"Who am I going to sit next to? Where is my desk?" These are important questions that concern us even as adults! For a teacher setting up your classroom, deciding how the children will sit can either prevent or create behavior problems. Don't worry about fads, or what other teachers are doing. This is a decision that needs to be personal and related to your own unique teaching style.
Tables are more often found in preschool and kindergarten classrooms than desks. These provide large areas where children can spread out and collaborate on activities. Many primary grade classrooms will have desks instead of tables, stemming from the traditional emphasis on teacher-directed lessons. While desks provide helpful space for children to keep their books and materials, it requires creativity to have children move around and work collaboratively in classrooms with desks.
The following questions can help guide your decisions about how to set up the seating arrangements for your classroom, especially if you have no choice about having desks or tables in your room.
What kind of activity do I want the children to do? Am I going to read to the children? Have them work independently? Do small-group instruction? Movement? Each of these activities would need a different type of seating arrangement. This means your seating will need to be adaptable to different arrangements or it will need to include various areas around the room with different possible seating.
What kind of seating is possible? Brainstorm the different possibilities for your particular room. Is there enough space for a carpet in which the children can sit in a circle? Can the children sit in rows? Will they be able to see and have enough room around them? Can you arrange the desks for independent work and move them easily for small group work? Are there tables for groups to work? Is there a place to have guided reading groups that will not be disturbed?
When will I use different seating arrangements? Think through your schedule and consider what type of instruction you will use throughout the day and what the transitions might look like. Be particularly thoughtful about your instructional style. Many teachers group children’s desks together in small sets of 4 or 5. This allows children to work together. However, it also encourages children to talk to each other so it is important that the physical environment is aligned with and supportive of your teaching style and goals. If you want the children to be focused and paying attention to you, or to be doing quiet, independent work you may find that having desks pushed together creates a struggle between you and the children. The worst case scenario is to group desks together and then chastise or reprimand children for talking! Or to spend your entire story time asking children to move over or stop touching each other because there is not enough room on the carpet. Let the physical environment support you – not work against you.
Can I create flexibility? Because there are so many different kinds of activities that happen in early childhood classrooms, it is important to have flexibility. Can you move desks together for group work, and back into rows for independent seat work? Can children all sit comfortably on the rug in the classroom and yet still have that space available later in the day for project work? Can the cabinets be turned around for circle time so that the children are not distracted by the materials?
What have you found that works for you?