Updated: Jan 13, 2021
Flexible Seating in Teletherapy follows the researched trend for education environments and the options for flexible and alternative seating seem to be limitless; however, not all flexible and alternative seating is created equal. A quick search will lead you to various pins, blogs, and articles with suggestions for flexible and alternative seating in the classroom environment along with assurances that this type of seating will keep students on-task and engaged. There are also several research articles that seek to establish evidence for the educational, cognitive, and physical benefits experienced in the "Starbucks" atmosphere of flexible seating and substituting alternative seating for the traditional chair.
Although "flexible seating" has been coined to describe "alternative seating," it's actually referring to that "Starbucks atmosphere" where I might choose a big comfy chair to work on my computer, but you might gravitate toward standing at the high top table (Delzer, 2016). "Alternative seating" can be used to describe a place to sit that is not a traditional chair. But before diving into different types of seating, it's important to consider the goals of flexible and alternative seating.
Goals for INCREASED Learning:
Increase participation levels
Increase attention to task
Increase opportunities for personal preference
Increase physical activity
When discussing flexible and alternative seating with your Teletherapy clients, be sure to seek their input. Providing students and clients with choice empowers them, tapping into their intrinsic motivation and, ultimately, that grit that is so important to participation and learning (Stefanou, 2004).
Research will tell us that "flexible seating" alone may not be as participation-improving as we would think, especially in a group environment. Participation is dependent primarily on a little something we like to call grit. However, grit can definitely be helped by removing environmental elements that may distract from learning such as pets, siblings, TV, music while providing a comfortable seating arrangement. (Of course, siblings and pets can also be good support as well, depending on the situation!) Comfort will be different for each individual student (Fernandes, 2011) and could be a...
barstool at a kitchen counter
traditional chair at a dining room table.
couch in a living room
floor in any room
bench on a porch or a deck
standing at a raised desk, table, or counter
Many times a student has selected a personal bed as their preferred flexible seating. Unfortunately, this often leads to significantly decreased participation as they get a little too comfortable, and--unsurprisingly--falling asleep. If a Teletherapy student is looking dazed and glazed, utilize a different seating option!
Directing attention to a therapy task on the computer screen may also be more affected by environmental factors that seating. For instance, think about how easy it is to stare out a window, or watch a pet playing on the floor beside you instead of the computer screen. How can flexible seating help?
Well, here's where the fun begins...
Does your student have a blanket? Throw that blanket over the whole computer and your student's head. All of a sudden, the only thing in a student's line of sight is the computer screen. Does your student have a collapsible play-tent? Throw some pillows in there and plop down to a small, enclosed space, where again, the only thing to focus on is the computer screen. If you have a student that is a sensory-seeker, try loading a laundry basket with pillows and using that as your student's therapy place. Many parents also have exercise equipment in their home that can be a great spot for a Teletherapy session (i.e., exercise ball, wobble cushion, yoga mat, etc). Use a student's environment to their learning advantage!
Just like flexible seating can be changed and used for positive reinforcement of learning, so can alternative seating. Very few of my Teletherapy students actually use a traditional chair and desk set up for their workspace. While some alternative seating arrangements are conducive to learning, others....not so much. Again, pillows on a bed often lead to zzzzzzz. Examples of great dynamic seating devices include:
Therapy Wobble Cushion
Laundry Basket with pillows (for sensory-seekers)
These have been shown to have physical benefits of improving back health, burning more calories, using up excess energy, increasing metabolism, increasing oxygen flow to the brain, as well as increasing motivation and engagement. The research is far and wide in the ways that physical activity is correlated with higher academic performance, improved health, and positive behaviors (Delzer, 2016).
Knowing when to seek out flexible or alternative seating can be challenging and is really just trial and error sometimes. Increased participation will also depend on the individual child. For instance, I have some students that work very well sitting on a couch and others that will sit and stare at a TV in the same room, even when the TV is just a black screen. If you have a student with challenging behaviors, don't be afraid to try some unusual places like turning a bathtub into a swimsuit-speech party or stepping outside to a sandbox! Find an environment within their home that capitalizes on language learning. And it doesn't have to be a desk and chair.
-Angela C. Hancock, MSP, CCC-SLP
Delzer, K. (2016, April 22). Flexible seating and student-centered classroom redesign. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/flexible-seating-student-centered-classroom-kayla-delzer
Fernandes, A.C., Huang, J., Rinaldo, V. (2011). Does where a student sits really matter? - The impact of seating locations on student classroom learning. International Journal of Applied Educational Studies, 10(1), 66.
Stefanou, C. R., Perencevich, K.C., DiCintio, M., & Turner, J.C. (2004). Supporting autonomy in the classroom: Ways teachers encourage decision making and ownership. Educational Psychologist, 39(2), 97-110.
Harden, C. (2017, August). Flexible seating in the early childhood classroom. https://nwcommons.nwciowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1050&context=education_masters