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Published: Tuesday, 11/13/2012

Trading in chairs is a ball for kids

Toth teachers say choice aids students’ focus

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Second grade teacher Sarah Bedee, right, talks with a student during class Thursday morning during class at Toth Elementary School in Perrysburg. Two second grade classes have swapped out their students' traditional chairs for stability balls.
Second grade teacher Sarah Bedee, right, talks with a student during class Thursday morning during class at Toth Elementary School in Perrysburg. Two second grade classes have swapped out their students' traditional chairs for stability balls.
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Jocelyn Bernard’s arms rested on her school desk, and her feet were planted on the floor.

But in between the table top and the ground, the 8-year-old perched on a large, red ball--the new preferred seat in two second-grade classrooms at Perrysburg’s Toth Elementary School. The 44 balls, enough for teachers Julie Gedert and Sarah Bedee and the 21 students in each of their classes, were purchased with funds from the Perrysburg Schools Foundation. Each teacher received a grant of about $480 to purchase the balls. The foundation uses private donations to support school programs and academic achievement.

Students had the choice to trade hard plastic chairs for the inflated balls earlier this month, and teachers already notice a difference. Fidgety students aren’t leaving their seats as often because they can remain at their desks while rolling, rocking, and bouncing. The balls have changed the classroom vernacular, too: "Roll your ball back" has replaced "Find your chair." When students stood up on a recent school day, Mrs. Gedert reminded them to “Put your balls under your desk.”

“There’s so many things we change in education all the time to try to better... the situations for kids, and we thought, you know, this is a simple one to try if we can get the funding for it,” she said.

Miss Bedee has a couple students with attention deficit and sensory issues in her classroom who first used the balls instead of chairs.

“It really helped them to focus,” she said. “When they needed to wiggle, they could, and it didn’t distract the other kids. They were able to focus more on their work.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Gedert, whose classroom is just across the hallway, had been thinking about introducing the balls in her classroom for several years. The two teachers researched the sitting spheres, referred to as “balance” or “stability” balls, and found studies that indicate sitting on balls can help improve behavior and legible writing for some students. The sitting balls are not the same as the handled “hop balls” used to bounce on during local Hop-A-Thon fund-raisers.

Mrs. Gedert’s class includes students with special needs, and she figured all students could benefit from taking a different seat.

“It’s completely slowed down the out-of-seat, off-task time,” she said. “It really gives them that movement they need.”

The teachers taught students to position their feet apart to avoid rolling off the balls. They said the balls are more comfortable than traditional chairs and encourage better posture. Students can choose to use chairs instead, but most days all students decide to sit on the balls.

Some Otsego Elementary School students also have used balance balls, said head principal Jim Garber. Last year, a second-grade teacher had the balls in a classroom. This year, teachers and students moved into a new Tontogany school building equipped with five rocker chairs per classroom. The rockers also allow some movement while seated, Mr. Garber said, and several students continue to use balance balls.

At Toth, some children bounced lightly on the balls as they sat in front of their desks, while others remained mostly still. Jocelyn, one of Mrs. Gedert’s students, said it’s not too hard to stay upright on the balls.

“I think they’re pretty cool because with the chairs... you can fall back, and with the balls if you tip back you can catch yourself,” she said. “You slouch back, and you kind of hurt when you are on the chairs.”

Classmate Garrett Ross, 8, said the ball is more comfortable than his old chair, and fellow student Jackie Moates, 8, agreed.

“I was really excited because the chair is really hard,” she said.

Jackie said she explained to her mother that the new classroom additions are “supposed to be better for you.”

“If we wanted to have the chair, we could ask for one,” she said. “I wanted the ball.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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