St. Benilde’s 2nd graders embrace seating options

The seating design of Kristy Lacoste’s second-grade classroom has been dramatically altered over the course of her three years as a teacher at St. Benilde.

During Lacoste’s first year at the Metairie school, she noticed her 7-year-olds struggling to keep their books and supplies atop traditional desks, so in year two she replaced the desks with low-slung tables and chairs.

Then, last fall, Lacoste changed her seating arrangement yet again: her students walked into a “flexible seating” classroom where they had a choice of three seating options: a traditional table and chairs; a “crate table,” offering seats made of heavy-duty plastic crates; and a “pillow table,” where students sit or kneel on individual cushions as they work at an almost floor-level table.

A campus ‘claim to fame’

“They were so excited that we were the only class in the whole wide school that had flexible seating,” said Lacoste, who had read about the concept on social media and teachers’ blogs.

“Every child learns differently, so I thought it would be awesome for my second graders to have a choice of where they sat – because some of them have that nervous energy that they just need to get out,” Lacoste notes. “The crate chairs are great for that and so are the pillows, because I don’t mind if they lie down to do their work – as long as they don’t put their head down and try to take a nap.”

Crazy for crates

Although adults might find it counter-intuitive that a chair lacking a backrest would be the most comfortable seat, the crate tables have turned out to be the most popular seating option in Lacoste’s classroom, prompting the observant teacher to add a second crate table to the mix. The stool-like crates give children the chance to wiggle in their seats and turn 360 degrees, unimpeded.

“I quickly learned they were in love with the crates. It was the coolest thing they had ever seen in their lives,” Lacoste said.

News of the crates’ popularity got back to second-grade parents, who started asking Lacoste for the directions so they could make their own at home. Lacoste and her husband made the crate chairs last summer, cutting plywood to size to create the seat tops and cushioning them with cotton batting. Finally, colorful fabric was staple-gunned onto the plywood seats and placed atop upended crates to create the finished product.

The removable tops enable Lacoste’s students to use their crate chair as a storage bin for the items they must have at their fingertips at all times: their “VIP” folder, Accelerated reader log, library books and pencil pouch.

Lacoste also incorporated storage into her two other seating scenarios: the classroom’s conventional chairs have “seat sacks” slung over their backrests; and each of her pillow tables has slotted plastic organizational files on the center of the tabletop.

One of Lacoste’s flexible seating ideas was abandoned early in the school year: a chair-free table for “stand-up” learning, elevated to the youngsters’ chest level.

“By the middle of the day they were coming to me to say they were tired,” Lacoste said.
Youngsters rotate

To introduce students to their new seating options, Lacoste allowed them to try out a different type every day at the beginning of the school year. Almost immediately, she noticed that some of her students were very happy to sit in a regular chair.

“There are others that really gravitate to the pillows or to the crates,” said Lacoste, who now makes her students alternate where they sit every couple of weeks.

“The biggest thing about flexible seating for me is that it’s all about them finding a seat in the classroom where they can do their very best,” the teacher said.

The second graders are allowed to leave their assigned seat at any time to stretch out on the carpet, which offers thinner cushions and invites students to complete their work on the floor.

“I find that I’m getting better quality of work (since initiating flexible seating): Lacoste said. “They’re taking more pride in what they’re doing because they get to choose where they work best. It’s all about them being the best that they can possibly be. If that means they want to (work) on the carpet, then that’s fine. As long as they’re trying their best.”

The teacher also has also detected more collaboration and teamwork among her students – possibly because they can focus on the work at hand instead of worrying about spilled books, aching backs or unexpended energy.

“When you give a child the option of choosing, then they feel that they’re in control,” Lacoste said. “So this little thing of picking their seating makes a big difference.”

Beth Donze can be reached at bdonze@clarionherald.org.

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