falling to the floor?
Maybe the feeling of the hard chair is just too much for their tactile system to handle. Their body is going into fight or flight mode and just can’t sit still! Or maybe they needs a little bit of extra movement to stay awake and alert. Encourage more functional posture by providing them with an alternative option for seating.
The most common classroom seating alternative (according to our survey) was a therapy ball. But there are lots of great possibilities out there! Try something that moves with the child, or is soft and squishy — like a disc cushion. Or something that allows him to move into different positions around the room like a beanbag chair.
Here are some of our favorite alternative seating options for the classroom:
Resources for funding and donations
According to our survey, the biggest limiting factor to teachers filling their rooms with alternative seating was cost (we were not surprised by this one!).
The good news is that there are lots of ways to secure donations for alternative seating options for your classroom. First, as we mentioned above, try asking parents to send in an option that works for their child. There are many low-cost options out there that families would be willing to supply themselves.
Here are some other resources for helping to secure the funds for alternative classroom seating:
1 || Donors Choose
Describe your classroom “project” (in this case, it would be securing alternative seating for your classroom), submit it to Donors Choose and they help connect you with donors that are looking to make teachers’ wishes come true! Over 75% of teachers reach their funding goals through Donors Choose with over 600,000 classroom projects fulfilled.
A great place to find information about a wide range of grants available for teachers. The KINF mission is to ensure that every child is prepared to learn and succeed by providing free school supplies nationally to students most in need.
3 || Adopt A Classroom
This organization’s mission is to give teachers a hand and provide needed classroom materials so their students can succeed. Donors can search donation opportunities by subject (art, music, literacy) or they can choose to donate to the classrooms and schools that are most in financial need.
the Wiggle Worms Alternative Seating ebook!
The printable guide has 20+ pages of awesome resources to get you on your way to becoming an alternative seating rockstar! From printable templates to information and funding resources, this ebook is full of useful tips, seating option ideas, and more!
How are you using alternative seating in your classroom? What are your biggest challenges? What are your success stories? We’d love to hear from you!
1 – Mahar, M.T., S.K. Murphy, D.A. Rowe, J. Golden, A.T. Shields, & T. D. Raedeke. Effects of a Classroom-Based Program on Physical Activity and On-Task
Behavior. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 38, No. 12, pp. 2086Y2094, 2006
2 – Fedewa, A. L., & Erwin, H. E. (2011). Stability balls and students with attention and hyperactivity concerns: Implications for ontask and in-seat behavior. American
Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65, 393–399. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2011.000554
3 – Kuhn, D & Lewis, S (2013). The Effect of Dynamic Seating on Classroom Behavior for Students in a General Education Classroom
4 – Bill, Victoria N. (2008). Effects of Stability Balls on Behavior and
Achievement in the Special Education Classroom. http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.co-case.org/resource/resmgr/imported/WP_Stability%20Balls%20and%20Behavior.pdf
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