Therapeutic schools: Flexible seating?

Written by: Shahana Knight | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We can boost engagement and positivity in the classroom by offering flexible seating opportunities for pupils. Shahana Knight explains

Children who are struggling with their emotional wellbeing, adverse childhood experiences or their mental health may find it impossible to access education in the way that we expect.

They may be struggling with their behaviour, social skills, participation and overall happiness in school. In each of my articles I encourage you to re-imagine what school should be and begin to break away from the social norms of “school”, creating a therapeutic environment which puts emotional wellbeing at its core.

Ask yourself, does the way in which we teach, the school environment and the classroom support a child’s mental health and wellbeing or does it fuel their feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious and stressed?

The classroom is an extension of you. What is the message you are sending to your children? What feelings do you want to convey?

This edition, I want to focus on seating. The school classroom does not reflect the society of today, not in a world where entrepreneurs can run thriving businesses from a sofa in a coffee shop with a laptop on their knee. Learning, achieving and working has developed over recent years and we are now in an era where creative thinking and creating learning is flourishing. So why do we still expect children to sit at tables and chairs for most of the day?

In order for children to be excited by learning, they need to feel comfortable and relaxed. We know as adults how difficult it is to sit at those tables and chairs during staff meetings or twilight sessions, yet we ask the children to sit on them every single day.

Let us reinvent the classroom and instead introduce flexible seating where children are invited to sit on comfortable bean bags, pillows or on the floor. You can use old tires or crates too! Why not? Use these spaces when the children are listening to you introduce an activity, doing group work or when they are reading.

Take reading for example, when we read as adults we usually choose somewhere relaxing to settle down with a good book. Maybe in bed, on the sofa (or on a holiday lounger by the pool if we are really lucky!).

If we want to encourage children to feel good about reading, we need to increase the “feeling good” factor.

Lying under tables, on the floor or on beanbags and pillows is going to increase happy hormones which in turn will increase their relationship with reading, sending the message “I feel relaxed and happy when I read, so reading is something that can make me feel good”.

This is not only effective in school, but will encourage children to read outside of school too, which will have a positive impact on their mental health. I am introducing this in my therapeutic schools and the impact on children’s attention, noise levels and hyperactivity is significantly better.

One headteacher was surprised to learn that a child who usually struggles with behaviour now works for much longer periods on “flexible seating Fridays” compared to any other time in the week. So give it a go!

  • Shahana Knight is director at TPC Therapy, a mental health service for children. She also sits on a foster care panel, is a school governor and a clinical play therapist. The advice offered here is linked to her Therapeutic Teaching Programme. Visit and read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via

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