Having a ball in the classroom


Students in Robbi Giuliano's fifth-grade class sit on yoga balls as they complete their assignments at Westtown-Thornbury Elementary School in West Chester, Pa. (MATT ROURKE/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
March 12, 2013

Teacher Robbi Giuliano thinks she has found a solution to fidgety fifth-graders: Get rid of traditional desk chairs and have the kids sit on yoga balls.

Wait a minute: How could big, bright, rolly balls help kids be less wiggly?

Giuliano says the inflatable bouncers have made her students at Pennsylvania’s Westtown-Thornbury Elementary School better able to focus on lessons while improving their balance and core strength.

“I have more attentive children,” Giuliano said. “I’m able to get a lot done with them because they’re sitting on yoga balls.”

The giant rubber spheres, also called stability balls, come in different sizes, colors and degrees of firmness. By making the sitters work to stay balanced, the balls force students to use muscles and increase blood flow, making them more alert.

Research shows that linking activity with education helps kids learn better, says John Kilbourne, a professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Teachers nationwide are experimenting with yoga balls, footrests and standing desks, which give children ways to move around without disrupting class.

“It’s the future of education,” Kilbourne said.

Student Ashley Hasson said that she had a hard time adjusting to her dark pink ball at first. “But once you get used to it, it’s not that hard because basically you’re just sitting down,” the fifth-grader said.

Another student, Kevin Kent, said the ball makes it easier for him to concentrate and keeps his back from getting stiff. Now, he said, sitting in a chair is “weird, because you’re all bent up.”

And do the kids goof around and fall off the balls? Giuliano’s 24 students know they must keep their bottoms on the balls and feet on the floor at all times, though they can bounce and bob as much as they like.

The same goes for Dannielle Doran’s fourth-graders at Merion Elementary School, also in Pennsylvania, where misbehavior risks loss of the ball and a return to a four-legged seat.

“They like sitting on them so much, and they don’t want to lose that privilege,” Doran said. “It seems to almost . . . motivate better behavior.”

But Allison Slade, principal at Namaste Charter School in Chicago, says she has learned that the balls aren’t for all kids.

“Fifth-graders are so antsy that, for some kids, this is really good for them,” Slade said. “But for others, I think it could be really distracting.”

The balls are not mandatory in Doran’s or Giuliano’s classes, but Giuliano noted that only one student in three years decided to use a chair instead.

— Kathy Matheson, Associated Press

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