Dream Classroom

I’ve received a very exciting letter:

“I’m 2 months into the Whole Body Alignment program and the ripple effect has already started. My hubby is a 5th grade teacher. He is also the Coordinator for the Learning Experiences Design Team (LEDT) for Project Zero: Agency by Design through Harvard. This year, he has decided to create an alignment-optimizing classroom, as furniture-free as possible, as part of the curriculum.

We’re thinking :
— DIY floor cushions
— shoe-free
— standing desks (but only to accommodate 1/3 the class at a time)
— lessons while walking.

Additionally, he uses a progressive constructivist model of educating and is going to facilitate a student query into culturally-informed postures. Any input or crazy ideas? Whatever you got would be welcomed at any time.”

Do I have ideas? DO I HAVE IDEAS? Yes, I, of course, have ideas. But what about your ideas? I am only one person where you are also one person. Our single persons times many other single persons, means that collectively we are one. One with a lot of ideas.

(P.S. You can tell your husband I am available to teach Philosophy. And Math.)

Anyhow, I’ve asked if they would like me to share this request with all of you as you (and you and you and you, over there) are some of the most superb thinkers I’ve never had the great fortune to meet, and have GREAT ideas.

This is how it’s going down:
“School starts Sept. 3rd, with desks. This way, the students do a real-time makeover of the classroom in conjunction for learning why they are going to move the desks out and their bodies into a healthier learning environment. Additionally, his 18 students get to take ownership of their new ‘Furniture-Free’ classroom with DIY projects through creative reuse.

People should get as idealistic and fantasy-zy as possible. Let’s put everything on the proverbial table and then the kids can use these ideas to what will suit them practically on the floor.”

I am so excited!

Aren’t you excited!

Here are some of my ideas:

1. I’m totally donating a “Think Outside the Chair Poster” for each kid to have at home ON THE FRIDGE to help engage their family and friends in dialog. (I swear this photo was not staged. Every child, big or small, who visits our home stops to study this poster without prompting.)


2. I like data collection. Create a basic “lab” on how to collect body position data (i.e. how to describe body position in general). They could have a notebook that tracked their observation of their parents, peers, other school faculty, the bus driver, etc. This would begin to tune their eyes to looking at the body’s axes more specifically. Comparative data could be collected from old National Geographic magazines (I just sold my early 1900s collection!) to get a chance to “collect data” from other cultures — although important to note that the magazines are potentially influenced via the posing commands of the photographer. Old books and magazines are great records of shoe-wearing, body positioning, etc. This collection of data could go on throughout the year.

3. Comparing postural change within a culture — still with the magazine images — a timeline of sorts? Comparing images of body postures frequented by current teen stars compared to images of teens from the Old West, for example? Classic Time magazine images of children in factories. Plotting these images on a timeline around the top of the classroom with notes on where the Industrial, Car, and Computer Tech revolution started. The more “convenience” milestones they can generate, the more they will consider it. A discussion of the pendulum — from more natural, outdoor movements to industrial, repetitive movements, and to “texting” movements.

4. Math — especially percentages — is a great way to address position frequency. The number of minutes one stays in a fixed position, whether it be sitting in a chair or standing or squatting on the ground — is really important to this larger picture. Learning to convert time into a percentage of a day is helpful.

5. Swap the President’s Fitness Test for something a little more applicable to long-term body function. I’d be happy to make this protocol over for you if you’d like; your kids can still “train” for a required movement test but in a more natural way (movement breaks that are shorter but more frequent) and can learn WHY what they are doing matters beyond the “being fit=being healthy” message that is fairly general.

6. Containers and loads. How does carrying all your stuff in a pack compare to carrying it in your arms? Are all 8 pound loads the same? What does carrying it all on your back allow? Arm movement. What does carrying it all on your back NOT allow? The use of other parts. What if, instead of Egg Babies (wait, that’s not 5th grade I hope) they were given a reprieve from their packs for a week but had to carry (with their arms) a 5-pound bolster everywhere on campus for a few days — don’t get caught without it. This is a great way for a child to grasp early on that a load to the body isn’t a load EVERYWHERE on the body. <— This is, perhaps, the single most challenging thing for me to get across to people entrenched in the exercise paradigm.


I’m going to bed. You guys put your ideas below, okay?

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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39 thoughts on “Dream Classroom

  1. Wow, he teaches fifth grade and only has 18 students. Must be a private school. My mom teaches kindergarten and has 28 students in public school.

  2. Do you have the “Think Outside the Chair Poster” for sale anywhere? I can totally see my kids staring at it and trying them all out!

    1. Same here! We’re starting a preschool homeschool cooperative and I’m totally advocating for starting free movement early! 🙂

  3. As a homeschooling family, I am super interested in this!!! We have the ability to do whatever we want really. We have never spent tons of time just sitting. My only problem is that I don’t know what to do with our bodies if we aren’t ‘just sitting’. My kids are younger than 5th grade so some of the stuff above will still be over their heads for awhile. I would be very interested in knowing what we could do with our bodies during the day. We still need to use a table or some hard surface for much of the time.

  4. Cool! What about those individual adjustable laptop stands for standing while at their computers. These can vary with the height of the child. Some office supply store can donate. There are also little plastic adjustable stands to vary the height even more or they could be placed on the floor so students could sit on the floor to do their work like they do in other countries.
    Hopefully someone will teach students how to bend over properly. I learned from a picture from Nat Geo. Very helpful. Great stuff wish I had this when I was in school.

  5. I thought the same as Lyndsey, this needs to make its way somehow into public schools, which reach a far greater community of kids, including kids who belong to families who don’t have the same means as a teacher associated with a small classroom and Harvard connection. That said, my suggestion is to introduce the squatty potty. Control groups and all with an equal gender split. For the purpose of getting untucked, getting off that sacrum.

  6. I’ve just moved to India from the US with my family and one thing I notice is how all of the tools are different here, since they are oriented to a standing/squatting/furniture-free society. Besides the obvious (rugs instead of furniture), they don’t have normal brooms, for example, or mops. People use these soft tree branches to sweep, you have to bend over or squat to use them. And you wash the floor in a deep squat with a cloth and a bucket. and you squat to hand wash and scrub your laundry. and you squat to roll your chapattis. you never wear shoes inside, so you are shoe-less most of the time. My kids are fascinated with these tools, and spend a lot of time moving their bodies and exploring their use. (My kids are 3 and 5 years old). I can imagine a lot of practical learning fun using and experimenting with these kinds of tools from cultures around the world. One thing we haven’t tried yet- carrying things on our heads. The women here carry huge bales of hay/grass and pots of water on their heads, or if they are working construction they carry big bowls of gravel and wet concrete on their heads. I think my kids would have a blast learning to balance things on their heads.

  7. OMG I was just going to write a blog post about my ideas for creating a furniture free school – made me so excited to see your post.


    I’ve thought about using floor mats in dot shapes to help separate each individual student’s work area (provided the teacher wants each student to have their own specific space). They would be colorful, fun and useful. We use it for our toddler’s eating area and it’s worked very well.

    Also, I would think you would need a lot of clipboards to facilitate writing projects. And probably mostly use pencils instead of pens – because pens won’t write in positions that cause the ink to move away from the tip of the pen.

    I don’t know if shoe free means barefoot or socks-required, but: If it’s going to be a barefoot classroom then you may need a place for “feet washing,” just as with hand washing – never know how, but kiddos WILL get things on their feet just as they do with their hands. Also, I would institute a rule that all students have to wash their feet when they arrive at school – every family’s hygiene standards are different and you want to be mindful of that. Critics of barefootedness would jump on a barefoot classroom with an epidemic of foot fungus.

    Involve kids in keeping the classroom clean. They are going to be spending a lot of time on the floor and should help care for their new environment.

    Can’t wait to think of more!

  8. Not sure what age grade 5 is but what about some measuring experiments? Like how long can you squat for now compared to how long they can squat for at the end of term?

  9. I am SO EXCITED about this! I am a health/fitness teacher for 7th, 8th and 9th graders and can’t wait to hear how it goes and how I can start implementing some of these ideas into my own classroom. I am especially interested in the redo of the Presidential test. Can you please share more?! Thanks so much!

  10. Love Jssica’s ideas of using tools from different cultures!!! That could be a great learning opportunity – geography, history, anthropology — different body uses …… and a lot of fun!!! And anatomy ….. Ad perhaps getting a sense of what normal ‘size’ used to be …….. Old movies can be informative ……. (& posture was so much better too. Many of today’s actors, in all media, are slumpy, heads forward (damned computers, screens ….)

    But care must be taken to not make the kids/or people they look at, be WRONG. As humans we do what we need to do to ‘survive’ — and survival covers a lot of ground. There can always be improvements – but once the idea of being wrong sets in, then a whole other dynamic gets started …… Example – being extolled to ‘stand up straight’ (whatever that means) isn’t always helpful – there may be an important ‘why’ behind that.

    My beautiful teen granddaughter has long hair & tilts her head to get her hair of her eyes & to look cute. Years of doing that and neck/shoulder/back pain is in her future . Not to mention a brain-changed sense of upright. She knows the work I do (Feldenkrais) so I just mentioned to her that she could try it different ways (tilt the other direction), and that she was free to do what she liked but to be aware …..

  11. Somewhere along the way I lost awareness of what my body was really doing compared to what I thought it was doing. I think I am standing up straight but when I see myself in the mirror, I realize that I’m not. It might be helpful for the kids have some kind of activity that shows them exactly what their posture is. Maybe they can have their picture taken and before they get to see the picture, they have a writing assignment to describe their overall posture. Then when they are finished they can look at it and see if it is what they wrote? Just a crazy idea…

  12. “…Wow, he teaches fifth grade and only has 18 students. Must be a private school. My mom teaches kindergarten and has 28 students in public school…”

    I’m in the same boat, kindergarten, almost 30 kids, and a small room!
    I’ve gone “shoeless” for several years. But reality is that we have fire alarms. I’m always afraid the alarms going to go off and kids will struggle to put their shoes on. A snowy ground is common during the school year.
    My goal is to make 80% o my teaching “movement based”.
    I incorporate a variety of moving, sitting and standing position throughout my teaching during the day.

  13. RE: barefootedness. I have also heard of offices (for working adults) allowing this more frequently. In the office environment (which isn’t very different than a classroom environment) someone brought up an OSHA issue w/ respect to staples and other sharp cast offs in the flooring. I pad around every day in bare feet in my office and have yet to step on a staple, tack or paper clip despite the fact that they sometimes land on the floor. But, kids that step on something when barefoot may have a parent who is litigation happy in the event of infection. something to be aware of…

  14. Bolsters to sit on! Sitting/laying/squatting on floor is easier with bolsters. The yoga ones can be pricey…maybe the kids could make their own! Filled with…old clothes? shredded cardboard and newspaper? styrofoam containers from the cafeteria garbage?

    quick search gives few tutorials….

    Great idea! Looking forward to seeing the result!

  15. Very exciting!!! Is there a fellow teacher/class in the same grade to act as a control group for any measurements taken throughout the year? If it’s possible to measure and compare changes regarding kids’ growth, endurance, ROM, attention span, etc?

  16. I recommend getting in touch with Jean Couch at her website. Google “The Balance Center.” She has put together an excellent slide show illustrating when posture changed in the US and what it’s like in other countries. BTW, she’s located in Palo Alto, CA.

  17. Love the idea, and also want to do this in my kids rooms. Working on it. Already have them weaned off pillows and hoping to add some jungle gym stuff in there. 🙂 Just to add on a couple of thoughts: barefoot options – one class my daughter had, everyone brought slippers that they kept in the classroom to change into? Or maybe could just be some clean socks w/grips on the bottom. Or fancy yoga/pilates foot ware. The first thing that comes to mind for me are stations – if you have the standing desk option and they can rotate from standing at chalk/white board, to floor, to standing desk.

  18. I teach K-5 Physical Education. I do a lot of functional fitness/yoga/movement with my students. I am curious about your ideas regarding the FitnessGram assessment and what your alternative ideas would be for assessment. I would also love a “outside the chair” poster – where can one get this poster? Thanks for the great post!

  19. Rings to hang from?
    Peg board on the wall to climb up a couple feet?
    Mirrors in various spots?
    Half domes?

    We homeschool and I’m 6.5 months pregnant- I’ve gotten pretty creative with how I choose to school. I do “science stories” every morning in a hands and knees position. And the kids read to me while sitting on the floor in various positions(I have that sitting poster in my phone’s image gallery).

  20. My mother is Dr. Doris P. Fromberg, a renowned early childhood education professor, curriculum expert, and author. She did a TED talk this year about how important creative, spatial, and movement based learning is for child development. Being as she just retired from her long and eminent career, I bet I could get her interested and involved in this. It looks amazing and essential!

  21. Loving the energies & ideas! Seems to me that cushion-sitting will already be challenging for 5th graders. But starting the year with chairs might open the way to eventual cushion/bolster/floor sitting. They’ll need to find their sitz bones & experience what a freely floating tailbone is, while also beginning to develop accurate supporting structures that’ll allow them to sit/balance comfortably. Physio balls are great for all phases of this exploration & provide inter related lessons, too.

    Another resource: “Our Own Devices: The Past & Future of Body Technology”, by Edward Tenner. References research re introduction of bottle feeding, chairs, flip-flops, text keyboards & More. Kids can design their own research projects, stimulated by what’s been done by professionals.

    An activity I use whenever I offer group classes: ‘Don’t Pick up the Ball’: in groups of 3: 2 = tosser/catcher; 1 = Designated Picker Upper. Many ‘lessons’ emerge from this: it’s not about the pitching; it’s OK to let the ball drop; tossing & catching in this game involve bending @ hips/knees/ankles + movement of elbows. In not much time groups shift into a smoother, almost lyrical rhythm. By the 2nd time I offer the game there are fewer apologies for dropping or not catching the ball. By the 3rd time the entire thing looks/feels like an exquisitely choreographed wholebody movement piece. Each of the 3 participants switches roles so everyone gets to be the Designated Picker Upper.

    Love the reminder about avoiding judgment, of self or others. Wow: furniture-free moving comfort & compassion.

    I Love Classroom Teachers!!!

  22. Kids LOVE Brain Gym®. they move, they focus, they have fun, and best of all, it takes only a few minutes, and can be easily done every 20 minutes at the side of their, ehrr…non-desks! (great for the teacher too) it’s like a 7th inning stretch.
    also, i’d put in a mirror so the kids can get a look at what they look like, and how that communicates to others!

  23. Thank You, You and You! I wrote the original email and am so excited by the outpouring of creativity and thoughtfulness. Please keep the ideas coming! We can’t wait for the students to read all of your input and then set them loose! Also, thank you for the resources and people to follow up with.

    Alex (the teacher) is at an independent school in Oakland, CA. But we find furniture-free is not an original idea and is being used district-wide in some places http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/for-back-to-school-reimagine-classroom-design/
    The kicker with the approach in Alex’s classroom is a paradigm shift to biomechanics in the learning environment. I’ll be dropping in weekly to share some alignment goodies with the kids so the load is not all on him.

    At this point, there is no intention of doing comparative data analysis of alignment in the classroom leading to better performance. The goal is just to make an awesome space to have more movement options. As Katy said (☺) on Ms. Mindbody, [I paraphrase] imagine each of your joints is a star, and your body is thus a constellation of stars. As stars move across the sky in different configurations moment to moment, so too may these 5th grades shine brightly in different configurations as they learn.

    Katy, your curriculum ideas are fabulous! You already are a teacher. Teach on.

  24. I taught grade 5 for 3 years and now I’m teaching Kindergarten for the second year. I’m writing this at 2am so I’ll keep it short.

    I highly suggest you check out some Kindergarten classrooms because this is what learning should like in other grades! Here are some differences between Kindergarten and Grade 5 off the top of my head. Maybe you could incorporate some of those ideas into a grade 5 learning environment.

    – My classroom does not have enough seats to sit my 29 students at a time. Instead, we rarely have a time when we are all sitting down in chairs at the same time doing the same work. Instead we have “Work Centres” where approximately 1/3 of the class is sitting and the other 2/3 of the class is working on something hands-on.

    – Outdoor learning is HUGE in Kindergarten. On a good day, aside from “lunch recess”, we spend almost an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon outside. During outside time, the kids might be playing on their own (running, climbing, riding tricycles, etc), or we may have organized an activity (painting outside, playing with water or sand, experimenting with art materials, or playing a game that might be related to the lesson earlier in the day). Compare that with the 15mins of recess you get in the morning and afternoon once you hit grade 1!

    – Carpet time – Even when I had my grade 5s, we would spend the morning sitting on the floor for a lesson. It was just cozier, and it’s nice to have a change. In my kindergarten class, we try to keep lessons under 10-15 minutes. It’s crazy how fast you watch kids fade once they have lost interest. Grade 5 students don’t actually last that much longer (30mins?) They can definitely sit for longer, but they are nowhere as engaged as they were when they first sat down.

    Your idea of having no shoes in the classroom wouldn’t work out at my school (not sure about other school boards). It would be a safety issue. (eg: if the fire alarm went off in the middle of winter, would you all go out in your socks?)

    Anyways, that’s my two cents at 2 o’clock in the morning. 😉

    Good luck!

  25. Another place to look for info is any articles about James Levine (Mayo Clinic inactivity researcher)and the chairless classrooms he had designed in the Rochester Public School system as part of his research and with funding from Apple and other businesses. http://psychcentral.com/news/archives/2006-03/mc-mco031006.html
    A teacher that could give you more info about her experiences is Abby Brown, in the Stillwaters MN district (another public school):http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/us/25desks.html

  26. One of the things that has helped me most with body/posture awareness is studying animal body movements. It’s super fun to do with kids of all ages, practicing walking like a raccoon (so your back foot lands exactly beside your front foot with each stride) and like a heron (REALLY slow) and like a lizard (with your tail whipping back and forth with each step). And one of the things that helped me the most with THAT was learning some basic tracking skills. Learning how the motion of your (or any other animal’s) body leaves an actual record that can be seen by others, is a powerful way to become aware of the way your body moves.

    Anyone can easily learn the difference between canine tracks and feline tracks, and maybe the general rodent family and some frogs, well enough to have a great time with a group of 5th graders looking at tracks near a pond or something. Then indoor/paper-based activities can look at things like how a track looks different if someone is limping, or always looking to the left, or tons of other things. Painting kids feet and having them walk across a sheet of craft paper, and perform a particular motion while they walk, and then see if you can identify the motion in the tracks. Easy things like turning in a circle, to more challenging things like walking backwards all the way across the paper (are the tracks different, if someone walks backwards or forwards?)

  27. Bonnie Pruden’s book, “How to keep your child fit from birth to age six” has some amazing ideas. One is to attach the pencil sharpener on the floor to necessitate stretching, another was to install a chin up bar across the threshold of the classroom door, low to the ground, so children summersault over it on to a mat to enter the classroom. There are many exercises that can easily be incorporated into transitioning from one lesson to the next similar to Brain Gym ones.

  28. To compliment the standing desks, I would suggest also adding low tables where the students can sit on the floor or cushions.
    If the classroom is going to be shoe-free then there needs to be a basic lesson on why zero drop shoes and being barefoot is beneficial for the body. I remember Katy posted a lesson on tracing the feet and comparing it to current/potential footwear. It’s also a good lesson that we shouldn’t judge people who choose to wear heels. Rather, the focus should be educating people about the positive and negative consequences of their footwear choices. A discussion or debate of fashion versus function would be lively I’m sure.
    Providing half domes, yoga blocks and bolsters for each student would be ideal. Reminders not to sit on their tailbone may be necessary.
    Journaling about their alignment would be useful. A place to reflect on what they have learned, what they observe about themselves and others.
    Have students set goals regarding ways they can improve: weaknesses, dominant sides, lack of mobility.
    Brainstorm ways the students can advocate for change in their environment (barefoot, more options other than standard desks, mobility, etc.) in their school/home/organized activities.
    Set a time for daily stretching in the classroom, leading to students doing it as needed throughout the day. Groups could be assigned a few stretches to master, and then teach the other students the proper form, using cue words to help maintain proper alignment.
    Use Restorative Exercise DVDs as a lending library.

  29. Oh my God I’m so excited I’m hyperventilating over here! And considering a move for when my son is ready for 5th grade… The ideas here are all fantastic. One thing I wanted to contribute is that now that I’m writing more for my “work day”, I set a timer for 40 minutes of single-tasking work on my computer (i.e. no Facebook!) whether sitting, standing or otherwise, and then set a timer for 10 minutes of movement. In my 10 minute movement breaks I will do a wide variety of things from self-myofasical release with therapy balls, Yoga Tune Up corrective exercise, or I’ll head outside to sprint, hop, climb, etc (yes my neighbors think I’m nuts). For me a 40/10 split has worked well. For 5th graders perhaps a 30/5 split would be good? Especially if combined with the climbing and movement goodies being in the classroom as mentioned above. I think it’s time we stopped segregating movement to something that happens at one certain time each day in a different gym room. I would love to see kids growing up weaving regular movement breaks into their school day since, unless the world changes dramatically in a short time, their adult work lives will likely be with computers. I also find that knowing a movement break is coming has allowed me to be much more productive in my work time intervals. Thank you for sharing this!!

  30. as someone else said, learning how to carry things on your head. i’ve seen women do it so effortlessly, everything from huge garbage bags filled with clothes to a serving tray with 4 pots of food on it! men tend to carry things in bags hanging down behind them, with the straps around their forehead (that should keep your ears over your shoulders!). maybe the kids could practice with carrying their books around this way, figure out where the load is placed in different instances, and decide what’s the best way for them to carry their books. then they could design bags for carrying that way. they could even sell them!

  31. I haven’t read through all the comments, but will definitely come back to do so as I am a teacher and wanting to incorporate a lot of these movement principles. I did try the native american game with my class that you posted about sometime last school year- the one where they are blindfolded- and my kids LOVED it. Also, for PE the other day I told the kids just to walk. They could walk anywhere they wanted to in the field but they just had to keep walking. They (and I) quite enjoyed that as well. I liked it better than walking laps around the field because it they like to wander (like most kids) so it kept them from complaining. We also have a garden that we plant, water, weed, and move rocks out of. Gives them a good time to practice squatting.

  32. I know this is an old article but I think an excellent lesson that the kids can learn is about gravity. It can also be included in lessons about space and microgravity etc etc. Including gravities effects on your body while sitting in a chat, standing, squatting and various positions and loads, and their effects etc. Tons of lessons for science can be included. Also a good lesson is your article about the trees and wind and the lesson on the floppy fin orcas… The ideas are endless!! Good luck to this teacher in his lessons!!

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