“80% of Americans have back pain.”
The sixth grade class had just been asked what information stood out to them from Dr. Osler’s TEDx talk, and this was the first student’s response. Apparently, the kids were paying attention. We were there to present an idea and offer the students an experiment: could active chairs be beneficial for them in the classroom?
We had reached out to Matt Chandler, a teacher at Edmunds Middle School in Burlington, VT to see if we could trial some of our “ButtOn” active chairs for kids in his classroom. He was extremely enthusiastic and jumped on the opportunity. We brought seven chairs of varying heights and opened a discussion on why we were making weird chairs in the first place. The kids clearly understood what we were trying to do, and their role was to help us create a better chair by testing and providing feedback… and boy, did they give feedback.
You see (or maybe know from experience), kids instinctively know that sitting still all day is bad. We were giving them permission, sanction to squirm, and they were fully on board. The excitement was high as the students experimented- squirming, rocking, seeing how far they could go in all directions. We left the class to do their worst to the chairs for a couple of months, and then returned to chat with Matt and his students.
The chairs had been rotated around the classroom so everyone had a chance to use them, and Matt assured us that they were always in use, displacing the regular “non-active” chairs. The students enjoyed having them available, and one of his top observations was that his students with ADHD seemed to concentrate better when they sat on the ButtOn chair. He hypothesized that the ability to move while they sat helped them to focus their attention on the work in front of them. Kind of like a fidget toy, but with a whole-body calming effect. Both observations were later confirmed by the student survey.
Matt also told us there was definitely a learning curve as his students first sat learned on the chairs. “Their instinct is to scoot forward to the edge of the chair, which is how they sit on regular chairs. But this resulted in them sliding off the front of the chair as the seat top tilted down. They eventually got the hang of it and learned to sit in the middle of the seat.” So, some instruction and training required!
Feedback also included critical suggestions for the design of the chair. The primary observation here was that the seat tops were too slippery, causing kids to slide off as they were learning how to sit on them. We heard this from other testers as well, and have adjusted our design to now include a textured pattern on the seat surface. We’re still experimenting, but so far this tweak seems to provide the grip needed without adding any materials to the surface.
We also noticed that the tennis ball (the ButtOn Chair’s rocking mechanism) slowly became deformed over time. Our updated recommendation will be to change the tennis ball out every six months or so, or to use a slightly more firm lacrosse ball.
The students were given a short survey to complete as well. Overall, their feedback was extremely encouraging and made us want to push ahead with getting active sitting into schools. Notably, 71.4% of the kids thought they could concentrate better while using the ButtOn chairs, and 92.9% of the kids said “yes or maybe” to wanting the chairs in the classroom again next year. (See more of the survey results, below.)
As we gathered up the chairs to return to our home base, Matt looked at us and said “the kids are going to be very sad to see them go.” We were thrilled that the kids had enjoyed the experience, and grateful for their participation and feedback. We promised Matt we would bring back even better chairs next year. He nodded and smiled, “you’ll have to come back so the kids can thank you.”
How to join our movement movement
If you are interested in creating ButtOn Chairs for your school or to use at home with your kids, send us an email and we’ll send you the plans. The chairs are designed to be cut from a single sheet of plywood (up to 6 from one standard sheet) using a CNC router. Snap the parts together and sand the rough edges, attach an old tennis ball with a short length of bungie cord, and the chair is ready for use. We are happy to be providing the design plans for free and have purposefully designed it to be inexpensive and relatively simple to make, because we believe active sitting will give all kids a better future.
And PS, if you don’t have access to a CNC router, we will soon have ButtOn chairs available for purchase.