Flexible Seating, Part 1

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Towards the end of August every year, one might think that I’ve become an IKEA superfan. Or in some cases, a furniture hoarder. That’s because I start slow-cruising past curbside piles of discarded furniture and knick knacks, peeking into friends’ and relatives garages, and scouring Saturday morning garage sales for cast offs. All this, in the name of flexible seating, or as we call it in my French Immersion classroom, “l’aménagement flexible.”

In trying to implement flexible seating in my classroom I’ve learned that a good pile of milk crates makes for great storage, an office chair with a wonky wheel can easily be repaired and is much appreciated by a 10-year old, and that most IKEA storage lives forever and can be cleaned up to look new with the help of a Magic Eraser and some elbow grease. There is usually a hefty purchase of new items from IKEA too, with a sprinkle of Value Village for flavour.

Some of my favourite items so far are the towel racks and plant hangers that I repurposed for pencil/material storage, and the 6 nearly brand new rolling chairs that I picked up from a non-profit organization that was closing its office – my summer habit of trolling Kijiji’s “near me” ads really paid off that day!

With students constantly moving around the room, working in the hallways, visiting the library learning commons or the resource room, it was a challenge to find a way to store materials so that they were accessible, portable, and clutter-free. In the end, I settled on this combination of towel bars and hanging cups, which I believe are meant to be plant pots, but their true draw was that they were on sale for 49¢ and available in a neutral colour! One caveat – don’t be fooled by the suction cups on the cinder block. They don’t work, and I knew that from the get-go. I just liked them because the bars were white and would blend in well. I also wanted to avoid making holes in the wall, as that is a big no-no. To make them stick, I roughed up the back of the plastic pad from the suction cups with some sand paper and then used construction adhesive to attach it to the wall. Shhhh. Don’t tell… I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to do that either.

I’ve had this system in place for 3 years now, and it’s working great. To start the year, I provide everyone with two pencils, a pen, a highlighter, an eraser, a pair of scissors, and a ruler. I’m pretty strict about not letting kids bring extra items to avoid the cups becoming over-full of things that likely won’t be used. For the first month or so, to keep everyone accountable for the items, I do a challenge: if the whole class has all of their items at the end of the week, I give them a bonus item (usually a pencil sharpener, page flags, a fun eraser, a “fancy” pencil.) The kids love it, and they learn quickly not to lose their materials! They’re also very helpful in keep their classmates accountable so that they don’t leave things around the room. This makes cleanup fast and efficient. After September, they’re usually in a good habit of caring for things and I can move away from the incentives. Students also know that any item that runs out can be brought to me and exchanged for a replacement, however lost or broken items are their responsibility to replace.

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