With 2013’s New Year’s resolutions newly minted (and some as yet unbroken, even), it’s a good time to turn our attention to physical fitness. And don’t worry—no guilt trips or discount gym membership pitches! This discussion is about balance balls (for kids).
At The New Century School, elementary students (currently including grades 1–3) have the option of sitting on balance balls instead of chairs as they work. Elementary teacher Adriana DuPrau says, “the children love the balls while working on certain activities. It seems that being in motion allows their brains to be engaged.” Initially, students used them at the computer station, but, says Mrs. DuPrau, “we are slowly beginning to incorporate them more in the class area as well. For example, they like to bounce when reading a book or working on math.”
Chairs Are So “Old School” (Not in a Good Way)
Also known as stability balls, these large inflatables are more traditionally used for pilates-type exercise, but they are rolling into more and more classrooms as seating, particularly for elementary kids with all that energy to burn. They are considered effective for strengthening core muscles and improving spinal alignment. In the classroom, they additionally help students sit up straight, reduce their distractibility, and keep them aroused.
Classroom balance balls were originally used in an occupational therapy context. They improved focus in kids with attention deficit hyperactivity and sensory processing disorders, presumably by giving an outlet to their “wiggles.” Think of it as channeling all that excess energy for positive use. Then researchers noticed other incidental improvements, in obesity and classroom productivity, for instance. Regarding obesity, scientist have long known that even the smallest additional daily movement reaps disproportionately large physiologic rewards. So, the balance ball, by requiring continuous core muscle engagement to remain seated on it, is eliciting constant movement, thereby enhancing health and fitness.
But better academic performance? Though sounding far-fetched to some, this makes sense given that the brain’s vestibular system, which regulates balance, also plays a key role in our alertness levels. Thus, movement, by stimulating the brain, sharpens focus. (See Exercising that Mind–Body Connection for more on the related science.) Better focus translates very readily to increased learning, and TNCS elementary students are really getting on the ball. (Oops—there goes Resolution #457, no more bad puns. . .)
By the way, you can learn more about the balance balls firsthand at the TNCS Elementary Information Night on Thursday, January 17, 2013 from 6:00–7:30 p.m. for current and prospective families. This will be the ideal opportunity to familiarize yourself with TNCS’s elementary programs (expanding to include through grade 4 in the Fall of 2013), to ask questions, and to hear other families’ experiences. Free childcare is also available. Click the above link to find out more and to RSVP. You don’t want to miss it!
Kindly let us know your thoughts about this post in the comments section—we love to hear from you!
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I love the balance ball idea, I think it makes total sense because YES kids, (people) need to move! I always tell my students that they may stand up rather than sit if is more comfortable for them and if it helps to get the wiggles out. I would love to have balance balls in my own classroom but I’m pretty sure it would never fly with all of the liability issues. It definitely makes sense for a small group setting.
Thanks so much for your input—having the participation of a public school art educator is extremely valuable to this ongoing education discussion. Also, you raise an important issue that was not addressed within the post: liability. A few (albeit rather limited) internet searches have yielded no findings about the balls posing any dangers to kids, although the recommended age seems to be post-kindergarten through about middle school–age. Many private and public schools have implemented them in certain classes and some school-wide. The key seems to be in introducing the balls with careful instructions about how to use/sit on them and allowing about a week for the students (and the teacher) to acclimate to the increased movement. The biggest barrier to stability ball use seems to be a budgetary rather than a liability one. (To get around that, some schools have even asked parents to buy the balls for their kids to sit on.)
However, the balls are probably more appropriate in some types of classrooms than others, even though the increased movement is actually quite subtle and contained. In an art room, for example, spilled jars of paint and other media misadventures are easy to imagine! Also, because the process of making art already entails some physical movement, the balls might have less positive impact there than, say, at a computer or reading station.
Thanks again for helping keep things “moving” :)!
The New York Times had school seating on its mind yesterday, too, evidently! An excerpt from “Ergonomic Seats? Most Pupils Squirm in a Classroom Classic” says:
“Few studies have been conducted on whether chairs affect student performance, though a four-year study of 400 students conducted by a German nonprofit devoted to ‘posture and mobilization support’ said children were able to concentrate for longer periods if they were given more mobile seats, combined with lesson plans that involved moving around.”
Read the full article (very interesting) here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/education/some-schools-buy-new-chairs-in-a-break-with-the-past.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
I liked this blog as it explores and addresses a different classroom seating structure. It is definitely a good idea for younger children who have so much energy.
I think the option of choosing to sit in a chair or on the balance ball is important. It emphasizes that the children have a choice and are not expected to embrace something they may not be comfortable with on a daily basis.
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