Last spring, I started to see teacher after teacher on Instagram slowly transform their classrooms with flexible seating from traditional desks in rows to pseudo coffee shops, and I was intrigued.
My classroom before:
First of all, I love coffee shops myself, so why not spend three-quarters of my life in one? Second, it makes sense for my students, especially in an ELA classroom where students are immersed in reading and writing for 40 minute blocks of the day and my primary goal is for them to find comfort in both.
My classroom after:
So, I took the plunge. My one caveat: I had to go cheap. I’m a teacher married to a teacher with three kids and three cats to feed. This meant I would need time and some creative teacher hacks in order to make flexible seating a reality in my classroom.
In the end, I was able to transform my classroom seating for under fifty dollars. Not only do my students love their new space, but I’m proud that I was able to pull it off without sacrificing my kids’ college funds.
Here’s how I made cheap flexible seating happen in my classroom:
1. I begged (just a little).
It’s quite likely that you know someone right now looking to get rid of a piece of furniture or with grandma’s dusty end table sitting in their basement. I knew there would be free furniture out there; I just had to find it. I asked around, and was able to score a free coffee table. It was pretty banged up, but for the cost of a can of spray paint, it looks like new and the funky color lights up our classroom space.
2. I hit up our school’s storage closet.
Schools. Have. Storage. Closets! Most schools have large storage areas shoved into some corner of the building that NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT. Old furniture, outdated furniture, and furniture that someone else tossed aside lives in the school storage closet. With a simple email to our school maintenance team, I gained access and scored my best furniture that students in my classes adore.
The art room’s old stools? My students’ new favorite seats. When our school’s GED program changed locations, they stored an old tall table that is large enough to fit 8 stools around. It was pretty beat up, but I just slathered it with chalkboard paint on the top and asked the tech teacher to tighten a few screws. Now it’s a favorite space.
I also picked up three retro-looking orange pleather chairs that must have adorned an administrative office back in the day. Now they give my classroom a really cool, artsy feel.
3. I shopped around for deals.
This step took time. I searched Facebook marketplace (one seller offered me her table for free when I told her I was a teacher). I also searched for deals in stores, especially as college season rolled around and cheap dorm room furniture started filling the shelves. Still, even twenty dollars for one chair seemed pricey to me, so I waited for the right moment.
I randomly found the chairs I had been stalking for a sale when my family was driving home from vacation. We stopped at a store that had cushiony saucer chairs marked down to $10. Despite the fact that our car was packed with beach bags and suitcases, we loaded in two chairs knowing we wouldn’t find a better deal.
My other purchases included a blow up ottoman from Five Below and a few pillows and a pretend sheepskin rug to adorn my classroom window ledge, creating one of the best reading nooks in my classroom. The amazing mural was painted by one of my students who begged to leave her mark in my classroom–yes, please!
4. I kept some desks.
If you’re considering adding flexible seating to your classroom, keep in mind, you should keep some desks for students who prefer a traditional work space, so you really only need three or four alternatives.
The key to flexible seating is that it must be functional for students, and we all have some who work better at desks.To be exact, I kept 17 desks and added 12 plus flexible seating options (the plus comes from kids piling around the coffee table and using floor and window ledge space like seating).
5. I ripped up old books to create the coffee shop atmosphere.
Once my seating was complete, I still wanted to create the feel of a coffee shop in my classroom. I stumbled upon a few ideas on Pinterest and Instagram of decorators using old books for beautiful decorative displays, and I knew this would be my answer for cheap yet beautiful decor.
I decided to immerse my kids in old books, using books that I had hoarded but were falling apart and cutting them and repurposing them all over my classroom. One of my favorite projects was covering an old, damaged painting that was lying around my house with book pages. I used glue sticks to adhere the pages to the canvas, then added black cardstock cut in pennant shapes for a banner, and added the bulletin board letters to spell out our class motto: Get Smart.
The finished product sits on my bookshelf. Above it, I hung old books with the covers glued back-to-back. I attached a string and hooked them to my ceiling tiles with paperclips:
Now, when my students step into my classroom, it feels as if they are swimming in beautiful literature. My classroom is a warm space where both the students and I both want to be.
Every space in my room is rich in language. Book pages make great bulletin board banners:
Shifting to flexible seating has been one of the best decisions I’ve made as an educator. As our kids and our teaching styles change, I believe our classrooms need to change as well. My classroom is a place where interaction is a priority and is encouraged by the space itself. Kids love entering our classroom. It feels like home.
The best part: it cost next to nothing (less than $50!)