Written by Joy Choquette

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, underscores the importance of active learning. And while this term is frequently used to describe a more hands-on approach to education, it’s also true for most learners.

At Folsom Education Center in South Hero, teacher Julie Pidgeon learned this firsthand. Julie, who teaches Language Arts to 5th through 8th-grade students, states that the inclusion of flexible seating in her classroom has made a significant positive impact for students. “From a teaching standpoint…I feel it’s really helped their focus and engagement in learning,” Julie states about the new seating options.

The classroom was outfitted with wobble stools and a standing table, along with textured chair pads that can be used at either a low table or in traditional chairs. These options allow students to move without distracting others. Julie states that the idea was first posed by a RiseVT staff member. Julie and fellow teacher Tom Nolan—who teaches social studies at the same grade levels—applied for a RiseVT grant and were awarded funds to help outfit their classrooms.

“The response has been tremendous,” Julie says. “The kids just love the seating. Their response was fantastic.” Colby Reagan, one of the school’s seventh-grader’s, says, “It’s good because it’s kind of like I can fidget but also concentrate more.” Daniel Jackson, a classmate, concurs. “It felt like I could move around more,” he said of what are affectionally called the “jellyfish” seats—basically cloth-covered yoga balls positioned on legs for stability.

Julie’s room wasn’t the first in the school to get alternative seating options. In the Special Education room, Shannon Jankowski utilizes beanbags and flex bands around the bottom of chairs. These help students to focus more on their work. “A lot of kids pick the seat that’s best for their bodies,” she notes, adding that, “The baseline was very clear,” about what was allowed and not allowed to be done while using alternative seating.

There have been few problems in that regard. Julie agrees, saying that it’s virtually “eliminated safety concerns.” Kids don’t feel the need to tip back in chairs because they can choose a seat that moves with them and keeps them safer simultaneously. “It’s not distracting or disruptive to others,” Julie says. “Kids are moving and getting up and still learning. You can still learn and get things done while getting movement in your day.”

“It’s great,” sixth-grader, Ava Savoy, offers when asked what her thoughts were about the flexible seating options. She says she likes that she has the option to sit or stand. Aurelia Wickenden, a seventh-grader, prefers a traditional chair most of the time. “I like the chair because it feels like it won’t fall over,” she notes. “It makes me fidget less,” adds another seventh-grader, Hazel Valin, while with traditional seating, “You’re like always sitting all day.”

More movement incorporated into everyone’s school or workday offers solid health benefits, too. Studies by The Mayo Clinic indicate that extended sitting can be harmful to one’s health. An analysis of 13 different studies by the group found that those who sat for greater than eight hours each day with no physical activity had a similar risk of dying as individuals who were obese or smoked.

Julie says of the new seating arrangement: “It creates an environment where if you need to stretch you can, if you need to stand up, if you want to lay on the floor students can do that and continue learning.”

When the seating was first installed in the classroom, Julie offered a one-week exploration period. Students tried out the different seating and standing desk options and noted which they preferred. She then asked them to fill out a Google survey and did her best to match each student with their preferred seat.

While Julie herself prefers a traditional chair in a quiet room for learning, she’s come to see the positive effects that the alternative seating has had on students. She notes that by opening her mind to different seating options and more flexibility in the classroom it’s virtually eliminated power struggles and distractions. “I’ve been so pleased with how much it’s improved the spirit of the kids,” Julie notes. “Thanks to Moretti and RiseVT, we’re all about movement here,” she says of the Folsom Education Center.