Flexible Seating!



Today’s schools are no different than the ones in the 1800s! “Well, wait!” you might say, “A lot has changed since then, curriculum has changed, seating arrangement has changed, discipline has changed, books, technology, resources, many things have changed!” Unfortunately, one everything has not changed, and that is the sitting requirement that we impose on our students. Students are still required to sit for seven hours, on the same chair, on the same hard chair. We may even have group desks, and not arranging them in rows and columns, but the child is still asked to remain seated quietly as can be for most of the day.

Health Corps (2009) reminds us that there was an advertisement many years ago that would flash before the late evening news, “Do you know where your children are?” It was aimed at parents, to raise awareness that we need to know where our kids are, and what they’re doing, especially in the late night hours. Now, health and children’s advocates say that we should now be asking, “How many hours do your kids sit daily?” As expected, too many hours of sitting is bad for kids’ health.

A prior study by Kravitz (2009) on the British Medical Journal suggested that adults, and especially children, need to avoid sitting for too long. If we don’t move often during the day, the risk rises for certain health changes in our body that predispose us to disease. The telomere length of certain cells in our body is associated with healthy lifestyle and longevity. Prolonged sitting causes telomeres in our body to lengthen. When telomere length is longer, our overall lifespan may be shortened. With kids it is the same way, if not worse. Kids who sit for too long periods of time may have similar, adult-type health consequences.  Even if children exercise in the morning or evening, but sit the rest of the day at a desk, rarely getting up, they may be at risk for these significant and unhealthy blood vessel changes. That also means that if students play a sport for an hour or two a day, but sit in school and at home for the rest of their waking hours, they too are at risk of developing these early, ominous heart-risk provoking changes. Globally, kids sit on average 8.5 hours. Specifically, movement and activity really drops after age 8. That’s of course, when school, homework and tech devices take over kids’ lives.

Reynolds (Science of fitness, 2015) also agrees that children are sitting too much. He adds that children who sit too much may face adult-size health consequences. The study found that after a single session of prolonged inactivity, the children developed changes in their blood flow and arteries that, in grown-ups, would signal the start of serious cardiovascular problems. Many epidemiological studies have found associations between multiple hours of inactivity and increased risks for diabetes, obesity, heart disease, liver disease, metabolic syndrome and other conditions, including premature death. Most worrying, these risks remain elevated even if someone regularly exercises but then settles into his or her chair for the rest of the day. “It seems clear from our results that children should not sit for prolonged, uninterrupted periods of time,” (Dr. McManus 2015).

So, we as teachers need to encourage children to stand up and move around at least every hour. A stroll around the classroom or living room should help. Dr. McManus suggests that vigorous exercise is not required to keep children’s arteries healthy. Unfortunately, chairs are as alluring to the young as they are to grown-ups. “I was surprised by how easy it was to get children to stay still for three uninterrupted hours,” Dr. McManus said. “We’d expected that they would want to be up and moving around.” But they were content to sit, entertained by movies and iPads.

James A. Levine (2005) also says that research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Sitting in front of the TV isn’t the only concern. Any extended sitting — such as behind a desk at work or behind the wheel — can be harmful. What’s more, spending a few hours engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t seem to significantly offset the risk.

The solution seems to be less sitting and more moving overall. Students need to start by simply standing rather than sitting whenever they have the chance or think about ways to walk while they work. The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For starters, these activities burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy. Even better, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When students sit, these processes stall — and their health risks increase. When students standing or actively moving, they kick the processes back into action.

Dr. Mercola goes on saying that our body is designed for regular movement, but many Americans spend the bulk of their day sitting still instead. Worse still, many Americans don’t fit in a workout or a long walk either, which means their bodies are virtually always in a sedentary state. It’s not that sitting is inherently dangerous… the danger is in the dose. While a brief period of sitting here and there is natural, long periods of sitting day-in and day-out can seriously impact your health and shorten your life. Now, let’s visualize an American classroom, don’t you see students sitting all day? They are not meant to sit for so many hours in the same place every single day at school. We now know that today’s chairs do not offer enough flexibility to optimize learning. In 1912, Maria Montessori described the impact of chairs saying: “When chairs were used, children were not disciplined, but annihilated” (Montessori)


Brain research also confirms that physical activity – moving, stretching, and walking – can actually enhance the learning process. Eric Jensen (2000), in his article “Moving with the Brain in Mind(Education Leadership Magazine), protests against the sedentary classroom style and suggests a better way to spend the long days in our classrooms, not only for students, but for teachers. Teachers need to engage students in a greater variety of postures, including walking, lying down, moving, learning against a wall or desk, perching, or even squatting. A slanted desk means less fatigue, better concentration, less eye straining, and better reading. Students experience less painful electromyogram activity in the lower back when they use slanted work surfaces instead of flat ones (Eastman & Kamon, 1976).


Teachers should regularly engage students in movement. “The data suggest that exercise is the best overall mood regulator” (Thayer, 1996) The brain learns best and retains most when the organism is actively involved in exploring physical sites and materials and asking questions. “Merely passive experiences tend to attenuate and have little lasting impact” (Gardner, 1999. pg. 82). Active learning has significant advantages over sedentary learning, which are: more can be remembered, they can have more fun, the styles can be more age appropriate, and can be more intelligence independent and that reaches more learners. Active leaning is not just for physical education teachers – that notion is outdated. Active learning and flexible seating are for educators who understand the science behind the learning; this is why teachers across the United States are switching daily to flexible seating in their classrooms. Teachers and students love it!

Flexible Seating looks like this


Seating: So as long as a student’s postures and movements do not disrupt others’ learning and comfort, they are literally allowed to choose any number of places to land in our classroom. They can be:

  • on the floor, carpeted or tile
  • over/under a blanket, pillow, or lap-sized bean bags
  • on a couch, an easy chair, a Papasan chair, a traditional chair (wood), stools that don’t move (with or without back support), stools that move up and down, “spinny” chairs on wheels, chairs that feel like they may tip (but don’t), chairs that are plush on the seat and/or the back, or a high-backed easy chair
  • on bouncy balls
  • on scoop rocker chairs
  • on raised chairs
  • standing or even
  • lying down on their tummies or backs!
  • DSCN9796.JPG

Flexible Seating is loved by students and teachers, is needed by students and teachers, and it is much deserved. Help me to make the change that should have taken place more than a century ago in the American classrooms and around the world. Studies prove that flexible seating is not only a good think, but a necessary one to improve health and learning.


Would you help me make a difference in the world by changing one classroom at a time?

Flexible Seating looks like this


References and great resources!

Bjorklund, D. F. B., R. D. . (1998). Physical play and cognitive development: integrating activity, cognition, and education. Child Development.

Brekke-Sisk, N. (2006). STANDING ROOM ONLY in classroom of the future. Mayo Clinic Alumni.  Retrieved from http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwiazdrbqcjLAhWlzoMKHZKeC_MQFggcMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mayo.edu%2Fpmts%2Fmc4400-mc4499%2Fmc4409-0906.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFRPVbWl19_IdOM8Zn5UTTrGQQDpg

Brekke-Sisk, N. (2015). Standing-room only in classroom of the future.   Retrieved from http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwjdqbDdw8PLAhWLw4MKHQhkDkkQFggcMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mayo.edu%2Fpmts%2Fmc4400-mc4499%2Fmc4409-0906.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFRPVbWl19_IdOM8Zn5UTTrGQQDpg

Cindy. (2015). Alternative Seating. Retrieved from http://primarychalkboard.blogspot.ca/2015/11/alternative-seating-classroom.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+PrimaryChalkboard+(Primary+Chalkboard)

Corps, H. (2009). Sitting Too Long Is Bad for Kids’ Health.   Retrieved from https://www.healthcorps.org/sitting-too-long-is-bad-for-kids-health/

Danneman, I. (2014). Six Alternative Seating Options in the Classroom for a Child with Special Needs.   Retrieved from http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2014/11/03/six-alternative-seating-arrangements-for-a-child-with-special-needs/

Delzer, K. (2015). Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-10-01-why-the-21st-century-classroom-may-remind-you-of-starbucks

Eastman, M., & Kamon, E. . (1976). The effects of emotion on cue utilization and the organization of behavior. Human Factors, 18(1), 15-26.

Emnett, A. (2015a). Alternative Seating.   Retrieved from http://mrsemnettsclass.weebly.com/alternative-seating.html

Emnett, A. (2015b). Alternative Seating This Year! St. Luis, Missouri.

Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gonzalez, J. (2015). Flexible Seating. Retrieved from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/flexible-classroom/

James A. Levine, M. D., Ph.D. (2015). What are the risks of sitting too much? Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005

Jensen, E. (2000). Moving with the brain in mind. Educational Leadership, 58(3).

Kravitz Ph.D., L. (2009). Too Much Sitting is Hazardous to Your Health? . British Medica Journal.  Retrieved from http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/sittingUNM.html

Leslie. (2015). Your kinders are under the tables! {alternative seating}. Retrieved from http://www.kindergartenworks.com/classroom-management/kindergarten-alternative-seating/

McManus, D. (2015). Too much sitting is bad for children The New York Times.(Health).  Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/09/23/sitting-is-bad-for-children-too/

Mercola, D. (2015). Are you sitting too much? Retrieved from http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/05/08/sitting-too-long.aspx

Nellis, B. (2010). Exercise Balls and Balance Discs Improve Classroom Learning and Benefit Kids with ADHD. One Touch Massage. Retrieved from http://blog.1massagestore.com/2010/06/22/exercise-balls-and-balance-discs-improve-classroom-learning-and-benefit-kids-with-adhd/

Petlak, L. (2015). Functional, Flexible Classroom Seating Options Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2015/11/functional-flexible-classroom-seating-options

Primal Posture. (2016).   Retrieved from http://gokhalemethod.com/

Reynolds, G. (2015). Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.

Schools, A. C. P. (2015). Flexcible Classrooms: Providing the Learning Environment That Kids Need. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/practice/flexible-classrooms-providing-learning-environment-kids-need

Semnnets. (2015). Letter to parents about flexible seating.   Retrieved from http://mrsemnettsclass.weebly.com/alternative-seating.html

Smith, L. (2014). Forget the neat rows of desks, Michigan Center students stay on task in alternative seating. MLive. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2014/12/forget_the_neat_rows_of_desks.html

Thayer. (1996). The origin of everyday moods.

Wyatt, K. (2009). Stability balls let kids get rid of the wiggles. SFGate. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/Stability-balls-let-kids-get-rid-of-the-wiggles-3168996.php