My colleague, who is well aware that I sit on a yoga stability ball at work, told me about an article she read this morning. A teacher in West Chester, PA removed all chairs in her 5th grade classroom and replaced them with colorful yoga balls for her students to sit on throughout the day. Upon further research, I found an article from November 2012 featuring a teacher from the 5th grade class at Wea Ridge Elementary School in Indiana, and an article from 2010 featuring the 3rd grad glass at Arrowwood Elementary School in Michigan. All three classrooms, and probably many more who don’t have articles written about them, threw the chairs into the wind and made this classroom change. Pre-Schools like The New Century School in Maryland are introducing this idea to even younger children, year 1-3, giving them a choice of either a chair or a stability ball.
It seems this idea has been bouncing around since 2003 when a study was published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy concluding that in students with ADHD, sitting on therapy balls improved behavior and legible word productivity. I embrace and support the idea of sitting on stability balls to enhance focus and learning in children regardless if they’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. My biggest concern with a new idea like this is teaching the students not only to “keep their bottoms on the balls and feet on the floor at all times” but also use proper ergonomics as they sit and do their class work as not to injure themselves over time.
Finding the right size ball for each student is essential to teaching proper body mechanics, taking into consideration the child’s height and matching him or her to the right ball circumference. None of the articles I noted go into too much detail about teaching the children how to properly sit on the ball aside from ‘don’t lose your ball privileges by misbehaving.‘ My hope is that the teacher is well aware of the importance of proper ergonomics. The careful attention paid to child development research by the teachers and their schools in each article helps me draw the likely conclusion that they are aware. I commend these teachers for encouraging movement in the classroom. I encourage anyone to move throughout the day. Some of us may spend 8 hours at work behind a computer, and like us, children spend 8 hours a day in a classroom. The classroom consensus is that the act of constantly burning energy by engaging their core and bouncing on the stability yoga ball has cut down on student fidgeting and the need to get up from their chair, ultimately breaking their concentration on the task at hand. In addition, my sister is a Special Education teacher and has done Yoga style stretching with her classroom to help with their focus and movement. I love this! I think we should adopt Yoga and meditation breaks at work and in school, but that gets into a religious debate I do not have the energy to discuss at this time.
Taking into account the importance of youth body mechanics, I’d like to think teachers are aware of student slouching in 4 legged chairs, therefore they would be conscious of this action while students are sitting on the yoga balls. Since I sit and bounce on a yoga ball at work, it is easy to rely on your desk to slouch and not engage your core. I have to constantly catch and remind myself to sit properly. I have a friend who has used a yoga ball at work, did not paid attention to how to properly sit, and unfortunately ended up with hip and lower back problems. I am not saying yoga balls are a bad idea to replace chairs by any means. In fact, I am hoping to get the campus where I work to start promoting the idea of using yoga balls instead of a desk chair. I would just like to reiterate the need to properly educate those who have never used a stability ball before to prevent any long term injury. There are many pros and cons of sitting on a stability ball, but I still think it’s a million times better than sitting in 4-legged chair and doubling your risk of dying. There are risks in any new idea or practice. I feel the end justifies the means when it comes to stability balls in place of chairs: movement towards a healthier body and lifestyle.
I am a strong believer in innovative alternative approaches to wellness in the classroom and workplace. I applaud these teachers and any leader who adopt alternative practices focusing on a healthier quality of life.
Teachers ditch student desk chairs for yoga balls. Tri-City Herald.
Arrowwood Elementary students use stability balls for focus. MLive Michigan.
Classroom Seating for Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Therapy Balls Versus Chairs. American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
Pros & Cons of Sitting on a Stability Ball. Livestrong.