Creating Comfortable Inviting Spaces For Our Readers And Writers
A Note from Stacey: A couple of months ago, Katie LeFrancois allowed me to showcase photos of her fourth-grade classroom, which has an abundance of flexible seating options, in a blog post I wrote. Katie’s vision for why she has many seating options for her students is inspiring. Therefore, she’s sharing more about her classroom’s inviting spaces for students today.
When I was a little girl, I won the lottery! I was lucky enough to attend a progressive public school in South Freeport, Maine, called George C. Soule School. I loved everything about that place; it’s why I became a teacher. One aspect that really left an impression on me was how we sat down to learn. In Mr. Berg’s classroom, we solved math problems seated at towering tables made from industrial wire wheels. In Mr. Lunt’s room, I curled up in the bathtub with a friend to practice my math facts. School was exciting, fun, and full of wonder. Each space offered a sense of magic and comfort.
As a teacher, I want my students to love school and learning like I always have. I want them to know the work they do matters. The learning environment we create is so important. Flexibility and comfort are at the heart of creating a safe environment for our students, a space that invites them both physically and emotionally to dive into their work and learning.
When I taught first grade in Northfield, Vermont, I teamed with an amazing teacher by the name of Cheryl Jennings. She and I began talking about our shared dream of having a bathtub in our classrooms. At the time, she was battling cancer. Her husband made it his mission to find her a tub. Before long, he appeared with an old clawfoot bathtub he had found at a junkyard. They fixed it up and had her students decorate the side with their names and handprints. That year, Cheryl lost her battle with cancer. Mrs. Jennings’ bathtub became a beloved space in my classroom. Every year, I share Cheryl’s story with my students, and we honor her by taking good care of her special tub. The work we produce in her bathtub holds even more importance.
My first bathtub came to me from a place of friendship and love. My second tub came from a strong sense of community. Everyone loves to snuggle together to read and write in Mrs. Jennings’ tub. One day my fourth-grader, Estelle, decided that one tub in our classroom was not enough. She generously donated a second porcelain bathtub that had belonged to her grandmother, when she, too, was battling cancer.
My students sink into the tubs as they read, write, tackle assessments, and collaborate on projects. There is something magical about writing a story within the walls of a bathtub surrounded by pillows. Creating a space that adds choice and offers comfort is a conscious act of kindness that students feel. In addition to two beloved bathtubs, my room has rocking chairs, pillows, bean bag chairs, wobble & T-stools, yoga balls, a JackBack, scoop seats, cushioned stadium chairs, “Disc ‘o’” seats, a standing table, blankets for when we want to read and write outside, and of course, some traditional chairs. We take care of one another and strengthen our community by sharing these diverse seating options throughout the day.
You can transform your space by shopping at yard sales, asking for donations, and slowly using what budget you have to buy a few flexible seating options each year. Students love to design and paint our rocking chairs. This makes old or unattractive chairs feel special and new! It’s amazing how surrounding yourself with pillows or being able to wiggle around on a yoga ball, helps a child to relax and allow their ideas to flow. Comfort and choice create confident, powerful readers and writers.
When choosing seating options for your classroom, you want to think about all of your learners’ personalities, preferences, and sizes. It’s helpful to have places you can tuck seats away when you don’t need them. Rocking chairs rest in corners, pillows stack well under tables and along walls, and scoops & Disc ‘o’ seats disappear inside crates. I prefer yoga balls that have feet so they don’t roll around the room. With flexible seating options, you’ll need clipboards your readers and writers can utilize when they’re working away from their tables.
As with everything we do, each seating option requires a lesson on expectations, especially yoga balls (i.e., Will you allow bouncing, and if so, when and how much? Two feet must be flat on the floor for safety). As you introduce seating options and teach expectations, your classroom will transform into a joyful, busy space where students find pleasure in getting to work. You’ll witness the wonderful rhythm of your ever-evolving room as students utilize different seating options and spaces.
I believe everyone should feel like they won the lottery when they enter our classrooms! Our spaces should be inviting, comfortable & conducive to learning for all students. I believe that flexible seating is at the heart of making this goal a reality. Ask yourself what you can do to make your classroom even more comfortable to meet your students’ diverse needs. How has your classroom already evolved over the years? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comment section.
Katie LeFrancois is a fourth grade teacher in Richmond, Vermont. She has taught grades K-4, as well as adults, in Massachusetts, Vermont, and France. She studied drama and education at Saint Michael’s College and received her master’s in Creative Arts in Learning from Lesley University. You can follow her on Twitter or see what her amazing students are up to on her class blog or YouTube channel.