It’s usually the first thing anyone who hasn’t been in our classrooms before asks, “Why don’t you have any chairs?” It’s a good question and there are many reasons Alicia and I have given up chairs to support student learning. First things first, our youngest students like to move and they don’t sit anywhere for long. Our classrooms are small and if there were 26 desks and 26 chairs we wouldn’t have room to do anything but sit. Learning would look extremely different.
Without the more traditional classroom set up we can easily move tables around so that we have a wide open working space. Sometimes we push all the tables to the sides of the classroom to create a larger working space. These photo’s show how students have plenty of room to work as they explore how balls move and begin to build ramp systems in science. Sometimes our tables become stages for group presentations. Without chairs and desks, we have a great deal of opportunity to change our classroom layout in a moment’s notice to best fit our students learning needs.
You’ll notice that we have tables and not desks. We believe this is the best way to get our students used to working together. Both of us have no assigned seating in our classrooms and on the first day of school we begin teaching kids how to make choices that work for them. First graders like to fidget and sometime being a self directed learner means you sit at a table or lie down on the carpet with a clipboard.
It’s rare that you would see all of our students sitting at tables. First graders love to mix it up. We firmly believe that students learn better when they are not glued to their seats. It’s important that they are able to engage physically and creatively while they are learning. Even so we still take many brain and body breaks to get out kids up and moving around during the day. And if you need anymore convincing, you probably already know that with our youngest learners, chairs can present their own unique issues. They can squeak, tip over frequently and cause a great deal of noise. Not to mention, how hard it is to get first graders to push chairs in when they’re not sitting in them. In fact, it was tripping over a chair that caused me to take the last chairs out of my room for good. For a long while, I had a mixture of low tables and traditional desks and chairs. So, after tripping and while planning a writers celebration, I decided I would move the chairs into the halls so we would have more room to move around. The celebration was super successful. But when I told my students that I would be putting our room back together in the morning, they replied, “Why would you do that – we love the low tables and it’s so much better this way.” As usual, my students understood what worked best for them before I did. And they make it clear that our classroom was too crowded.
I will say that in the beginning, Alicia and I felt some resistance. Parents worried that their children would be uncomfortable or they would get dirty sitting on the floor. We bought many carpet squares and pillows but found that while children will reach for them occasionally, they really prefer sitting or kneeling on the floor. There have been times when children’s physical limitations or other reasons have warranted bringing a desk and chair into the classroom. And of course, we do what is right for every student. In a perfect world, we would love to have a mixture of all kinds of seating, but for us, at this time, in the space that we occupy, our furniture helps support the learning community that we believe is most important for our kids. A classroom where everyone is making a choice that allows them to be successful. And at the same time creating a classroom environment where collaboration and conversation is always part of the learning process.