Exercise balls help third-graders stay focused
She's a first-year teacher and is in charge of more than 20 gifted and talented third-graders at Windsor Hill Elementary.
Alisha Bailey, a Charleston Southern grad, saw something unique during her practice teaching a year ago. When she was assigned her own students at the Dorchester District 2 campus, she bounced the idea off the principal and the parents, and received approval.
Bailey, 24, wanted the chairs removed and asked her students to, instead, sit on big, rubber balls in front of their desks. There were two basic rules: feet on the floor, bottoms on the balls.
Using exercise balls as office chairs is used to some degree in corporate settings. Having children sit on them while is now getting a foothold in classrooms around the country.
I thought the same thing. There's no way a child would ever sit still long enough to learn anything. After a couple of hours in Bailey's class, it was this columnist who might have learned the most.
It's OK to wiggle
How many times did one of your teachers ask certain rambunctious friends in your class to "sit still." That's not a requirement in Bailey's class. Bouncing and bobbing is allowed, up to a point. If some basic rules are not followed, that child will lose the privilege of sitting on a ball at his/her desk. Depending on the gravity of the misbehavior, the ball might be taken out of play for an hour, a day, a week or longer. There were a couple of boys sitting on chairs the day I visited, the other 20 students in the class bounced, rocked and wiggled their way through more than three hours of classroom curriculum.
Bailey runs a tight ship. This was the schedule: 7:45 a.m., reading; 8:55, word study; 9:25, writing; 9:55, science; 10:40, computer lab. And that was all before recess.
All the while, students were involved, challenged, engaged and responsive. Sitting on the ball forces muscle engagement, increases blood flow and therefore creates more alertness. There's no chance a child will get tired or fall asleep in this class. Sitting on the ball seems to create greater focus.
Bailey is known around the brightly decorated halls as "the yoga ball teacher." A second-grade teacher and a fifth-grader teacher are experimenting with the concept.
Bailey's students have now been learning this way for three months. She applied for a grant touting how improving balance and core strength could also raise a child's productivity. The grant was approved and $350 bought 25 yoga balls. Dillon, one of her students, told me he's named his ball Yogi.
Body and mind
All children have sensory systems that are still developing. We're now learning that bodies in motion allow the brain to engage. As I watched many of these 8-year-olds bounce and wiggle on top of these balls, they were also responding and reacting to all the questions cast their way.
It was clear they were learning, even with the old guy wearing a suit and tie sitting in the back of the class.
The idea for using an exercise ball first surfaced as an aid for children with attention problems or autism. Educators have learned it can benefit all students.
I've been in classroom settings where children were bouncing off the walls. This was a first to see them bouncing on stability balls.
Part of the science lesson this particular morning examined the life cycle of a plant. A video on the smart board musically offered pointers about roots, stems and leaves. At this point, much of the class was bouncing to the beat. More than that, though, a germination process was at work that allowed for the fidgets and wiggles.
These kids were learning and growing as they bounced. Maybe it's a springboard to greater learning for all of us.
Reach Warren Peper at 937-5577 or wpeper@ postandcourier.com.