It’s a far cry from the days when students were expected to sit straight, stone still, eyes locked, not a fidget tolerated, says Lyanna Bravo.

And it’s a good thing says the vice-principal of Laval’s Souvenir Elementary school, which introduced Flexible seating into its classrooms this year. “Businesses have evolved, technology has evolved, culture has evolved; so why shouldn’t education and classrooms evolve?”

Based on Universal Design for Learning, Flex seating integrates layouts and tools that accommodate varied learning styles.

So for kids who would typically be a distraction to their peers and a constant visitor to the principal’s office, a bouncy chair or wobbly stool might do the trick; students easily distracted by neighbours might find a cubicle is in order; and the one who would readily risk detention or a missed lesson to gaze outside might need to get closer to the window to get motivated. “If they are constantly distracted by looking out the window, how about placing them in front of the window on a higher stool so they can look out as long as they do their work?”

She agrees it can be off-putting, “but what’s the goal here?” To have a large group of kids sit uncomfortably still? “Or have them learn? For it to succeed teachers need to own it,” she says. “It’s a matter of tolerance and letting go of control.”

Bouncy chairs, noise cancelling headphones, exercise balls, chairs with pedals, u-shaped desks, its all part of the modern classroom landscape, where children’s learning styles are recognized and addressed, and in so doing puts the kibosh on old fashioned one-size fits-all models, opting instead for tailored rather than blanket and ineffective solutions.

And everyone gets a crack at it. “It’s universal, that means everyone can try and benefit.” The program was ushered into the 536-pupil-strong school after Bravo and fellow educators saw it at work in a St. Lazare school.

So with $3,000 in Home and School funds and a $2,000 Sir Wilfrid Laurier Foundation grant, she picked up 48 pieces of furniture and instituted a program of energy breaks – or ‘brain breaks’ as she likes to call them. “Students who have demonstrated hard work can request – with a buddy – a 10-minute pass to leave the room,” and expend some energy, be it in a quick pickup badminton round, on a stationary bike or just kicking a ball. “They come back refreshed and ready to resume their work,” she says. “It works.”

For information about UDL visit: www.udlresource.ca

For information about the Laurier Foundation visit: www.fondationlaurier.com

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