Sitting behind a desk all day is hard for grownups. Can you imagine how hard it is for kids, who are significantly more active than adults? Teachers understand that movement is natural and healthy for kids, which is why many are turning to flexible, active seating to allow their students to move more in their classrooms.
While the benefits of active seating are now scientifically documented, it can be difficult to figure out what types of active learning equipment work best for your classroom and your budget.
Below, you will find a compilation of flexible seating options. And because not every teacher’s budget (or classroom) has room for sit-stand desks for all, we’ll include a guide to furniture accessories that let students fidget without breaking the bank.
The science behind active seating
Scientists are starting to examine what teachers have long known: Forcing kids to sit behind a desk all day can negatively impact their ability to stay focused, calm, and engaged in the classroom.
Kids need to move. Being able to fidget or move around especially helps kids with sensory disorders, including ADHD, pay better attention in class. In one recent study, researchers found that less attentive students saw a significant improvement in attentive behavior when using active seating. In another, researchers discovered that the use of sit-stand desks resulted in an increase in attention and inhibitory control for the third graders studied. However, older students didn’t see the same level of benefits.
Increased attention translates to better academic performance. In a 2011 study, moderately physical academic lessons improved performance on an academic standardized test by 6 percent, compared to a decrease of 1 percent for the control group. In a more recent study, researchers discovered that an increase in physical activity in the classroom has emotional benefits, which in turn results in increased academic achievement.
In addition to better focus and academic performance, active learning can promote better overall classroom enjoyment. One study found that active learning was a significant factor in increasing satisfaction during both individual and group learning.
Allowing active learning has yet another benefit – it gets kids moving! Kids are in school for upwards of six hours a day. That’s a long time for kids’ bodies to be sedentary. Increased sedentary time can lead to an increase in obesity and other negative health outcomes for kids. By increasing physical activity, flexible seating may help prevent childhood obesity and associated health concerns.
What to buy? Flexible seating options
When looking for active or flexible seating options, teachers have a lot to consider. You need something that isn’t noisy or distracting (Sorry, no pogo sticks!). You need something that will work for kids of various heights and weights. You need something that will work with the physical constraints of your classroom. And, of course, you need something that will work within your teacher budget. Luckily, you have many scalable options for active, flexible seating. Here are some of the most popular picks.
You can adjust sit-stand desks to allow you to stand or sit when working. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 60 percent of employers offer their employees standing desks. Now, teachers are seeing the benefits for classrooms as well. For instance, in one study, the use of a standing desk dramatically decreased non-attentive behavior, particularly for students who were observed as being less attentive than their peers. If you purchase a sit-stand desk that multiple children will use, also consider whether you will need to adjust the height frequently. If so, a sit-stand desk with an electric adjustment mechanism, rather than a mechanical one, may be the best choice. For help choosing a desk, check out our definitive guide to buying a sit-stand desk.
Standing converter desks
If you don’t have the budget or ability to buy new sit-stand desks, or if you’re generally happy with the desks you already have in your classroom, standing converter desks may be the right option. You can put them on top of or attach them to traditional desks or tables to convert them into sit-stand desks.
Stability ball chairs
Also known as a yoga or exercise ball, a stability ball allows gentle movement while encouraging good posture. Research dating back to 2003 suggests students with ADHD may have improved behavior and legible word productivity when using stability ball chairs. To avoid unintentional rolling, some stability ball chairs come with legs to help keep them in place. You can also purchase a base to hold the ball and prevent rolling.
What teacher doesn’t want their students perched on the edge of their seats, rapt with attention? With perch stools, the seats tilt forward, causing the student’s legs to be at roughly a 120-degree angle rather than the traditional seated 90 degrees. Research suggests perching may have health benefits, including a reduction in various aches and pains. Because using perch stools requires some concentration, they may help with sensory issues and improve focus in students.
As the name suggests, wobble stools, also called wobble chairs, move around as you sit, requiring students to use a combination of leg, hip, and ab muscles and wiggle. Wobble stools are a great no-fuss addition to the classroom because they generally require no or minimal assembly.
Foam stools also require no assembly, making them easy to set up anywhere in the classroom. They’re a great choice for creating a movable, engaging space within the classroom, such as a reading corner or activity center. Some brands of foam stools have a slight rounding at the bottom, allowing for light rocking. Others are stationary, but they’re still a great pick for flexible classroom seating. Check the type before you purchase them to make sure you choose the foam stools that work best for your classroom.
When kids sit directly on the floor rather than in a traditional chair, they can move their legs into different angles, which can provide relief for sore bodies after hours of traditional sitting. Floor seats also help encourage a flexible classroom setup because they tend to be easily moveable. Some brands also allow for gentle rocking and reclining.
Kids come in all shapes and sizes, and active learning seating should too! You can adjust or stack many of the above products so they fit kids of all ages and heights. Check the product before you buy it to make sure it’s adjustable.
Other options for flexible seating: furniture accessories
It may not be in your budget to reinvent your classroom with sit-stand desks or other furniture, or other factors may keep you from buying flexible seating options. Furniture accessories allow teachers to create an active classroom while maintaining traditional desks and chairs. Accessories are generally affordable options.
A wobble cushion is a cushion filled with air that you can place on top of a chair to create a moving surface for a student to sit on. Movement can help a student stay more alert while preventing them from rocking back in their chair. The cushion comes with a soft side and a pointy side. The pointy side may have additional benefits, particularly for kids who benefit from more sensory input.
These furniture accessories are one of the most affordable options to help students benefit from active sitting. A bouncy band is a thick plastic band that stretches across the front legs of a chair. A student can rest or bounce their feet on the band. Bouncy bands have been clinically shown to reduce off-task behaviors, particularly among students who are typically less engaged in the classroom.
Sensory tools are manipulable objects that have sensory appeal and may be able to reduce anxiety and distracting behavior. They include tools that students can press, squish, click, smell, spin, squeeze, stretch, or roll. Fidget spinners were the most popular sensory tools for a while. More recently, students favor colorful plastic poppers, which are akin to bubble wrap but not as noisy. When used properly, sensory tools may help students manage sensory issues, anxiety, anger, and distraction by allowing them to redirect excess energy.
By using under-desk cycles, kids can fully move their legs while they stay quietly seated. Depending on the model, the pedals can be nearly silent, adjustable, and easily portable. Under-desk cycles are on the more expensive end of active furniture accessories. However, you can find affordable options with great reviews.
These tools are a great choice for teachers on a budget who want to provide their students with accessories that allow focused fidgeting. Also known as balance boards, wobble boards are small objects that your students can stand on while reading, listening, or doing other classroom activities. Because a wobble board tilts, often in many directions, a child needs to engage their muscles to stay balanced, which may help them with concentration and focus.
Adding some of these active learning options into your classroom may bring great physical, emotional, and academic benefits for your students. With a little research and nearly any sized budget, you can bring active learning to your classroom.