- Associated Press - Saturday, February 13, 2016

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) - Elementary school teacher Shelley Harrison noticed something interesting about her study habits as she worked on a master’s degree over the summer.

“I was constantly on the couch, on the floor - never at a desk, and I couldn’t imagine it,” Harrison said.

That realization led to a makeover of her classroom at Orchards Elementary in Lewiston.

By the time she started her 13th year of teaching in the fall, she had removed all but four of the desks from her classroom. Instead, her 24 students sit on beanbags, exercise balls, stools and legless, crescent-shaped seats called banana chairs.

There is no seating chart. The kids work out among themselves who sits where.

Harrison’s co-teacher, Jillian Sattler, embraced the idea as well, arranging her classroom of 20 students in a similar fashion.

“There’s just a lot of variety,” said Sattler, who has taught for 11 years. “So kids can be comfortable.”

On a recent day in Sattler’s classroom, 8-year-old Aliyah Lafave sat on the floor as she put the finishing touches on an illustrated story about dogs. She likes to be able to spread out on the floor for some assignments, said Lafave, granddaughter of Christy and Don Richardson.

Her favorite seat, though, is a ball chair.

“I can bounce while I’m writing,” she said.

Harrison and Sattler loop between first and second grade, teaching the same group of students two years in a row. Last year, when their current students were first-graders, the two teachers introduced a practice they dubbed “my own learning time” to their classrooms.

They modeled the program after the flex time companies such as Google offer their employees for working on their own projects. In the classroom version, kids get Friday afternoons to learn about a topic of their choosing that they are passionate about.

Replacing traditional desks and chairs with other seating options meshes with that concept of self-direction, Harrison said.

Choosing where they sit isn’t only about finding the most comfortable seat. Students gain awareness, she said, of how their choices affect their productivity and ability to focus.

One of her students noticed other children were finishing their work faster than she was when she chose to sit with friends.

“She started to learn - sitting by my friends isn’t what’s best for me,” Harrison said.

The flexible seating concept was new to Lewis-Clark State College education student Brandon Rodgers, an intern at Orchards Elementary this semester.

“When I first saw it, I was a little unsure,” Rodgers said.

But the second-graders have surprised him with their independence.

“A lot of them are really good about making the best choice,” he said.

Seven-year-old Amiah Bremenour stretched out on her stomach on a wooden bench as she worked on a writing assignment in Harrison’s class. Bremenour, daughter of Steffanie Corder and David Bremenour, said the best seats are the high stools, because they are close to class pet Pinchy the hermit crab’s aquarium.

But she also likes the banana chairs, “because you can rock in them.”

Bremenour helps oversee the classroom’s “safe zone,” a dimly lit corner where a child-sized overstuffed chair faces a low table equipped with a white noise machine, scent diffuser and quiet toys.

“You just relax in this chair,” she said, “if you get really sad and you’re crying at school.”

The safe zone space, duplicated in Sattler’s room, serves as a microcosm of the two classrooms, where filters over the fluorescent ceiling fixtures soften the light and area rugs beckon readers to curl up on the floor with a book.

“The kids absolutely love it,” Rodgers said.

___

Information from: Lewiston Tribune, https://www.lmtribune.com

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