DeMello students bounce and lounge with flexible seating

Nov 22, 2019

Students in Amanda Depin’s third grade classroom chose a variety of places to complete a reading assignment: Some sat on the floor with pillows or on donut-shaped seats, others wobbled on special stools, and a few bounced on yoga balls as they worked.

It was Thursday morning at DeMello Elementary School, and Depin and fellow third grade teacher Leslie Gamache were using their classrooms’ flexible seating arrangements to the fullest.

“Every morning they come in, and my class gets to pick where they want to sit,” explained Gamache.

“Some like to have their own spot, and that’s where their stuff stays. Others have all these cubbies, and that’s where they store all their stuff,” she said.

“We’re trying to mix it up by saying ‘you can’t sit next to the same people all the time,’” she noted.

Cubbies lined the walls and tables and desks of varying heights and shapes stood around the room. Kids were working on mats on the floor, at lap desks, even on a beanbag.

Other options included a pink ‘butterfly chair’, an intentionally unstable ‘wobble stool’, and a rocking chair. 

“They’re so popular that we rotate,” Gamache said with a smile. “I have a master list that I go through...Because I don’t have enough.”

“They’re pretty cool,” said eight-year-old Sara Amac about the lap desk she was using to complete an assignment. “When I tried them, it’s actually pretty comfortable.”

Gianni Rogers was enjoying a beanbag chair that looked like a basketball, although he said the pink chair was his favorite. “It’s the most comfortable,” he said.

Many of the special items like the cubbies and a variety of tables were funded out of a Dartmouth Education Foundation grant. 

They spent around $3,000 in grant money on the larger items alone, Gamache said, and just one wobble stool costs around $40.

But much of the rest of it comes from the teachers’ own pockets.

“I’m broke,” joked Depin from the front of her classroom. 

Depin bought a lot of the seating, like plastic donuts, yoga balls, and ‘scoot rockers’ portable, stackable plastic rocking seats that rest on the floor — with her own money.

“Most of the time we buy a lot of stuff on our own,” admitted Gamache.

But the students seemed to like the arrangement. 

“My favorite part is that whenever I need to rest my back, I can lean back on them,” said Audrey Ostiguy of the scoot rockers. Ostiguy turned nine on Saturday. “They’re really fun to use,” she added.

“Flexible seating looks different in everyone’s classroom,” noted Gamache. “It’s really just how you want to make it work for you.” 

“It’s kind of like, what you’re able to handle,” said Depin.

Gamache agreed, noting that students bouncing on yoga balls in her class would distract her. 

“I can’t handle the bouncing,” she said with a wry smile. “It drives me nuts. But that works for her, and for her classroom.”

“It’s fun,” said Depin. “I like them. I think it’s all about choice. [The kids] have options, and comfort.”

Gamache admitted that at first the flexible seating arrangement took some getting used to.

“It has taken some time to get myself comfortable with the movement and this non-traditional approach,” she noted. 

But she and Depin both said the kids really like it.

“My favorite thing is probably those,” said eight-year-old Mason Silva, pointing to the yoga balls from his seat on a wobble stool. 

“It’s really easy to fall over,” he added with a grin.