When is a wobbly chair a bonus?

Hokki, flexible stools and wobble chairs are active learning seating options now used in and out of school classrooms. These teaching aids allow students to gently rock and move on their chair or stool. Shirley Jancetic and Michelle Masterson (above left) are teachers in Catholic systemic schools on NSW’s south coast. They talk with journalist Bronwyn Ridgway about the way they use these teaching aids and the success they’ve experienced with them.

Teachers and support staff say these versatile, colourful seating options help reduce strain on the musculo-skeletal system and help children’s engagement in learning.

They are being used for general class activities as well as an aid for students who benefit from movement in order to focus and learn.

Most often used as an option for children with additional learning needs, the stool and chair encourage mobility and core strength, supporting an active learning environment where physical movement is used to assist focus, memory and cognitive development.

“At my school the wobble chairs are mainly used in our specialist classroom settings for children aged 5 to 11 years who have additional learning needs. They’re used as a seating option within the classroom and students have a choice whether to sit on them or not. Sometimes a teacher might encourage a student to choose the wobble chair as it allows, even encourages, the child to move while seated,” Jancetic said.

Wiggle while you work

“We have had great success with them within specialist settings; where class sizes are small and when students can choose from a variety of seating options. The particular students who choose a wobble chair are those who find it difficult to sit still. It allows students to move or wiggle while at their desk or work area, this way they can focus more effectively on their learning.”

The chairs have been in use for approximately three years at Jancetic’s workplace and six months at Masterson’s. Costing around $100 a chair, both Jancetic and Masterson say the cost doesn’t really allow them to be immediately available in all classroom settings.

Jancetic said: “In 2018 we trialled two wobble chairs within a flexible Year 4 classroom setting with some success. However the limited number of wobble chairs in that particular classroom made them ‘valued items’ and a source of disruption – often outweighing the benefits that would otherwise be achieved by their presence in a classroom. Within the specialist classroom setting, the class size is much smaller, making the wobble chair a more regular piece of the classroom furniture.”

Jancetic believes there are definite benefits to having a chair that gives flexibility to move. “As teachers, we have all taught students who find it difficult not to swing on their chair, who struggle to sit still and need to be moving. Wobble chairs are designed to allow the child to move while sitting and learning. They are lightweight, so ideal within a primary school setting; students can pick them up and move to any desired areas of the classroom for either individual or group learning tasks.”

Masterson said that at her school there were currently six wobble chairs in all of the Year 5 and Year 6 classrooms, and some in their Learning Centre as well. They’re used on a needs basis for individual students and they are also used for guided group cloud tables.

“I’ve found them extremely settling for those students with sensory needs. In Year 6 most students don’t want to have sensory cushions or tactile items because it makes them feel different and because the wobble stools are available for everyone, they enjoy the freedom of being able to use them as needed,” Masterson said.

Early days

Although not considered a controversial teaching tool, Jancetic agrees it’s early days in terms of their use, testing and results. Just as there’s ongoing research into how to best prepare students for their future, so too are classrooms settings evolving. That is, there has been a shift from teacher centred learning to student centred, where students and teachers share the focus.

…an innovative alternative to traditional classroom seating options. They’re popular with the children and definitely help those who need movement with an active learning environment.

In a student centred classroom, students take greater control in directing their learning; discussions and group work are encouraged. To accommodate this, flexible learning spaces are created. A wobble chair can be used effectively in a flexible learning space where a child could identify that the movement of a wobble chair would allow them to focus on their learning more effectively.

When first introduced to her school’s learning environment, Jancetic said the limited number of chairs available caused disruption due to their popularity – all the students in the Year 4 classroom wanted to use them. But within specialist classroom settings, this proved not to be the case.

Reactions from parents and colleagues to the introduction of wobble chairs was not as dramatic as expected. Some parents were curious about the chairs and their use, but the majority made no comment. Colleagues were also interested in the benefits the chairs might bring, they stimulated professional discussions and fuelled investigation about potential use and benefits.

Masterson said students at her school first thought of the stools as a novelty; they are now only used as needed or in guided groups. Masterson hasn’t received negative feedback from parents and did have a parent especially request that her son use the wobble stool whenever he felt unfocused. The only negative Masterson thought was that the stools didn’t provide back support which could create fatigue over time. However the wobble chairs Masterson commented, “have backs that flex and the narrowed curve between the back and seat allow the students to straddle them if it helps them focus.”

When asked about the implications of introducing the chairs more widely into schools, Jancetic said from her experience, they provided an innovative alternative to traditional classroom seating options. Further, they’re popular with the children and definitely help those who need movement with an active learning environment.

“It’s not the conventional way but may require a change in a teachers’ perspective when assessing whether a child is engaged in a learning task. I’ve only used the chairs within a classroom, but I don’t think there is anything that prohibits outdoor usage,” Jancetic said.

If you have used these teaching aids or similar, and would like to share your experiences, email the editor ie@ieu.asn.au.