Take a group of kindergartners and first graders and let them bounce on exercise balls all day instead of asking them to sit still in their chairs.
Sounds crazy, right? Well, it’s happening at Davidson Elementary.
Students in Denise Addison’s multi-age class are doing two things. They’re reviewing vocabulary words from a recent reading assignment and they’re bouncing … a lot.
They bounce while reading, filling out crossword puzzles and coloring. Seven-year-old Della Scott Michael sits on a lime-green stability ball with her pink dress draped over it. She knows the greater purpose of the ball.
"It's like bouncy and it can help your core grow," Della Scott says. "It's something inside your body that helps your muscles get stronger and such."
The class replaced its chairs with stability balls in October. The school’s PTO purchased them for $500 as part of a pilot study. Mrs. Addison requested the balls after reading research that shows they can improve concentration and muscle development. She sits on a bright yellow ball.
"You want the child to be able to work at their best. And if their best is not just sitting in a chair and having to deal with whatever sensory issues they have, you find ways to accommodate that."
So far, Mrs. Addison is pleased with the results. It’s still early, but she says many students appear more focused, have better handwriting and are having fun while they learn.
"Our brains are working really hard in here because I really want them to learn as much as much as they can. So being able to sit on the ball and function still, while satisfying those motor skills is going to be an advantage. They're able to work harder. And even think a lot more, and deeper."
In the last decade, stability balls have popped up in classrooms in at least a dozen states, including Texas, Illinois and Florida.
But the stability balls don't guarantee perfect posture or maximum comfort. Some students in Mrs. Addison's class were hunched over or said they switch to chairs when they need to lean back.
Bad posture can lead to bad habits, so it's important for instructors to make sure the balls are being used properly.
So in Mrs. Addison's class, there are two important rules: you can't fall off the ball, and your feet have to be on the ground at all times. Otherwise, you lose your ball. As punishment, you have to sit on a chair the rest of the day.
Of course, kids do get away with some things, like when two kindergartners are working on a crossword together and one falls off.
Mrs. Addison doesn't catch him the first time he falls off. Or the second time.
But when he stands up without permission, Mrs. Addison orders him to get a chair.
A Pilot Study
JoAnn Young is closely monitoring the class’s progress as president of the PTO’s Healthy Schools Initiative, and as the parent of a first-grader.
"I've noticed that when I volunteer and when I'm reading with the kids, that if they're struggling on a particular word or sentence, if they're not bouncing, they'll kind of start to slightly bounce, but they don't realize that they're bouncing," Young says. "I can only guess that's their own natural, instinctive way of trying to figure out the problem."
She says the PTO might purchase stability balls for the rest of the school depending on how the class does. For now, she’s a believer, and hopes her son can continuing using them in second grade.
"I'll be sad if he has to go back to a chair. I really will," she says. "I like the balls."
Another first grade class at Davidson Elementary raised money online to purchase 25 stability balls and has plans to start bouncing soon.