LASALLE, Ill. (AP) — Follow 13-year-old Abbie George home from Waltham North School and you'll find her tackling her homework from a sofa or her bed. Once the last bell rings, the 8th grader needs to stretch out.
Lately, however, Abbie comes home less in need of unfurling. Waltham teachers joined a trend in which teachers let their students spend part of their days perched on milk crates, laundry baskets, high stools, low chairs or simply standing up — wherever they like, really.
It's called flexible seating and studies have shown students concentrate better when they can adopt the same poses and seating arrangements at home. Educators found that even the most disciplined students need to complete their homework spread out over the kitchen table or their reading while sprawled across a living room couch. So why not let them stretch in class, too?
"I really like it and I think it's a good idea," Abbie said. "I like to sit on the yoga ball — I like to bounce on it a little bit — or a straight chair, either one is fine."
Waltham hasn't put traditional desks out for curbside pickup. There still are lectures and white-board exercises where the kids need to face forward, listen and take notes.
But Waltham principal Melanie Lukacsy said there are plenty of group activities and reading sessions that demand a degree of freedom from the writing desk. Waltham responded by bringing in not only yoga balls but also low-slung computer chairs and high-backed stools as well as milk crates covered in fabric for kids to slide easily into small groups.
"It allows them to be comfortable in the classroom but also to focus and to concentrate," Lukacsy said. "Studies are showing that flexible seating has an impact on student learning because of engagement."
The concept is by no means new, though schools have adopted it gradually (if at all) in part because of budgetary constraints. In an era when Illinois' ongoing budget woes mean few school districts are flush with cash, no one is in a rush to stock their classrooms with bean bags for reading hour.
Nevertheless, Peru Elementary schools adopted some flexible seating for students through the Peru Education Foundation, which directed some resources outside ever-dwindling state aid. Peru elementary superintendent Mark Cross said the district has had "good success" in terms of how the teachers feel it works with our students.
"We don't purchase things like this because it is the trendy thing to do, but when we replace furniture and fixtures, we try to determine what will be most effective to meet the needs of our kids," Cross said. "Businesses research what works for their customers, and in that regard we are no different with our students."
It was a timely experiment for Waltham because the district is close to breaking ground on a new school. District officials decided to use the pre-construction period to reevaluate teaching methods and to kick around new ideas. Flexible seating was among the concepts floated and the response from students was swift and instantly positive.
"Our teacher said we that since we're here for about half of our day, almost every day, it should feel like we're at home," said Katie Sowers, 6th an 11-year-old sixth grader, "and we should be doing our work how we think is most comfortable."
Katie said flexible seating is especially effective in group settings, where kids can brainstorm team projects and simply slide their crates around if the need arises to break into subgroups.
Lukacsy herself has joined the trend, acquiring a "mobile office" that lets her roll her computer into the hallways. The mobile office has allowed her to type and check emails from a preferred standing position while staying in close proximity to faculty and students.
"So I'm trying it out too," she said.
Even students who prefer traditional postures appreciate being given a choice.
"I like just working at the desk, but it's really nice to choose wherever you like to sit," said 14-year-old Luke Mertes, a Waltham eighth-grader. "It helps you relax, helps you do what you feel like doing."