This post was written by former Momentous School teacher, Kim Robinson.
I can’t sit still. When I attend professional development trainings, I’m twitching my leg, getting up and walking around, and stretching at my seat. And I’m an adult! So I don’t expect my fourth graders to sit still and listen to me all day.
That’s why this year we got rid of our chairs and we introduced exercise balls. I know it’s kind of crazy, so I talked a lot to the students about why we were doing it and what to expect. And we even hung up signs on our classroom door explaining it to visitors.
Here’s why we did it.
We know that kids need to move to help their brains work. Letting our kids get their wiggles out helps them to focus. Instead of spending their energy focused on sitting still and staying in their seat, they can use that energy for learning. Plus, it’s reallllly hard to fall asleep on an exercise ball!
Here’s how we did it.
The first day that our exercise balls came in, I really let them explore them. I didn’t expect to replace the chairs with balls and resume our regular day. We started out by practicing how to sit on the ball. We have just a few guidelines – your feet must remain on the floor, place your hands on your desk when you’re sitting down or standing up so you don’t fall, and no picking up the ball. If you want to move it, you have to roll it. They’re allowed to bounce on their balls, but no big bounces like you would in P.E. I had students demonstrate for the class how to sit on the ball and how to stand up and sit down. I also had students demonstrate some ways that would not be safe or appropriate for our classroom. I told my students that these new exercise balls are not a toy. They are a privilege in our classroom, and they are a learning tool, just like our books, tablets and other classroom supplies. We have to treat them just like all of our other learning tools.
Here’s how it’s been working for us.
I can’t say enough about how much we love the exercise balls. My students are more focused and concentrated. We use an online math curriculum that students do individually on their tablets at their desk, and our scores have never been higher. It’s also removed some of that power struggle between the students and teacher. How much time do we spend asking kids to pay attention? How effective is that? Now I just let go of that concept. I let them bounce around if that’s what they need to do to focus, and I don’t worry about asking them to sit up straight and still. Sitting still all day is unnatural, and it’s not fair to ask ten year olds to do that. So I don’t. And letting go of that has really helped release some of the stress that comes from trying to control that aspect of our classroom. Here’s what I bet you’re wondering. I know what you’re thinking – this could never work. My kids would be bouncing all over the place. And you know what, they do. They bounce up and down while they’re working. But you know those students who lean back in their chair and almost (or sometimes do) fall out? The ball is no more distracting than that. My kids really do use the balls like chairs. They sit on them, bounce calmly and just continue with their work. If the ball is a serious distraction, I’ll just quietly approach the child, roll his ball away and place a chair at his desk. But that happens no more frequently than they get distracted by anything else in the room. They have truly not been a classroom disturbance at all. The experience has been entirely positive. I’m so happy with the change we’ve made in our room! I could never go back now. I just wish I had this as an option when I was a student.