- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Students in Sheremy Haas’ classroom don’t work in rows of desks with chairs. Many don’t sit in chairs at all.

The first-grade Harvey Dunn Elementary School teacher encourages choice in where her students sit. Some find cushions on the floor. Others sit on yoga balls or wobble chairs, hard plastic stools shaped like empty spools of thread that tip gently side to side and require both feet to stay firmly planted on the ground.

More teachers like Haas are moving away from traditional desks and chairs to offer a variety of what they call “flexible seating” options intended to help students find ways to wiggle while they work, as Haas’ colleague second-grade teacher Kelly Allen said.

Haas and Allen obtained much of the flexible seating in their classrooms through grant programs and support from parents, but many teachers are left to make due with seats they can find or go into their own pockets, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2joFr2b ) reported.

“With kiddos, if we want them to be self-motivated and highly engaged, you have to find ways to meet student needs,” Haas said. “The work isn’t optional, but the seating is.”

Flexible seating options range from the simple, such as pillow cushions, to the more involved methods like bicycle pedals on the floor below student desks or homemade standing desks like the one in Justin Stanford’s classroom.

Stanford knows firsthand the need for flexible seating. He prefers to work standing to avoid back pain, and he said he also sees his students itching to move during the day

“Kids’ attention spans are less than they used to be,” Stanford said.

The ability to softly bounce on a yoga ball or stand as they work keeps them active, and those small motions keep them more focused on their learning, Stanford said.

Teachers familiar with flexible seating say the only downside is the cost.

One yoga ball can cost around $30, and each wobble stool rings up at $80.

Many teachers turn to crowdfunding sites, or apply for grants. Some have had luck asking parents for support, but others like Stanford are left to “beg, borrow and steal.”

Stanford made the standing desk that bisects his classroom using materials he was able to borrow from around Discovery Elementary School. He also has some exercise bands from the gymnasium that his students use during breaks to stretch out and move around.

Flexible seating is especially helpful for students who struggle to pay attention or have attention deficit disorders.

Classrooms with flexible seating can look chaotic, DeJong said especially if teachers have multiple types of seats throughout the room, but teachers who use seating options have methods of organization.

“It’s really not clutter, it’s options,” DeJong said. “It’s opening new doors for kids.”

It’s important to let students try out several seating options and allow them to select what works best for them, Haas said.

That selection process gives students a chance to take responsibility for their own learning. Allen draws up a “flexible seating contract” with her students each year, outlining that while they are encouraged to sit in a way that’s most productive for them, she reserves the right to place them somewhere else if they become a distraction.

“They really do get good at choosing what’s best for them,” Haas said.

Flexible seating not only kept students more focused, it also brought about more collaboration between students, said Alyssa Erickson, a second-grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School.

“I see a lot more participation in the lessons,” Erickson said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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