Imagine a classroom full of children wiggling and bouncing up and down while doing their work. These students are not sitting on typical classroom chairs. In fact, they are not sitting on chairs at all. They are sitting on stability balls.
Leslie Stilson’s third grade at Spring Creek Elementary
Five years ago, Leslie Stilson, a third grade teacher at Spring Creek Elementary in Provo, Utah, switched all her chairs to stability balls because of the many advantages they have over traditional seats. “Not only do they promote better fitness, they also enhance concentration through better blood flow to the brain, as well as let students constantly move if they need to. A chair allows very little movement, and since our bodies were meant to move, using stability balls gives my students the chance to keep in motion throughout the day.”
When students sit on stability balls, they are actually more alert and concentrated, and their creative thinking improves. “It even helps improve handwriting (don’t ask me how—it just does!).” There are physical benefits as well, which include strengthening inner-core muscles and having good spine health. They can also move whenever they want. This is especially nice for those you always need to be moving in the class.
Many BYU elementary education courses talk about developmentally appropriate practice, which includes the size and height of desks and chairs. “The stability balls are custom fit to the students depending on their height. This helps students better able to balance and find their center of gravity. This causes them to actually be concentrating without even knowing it.”
There are many things to consider when it comes to having stability balls as chairs. The biggest concern is management. How does a teacher manage a classroom with only stability balls? What are some of the rules and procedures. Stilson explains her management techniques:
“Before students even begin learning about them, I must get parental permission for each student to sit on a stability ball, so my management begins as soon as I meet the parents. Parents need to be on board with what I am doing so that they will understand the responsibility their child must show in order to be in charge of their stability ball. In all of the years I have used them in the classroom, I have only had one parent question their use then change their mind and give their permission a day later.”
“I have students line up according to height so they can begin by sharing a stability ball for a few weeks. I have each student sit on one 15-20 minutes in the morning and 15-20 minutes in the afternoon. This way, students’ inner-core muscles can get used to being in constant use. Otherwise, they would all have backaches if I let them sit on them all day long the first few days. Eventually, students sit on them longer until they are able to have their own stability ball for the entire day.”
“We have strict rules about how to sit on them (i.e. no big bouncing/no air between you and the ball, take care of it, no kicking, bouncing, or throwing it, etc.), and I actually have to teach the students 5-6 lessons before they can even sit on one to share with a partner. This really helps students become responsible and earn their right to have one to sit on. If they don’t keep the rules, they lose it for 2 weeks, or 3 weeks if this happens when there is a substitute. Students are also in charge of keeping track of their stability ball (they are numbered) and making sure it stays clean and free from contact with sharp objects.”
Other Questions and Answers
Q: Where did you get the money to buy stability balls for you classroom?
A: “I got the money to do this from a grant through my school.”
Q: How do you store the exercise balls?
A: “They are stored on top of the students’ desks or on the classroom counters when not in use.”
Q: When do you fill up the stability balls? Is it a class job?
A: “We fill the stability balls as needed. They usually need some more air every couple of weeks. I teach the students how to fill them up on their own, so I don’t have to do it for them all the time.”
Move to Learn
This idea of having stability balls as chairs in elementary school classrooms is starting to spread across America. Teachers are seeing the significant benefits in students’ learning from just having the ability to move around while learning. Stilson’s classroom is one that has already converted over and she would recommend this switch from chairs to stability balls to all teachers. She said, “In my opinion, this was the best investment my school has ever made. The extra stability balls we have are used with Special Ed and other special needs students. They really are great!”
For More Information about the Stability Balls
Website that Stilson got her stability balls are from: http://www.wittfitt.com
What are your thoughts on having stability balls instead of chairs? How would you manage the classroom? What would be some of your rules and procedures?