Teachers: Fitness balls boost focusWednesday was the third day of a new way of operating in Stacy Morgan’s third-grade class at L.B. Williams Elementary, and Morgan didn’t know if she’d ever seen her students so focused.
By: Jamie Gibson The Daily Republic, Worthington Daily Globe
Wednesday was the third day of a new way of operating in Stacy Morgan’s third-grade class at L.B. Williams Elementary, and Morgan didn’t know if she’d ever seen her students so focused.
The class had abandoned desk chairs in favor of sitting on something far less traditional: fitness balls.
Several Mitchell elementary teachers are finding that fitness furniture could be the key to getting fidgety kids to focus in class. Three classrooms at L.B. Williams now give students the option of sitting on a chair or a big, inflatable ball.
The first class to break out the balls was Amanda Chada’s third-graders. They’ve been using them for about five months.
Chada got the idea for the new seats from working with special-needs preschool children, some of whom needed a little extra “sensory stimulus.” Chada saw some minor behavioral issues in her current class that she felt could be ironed out with the introduction of fitness balls.
“What we found is it just helps them attend better if we give them something different to sit on,” said Kari Lord, occupational therapist for the James Valley Education Cooperative.
Research backs that up. Not only do the balls help burn calories by the slight but automatic flexing needed to remain balanced, but students also are able to focus longer if they have a little more freedom to move.
After just a few days with the balls, Morgan is already convinced they’re a wonder for children’s attention spans.
“Things they did before — fidgeting at their desk, playing with things — they’re not doing that,” Morgan said. “We read a story today together and they just all sat and had the book in their hand and just kind of gently rocked.”
The balls come with a few common sense rules — mainly, that they’re to be seen but not heard. Dribbling is out, and Morgan asks that her kids keep both feet on the floor.
“It gives the children the opportunity to move, but in a controlled way,” Lord said. “They know if they move too much they’ll fall off or have the ball taken away. It actually takes them very little time to adjust.”
A group of Morgan’s students admitted they pay more attention to their teacher and their lesson when their seats aren’t so hard and flat.
Third-grader Kaylee Hart said there’s been less chit-chat among classmates since they got the balls. “Now we can bounce instead of talk,” she explained.
Kids and parents have the option of sticking with metal-and-plastic chairs or purchasing a $10 to $20 fitness ball. In Chada’s class, a couple of balls rotate among the kids who haven’t purchased their own — about a third of the students. But if their number is drawn to have a ball for a day, Chada said, the kids always jump at the chance.
Chada has a few other tactics to make her classroom more comfortable for students. Instrumental music plays softly in the background, and a plug-in air freshener emits a faint, relaxing scent.
“It should be calm — like a place they want to be,” Chada said.
As long as kids keep the balls in the general area of their desk, they can sit on their knees, lounge on the ball, or even climb off and lean against it. Chada just wants them to learn.
She hopes to write a grant to get a classroom’s worth of fitness balls for the next school year. She suggests other teachers consider the alternative seats, too.
“I would recommend maybe starting with a couple and rotating; it depends on what they’re comfortable with,” Chada said. “But I think they’ll find that their kids will benefit and they’ll benefit in the end.”
With the exception of a few minor tumbles, students say the less rigid surface beats a chair any day.
“Sometimes we fall off,” Kaylee Hart admitted. “(But) they’re fun. They’re lots more comfortable.”