Reasons Why Every Classroom Needs Flexible Furniture
What Should a Modern Classroom Have?
The rows of stationary classroom desks and chairs, designed during the industrial economy boom to match societies’ needs, allowed lecturing to a large group of students and the best use of natural light in classrooms that didn’t have access to electricity. Despite changes in technology and pedagogy, traditional classroom furniture is still the primary design for the majority of learning environments.
The most recent trends in learning environments are the so-called “flexible learning spaces”, “active learning classrooms” or “interactive learning spaces”, where traditional furniture is replaced with work surfaces that give students a choice of seating and location i.e. personalized comfort. In such environments, students are able to move easily, reconfigure and even partially condense the furniture. Additionally, teacher space within a flexible classroom usually takes 10% or less of the floor space.
Many changes that have been developing for some time in the educational landscape have accelerated with the COVID pandemic. The importance of classrooms and school spaces has never been so emphasized. The COVID-19 crisis has reminded us of the importance of schools as social centres. Not only are they not expendable, but they must also be optimised as they are forms of collective living and learning that cannot be replaced by distance learning. As community centres, they house social relationships hence revival, redesign and renewal of school spaces is crucial.
As the International Commission on the Futures of Education established by UNESCO states:
“It is no longer simply a question of delivering our children to schools at fixed times and relying on the inherited belief that time-spent equals learning-achieved. Instead, we must find flexible forms, flexible times, shared educational commitments, and an understanding of the ways that learning is broadly diffused across contemporary societies… It is an illusion to think that online learning is the way forward for all.”
Form Precedes Function
Whether we’re talking about an adjustable student study desk like a lap desk, standing desk, and pedal desk or flexible seating options like floor chairs, stools, rockers, wiggle cushions, bean bags or balance balls, one thing is certain: Functionality is key and the form should serve the function.
The practicality and space-saving ability of adjustable furniture are augmented by their composition: lightweight but strong, portable, sustainable, and fully recyclable materials that are easy to clean, all of which makes them suitable for both students and teachers. Today, you can even find a flip top table that can serve as a student study desk and a mobile whiteboard at the same time!
Does Flexible Seating Really Work?
It’s been concluded that no static posture is good. Apart from the ergonomic design, good back support and posture, by constantly switching positions from the floor chair to the student work desk, children can stimulate their brains by increasing their metabolism and oxygen flow. Every kid in the classroom can easily shift from sitting to standing and achieve the perfect balance required to maintain back stability, flexibility and mobility.
In addition to the health benefits of flexible furniture here are other reasons why flexible furniture is good for your classroom:
Better Learning Outcomes
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children diagnosed with ADHD has increased from 7.8% in 2003 to 11% in 2011. Hanscom stated that the blame for this increase can be partially attributed to the sedentary nature of the physical environment in most traditional classrooms.
The average child spends approximately 15,000 hours of their school life sitting in a chair and a student study desk. This enormous amount of time spent sitting in an upright position doesn’t enable children to move their bodies in natural ways throughout the school day. The unreleased built-up energy ultimately leaves students restless, fidgeting, and distracted, unable to concentrate or understand the school task.
Traditional classroom desks and chairs don’t consider a child’s height or allow for adequate movement while seated which can have a negative impact on attention and on-task behaviour. In contrast, flexible classroom furniture promotes physical activity which ultimately increases learning capacity.
Improves Student Collaboration
No man is an island. As species, we have progressed due to our cooperation and collaboration. So why would we think that an individual, static desk that “boxes in” a child would be beneficial for gaining knowledge and achieving optimal physical and psychological development?
To illustrate, an Australian study on interaction, collaboration and engagement of secondary school students in flexible classrooms noted that students in flexible learning spaces spend more time working in groups, collaborating and interacting positively with their peers, being actively engaged in the lesson, presenting work back to the class and demonstrating behaviours appropriate for the task such as raising hands, writing or discussing.
Moreover, students spent less time being taught explicitly and working individually than in traditional classrooms. Students were also less likely to spend time on phones and computers.
Boosts Critical Thinking
We’ve all heard the expression “To think on one’s feet” and we’ve all probably wanted to be those effective and decisive people. Likewise, we would want the same for our children.
According to researchers, school consumes about 30% of a child’s day, during which students are seated at classroom desks the majority of the time. How would we expect to get the juices flowing if we are static?
Unfortunately, this problem can’t be solved by simply finding flexible student desks for sale, throwing in some balance balls or redecorating the classroom. The point is to adjust and repurpose the whole space so it can be a place that nourishes debate and discussion. One of the main benefits of school spaces is that they teach a child to express opinions while also being open and tolerant to the opinions of others. Only by being aware of the existence of multiple perspectives can we become better and more capable thinkers.
Increases Sensory Input & Integration
Although it is unclear whether the prevalence has increased or the changes in statistics are due to improvement of diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) numbers are steadily rising. As a complex, developmental disability, it’s a condition that debilitates social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication followed by restricted and repetitive behaviours, all of which affect the child’s education and life in general.
Not only does flexible furniture by itself increase engagement of the student but also many flexible furniture pieces available have been adjusted and specialized for students in need of a stronger sensory input in order to achieve and maintain focus. Alternative seating helps kids who struggle with balance (vestibular input), developmental delays, gross motor skills, low muscle tone and sensory seeking behaviours.
In fact, one small study conducted on 15 students with autism showed promising results. A significant increase in in-seat behaviours in 86.7% (thirteen out of 15) and on-task behaviours in 53.3% of the students (eight out of 15) while using therapy balls was noticed. There was also a significant decrease in the stereotyped movement such as repetitive behaviour, an increase in collaboration and cooperation and a general improvement of their social skills.
Remember when you loved school? Or if you didn’t, why was that? Was your school a place where you could nourish and flourish or were you confined to a “one size fits all” approach?
The traditional rigid classroom needs to make way for a flexible future. By making furniture user and student-centred, students and teachers can reach their educational goals much faster than before. Flexible furniture that’s more comfortable, functional, adjustable, intuitive, reconfigurable, and technology-friendly transforms the educational process into a positive experience, a proven technique that increases learning capacities and tendencies.
Turn your classroom desks into a source of inspiration, not detention.