It used to be quite funny to listen to elementary students walk by my classroom and comment “he is the teacher with the balls.” After thirteen years, the comments have stopped as the big yellow balls in my room have become a common site in other classrooms around the building. When I moved from teaching second to third grade, I decided to give something new a try. I got a somewhat skeptical boss to let me try stability balls as chairs, and thirteen years later, I wouldn’t think of giving them up.
There was a convergence of factors that led me to “my balls.” Initially I was sent an article about a college friend who had this crazy idea to use stability balls as chairs in his classroom; he even had research to back up the logic of his idea. Also, the fact that I was moving to a grade with older (and in theory more coordinated) students made the idea of using stability balls more intriguing. That got the idea growing. After talking to my principal, I was told that new chairs were not in the budget, but she liked the idea. It was agreed that I could try the chairs if I could find the money elsewhere. With possible health benefits of the stability ball chairs, I went and talked to local chiropractors and the sports medicine department of the hospital. I got my money and was given permission to order the chairs!
To say that the students loved the new chairs is a huge understatement. Being the first classroom in the school (and the area) to have them brought a great deal of attention. We had teachers from our school and other schools inquiring about them. We even had a school send a handful of teachers and a principal to come into my room and see them in action. The attention the balls got helped in another way, too. The students really followed the rules carefully that year because they did not want to lose their ball and sit on one of the “regular” chairs I had stacked in the corner.
Not only were the balls fun because of the novelty they brought, they provided educational benefits as well. When the students bounced on the balls, keeping their bottoms on them, of course, they increased their heart rates. This helped pump more blood to their brains. I noticed an increase in attention spans with the students. Their focus was better because they could release some extra energy through the bounce while still paying attention to the work. Students also needed to sit up straighter in order to not fall off and hit their heads. I believe I had the class with the best posture in school that year.
Though the novelty has worn off and the balls seem less special, I still would not trade them in for other chairs. I still see the same benefits I saw thirteen years ago. Even though I am not known as “the teacher with the balls” anymore, they will always have a special place in my classroom.
Oh, and to keep them from rolling all over the room, upside down Frisbees work great, and are often given away by local businesses for free – speaking from experience.