From Drab to Fab: Transforming the Library by Taking the Flexible Seating Plunge!

  

Guest Post by Sarah Bellino



I had done a lot of research and contemplating before finally deciding to turn my elementary
library into more of a learning commons with flexible seating and a maker space area.  A few
teachers in my school were my inspiration, making flexible seating really work for the
students in their classrooms, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon.

This year started my 7th year as an elementary school librarian and I was feeling in a funk. My
craftiness could only turn my drab, boring library into so much, and I was ready for a change!  
My library was filled with long conference tables and chairs, great for meetings but not very
comfy to just read. I had 3 bean bags kids would fight over and take turns in each class time,
but with 25-30 kids in a class they only got a few times to sit in the snuggly chairs.  When I
thought about where I like to read, it’s curled up in bed or on the porch in my cozy chair where
I can just escape with a good book. I thought about those reluctant kiddos who spent their time
“wandering” around trying to find a good book but never really sitting down to read.  After
visiting blog after blog about the benefits of flexible seating I decided why not turn my library
into more of a homey feel so I could hook more kids on sitting and reading! So far, a month
into the school year with my newly transformed library and I don’t regret it!!

Of course financing the ideas swirling around in my head was going to prove challenging as
anyone in education knows there is no “extra” money for anything.  I contemplated a donors
choose page but with as much as I wanted to do I knew I needed to get creative. A fellow
librarian told me about local businesses such as Walmart or Home Depot that help fund projects
like this so I filled out a form online and my Walmart awarded my school a $500 grant to help
the project. I was so excited when I got the email and couldn’t wait to start.  

This summer was spent scouring garage sales and Facebook Marketplace for just the right
seating options (I loved the hunt). I began collecting gently “used” chairs, stools, end tables,
pillows and I even got a free futon. When I told people I was looking for items for my
elementary library I was suddenly getting things for free or very reduced price. It was amazing
how much people were willing to help!  With some spray paint and sheets (my mom covered
the chair pads with sheet sets to save $ instead of expensive fabric) and voila, I had “new”
furniture and flexible seating options! I did stay away from anything bouncy since I see the
whole school and I needed it to last. I was able to put my plan into action with a little
imagination and lots of time (which is why I gave myself the summer to work on the remodel)
and help from my mom and sister, thank goodness for family! Fingers crossed, I didn’t want
to go back to the way things used to be.

Back to School Night I stood nervously awaiting the kids reactions. Would they love it as
much as I did? Would my principal and administrators approve? Would my labor of love pay
off?  I was relieved and ecstatic when the kids eyes lit up upon entering the library. As each
kid came in excited and exploring the new space my smile grew. Throughout the night kids
and even parents wanted to come see the altered library.  Word had it that was the talk of
conversations. I couldn’t have been happier! My hard work paid off and I couldn’t wait to
start the school year, everything newly refreshed. The head of district media came in to take
pictures and said she bragged to the higher ups about how my library was where we wanted
the future to be, a learning commons.  Even my new superintendent gave me positive
feedback on how he liked what he saw and how he would like to see more libraries make the
change. Yes, whew!!
It’s been trial and error.  I still pick 3 bean bag kids each class time (although it’s harder to
find kids who want to just sit in the bean bags) and I pick 3 different kids each time to pick
their “special spot”.  So far this plan has kept fighting over a spot very minimal. Kids know
they will get their turn to pick, even if it means a different spot every time. There is no saving
spots, they have to find their books first and then find a seat. During library time I also look for
kids who are on task and invite them to the creation station.  This is what I call the maker space
area. While kids are checking out and during read aloud these chosen few can remain at the
maker space area and create. I have legos, puzzles, checkers, chess, paper crafts, coloring, or
making bookmarks set up in this little area. Only kids that are chosen may be in this area so it
cuts down on fighting and noise.  I have found this little reward entices most kiddos to stay on
task. I plan on continuing to grow my maker space area by asking for donations from families
as time goes on.


So far the flexible seating journey has been a success and a much needed change for me.  Hope
my story can inspire others to take the plunge too!! Happy new school year.


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