Your classroom has a superpower – floor seating space. Here’s how to use it.
In the arc of human history, chairs are a relatively recent invention. For centuries, people have knelt, squatted, sat cross-legged, and lounged on the floor and on the ground. Floor sitting remains traditional in many cultures, from Japanese tatami mats to the low tables of Morocco. Babies spend much of their waking time on the floor, developing muscles and discovering their world, while young children can play comfortably on it for hours. But while many early elementary classrooms feature rugs for circle time and other floor activities, often the only furniture available is a set of traditional chairs and tables. As students progress into middle and high school, classroom furniture generally becomes more standardized to a grid of desks and chairs.
This happens despite the fact that sitting on the floor offers a variety of benefits, from better circulation to greater engagement, and can be offered to any age group as part of a flexible classroom. Adding floor seating gives students another choice for how to sit, one that might be more comfortable for some, and which offers a new perspective on the classroom. With its potential to improve student health, expand learning beyond the walls of the classroom, and build students’ understanding of how and where they learn best, floor seating could be your classroom’s overlooked superpower. Here are just a few of the benefits of sitting on the floor – and ideas for how to incorporate floor seating into any learning space.
Help Students Improve Their Posture with Floor Seating
Prolonged sitting in chairs can lead to a host of physical problems for students, including decreased circulation and poor posture. Spending time sitting on the floor, on the other hand, can increase hip mobility and strengthen the core and trunk muscles. Young children “are used to sitting on the ground,” notes Demco interior designer Angela Loewecke. “They sit on the floor; they’re hanging upside down on the couch at home.” By offering floor seating, you can harness young students’ innate ability to find learning positions that feel good to them, while also helping to keep their core muscles strong. Early elementary classrooms are an ideal space for a variety of floor seating options, such as low tables that students can use while they sit on the floor in a low seat or on a cushion. Make sure floor tables are adjustable, Loewecke adds, or you should offer seating options (floor vs. cushion) that fit students at various heights and developmental stages.
One caveat: not all floor sitting supports good posture. Some learners will start to slump into their lower backs after a while when sitting on the floor. To support ergonomically correct positioning throughout the day, classrooms can offer low chairs with back support, so that students are still “connected to the floor, but they do have a backrest,” Loewecke says, which can give core muscles a break as needed. Another idea for floor seating that supports good posture is a seat with an attached work surface that helps learners to position themselves so they are sitting up straight.
A flexible classroom that includes floor seating offers students the opportunity to learn a critical 21st century skill: finding the learning environment that works best for them by making choices about where and how to sit. “I think it’s hard to talk about floor seating without talking about student choice,” Loewecke says. Educators who have made the move to flexible classrooms overwhelmingly cite increased engagement as a direct result of giving students more seating choices. And research confirms that students learn better when they can choose their seats. A 2012 study at the University of Minnesota found that student test scores were higher in a flexible classroom than with a traditional seating plan.
Along with floor seating, classrooms can offer a variety of other options, such as traditional-height chairs, modular tables, standing desks, and active seating like wobble stools or balance balls. And there is a wide range of floor seating available. “You can have a soft, padded surface; you can have a hard plastic; you can have it tactile, with some sort of texture on it,” Loewecke notes. “It can be active or static. There are tons of different options.”
Use Floor Seating to Add Movement to the School Day
One of the overlooked benefits of floor seating is what happens when students want to change positions or try another type of seating — they get to move their bodies. “I think it’s important to give students the ability to move around throughout the day,” Loewecke says. “It’s going to make them more productive … even just getting up and moving from this type of seat to that type of seat, changing activities.” A classroom where students change seats frequently incorporates movement throughout the school day, which can have major physical benefits. Young children need to move their bodies in order to learn — they quite literally learn through movement, so their classrooms should be designed to let them wiggle, sprawl, and investigate. Older students will benefit from the circulation boost of getting up and moving — one study of high schoolers found that just 10 minutes of walking improved their performance on a series of cognitive tests.
Weaving movement into the school day doesn’t just raise test scores — it can also brighten students’ moods and build a foundation for better habits once they move into the workplace. Taking quick movement breaks throughout the workday has been found to improve office workers’ mood, focus, and attention. It’s hard for adults to create new habits — let’s help students get used to natural movement breaks now.
Floor Seating Makes it Easy to Move the Classroom Outdoors
Outdoor classrooms have been a safe option for many K–12 schools this year. Lightweight, low-profile floor seating can be one of the simplest ways to quickly take your classroom outside when the weather cooperates. Many floor seating options can be loaded onto a cart — or students can each carry their own cushion, mat, or stool. For outdoor classrooms, you want seating options that are “flexible, easy to move around, and easy to store,” Loewecke explains. Outdoor seating options should also be made of materials that are water-resistant and can be wiped clean, she adds. Seating that includes an attached writing surface is ideal, so that students have somewhere to balance a notebook or device.
These Floor Seating Ideas are Just the Beginning
Whether your students are young and eager to sit on the floor, or years removed from their kindergarten love of circle time, there’s a place in your classroom for floor seating. Sitting on the floor can offer your students a different learning environment within the same classroom — a new perspective on a familiar space. Moving down to the floor and back will keep everyone’s blood pumping and their brains ready to learn. And floor seating might be just what’s needed to move lessons outside into the fresh air this fall. After all, how often are you currently using the lowest three feet of your classroom? Let’s make this the year to harness all of the unexpected benefits of floor seating.
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