What do you do to keep a roomful of grade school kids from bouncing around? Let them bounce around. While sitting on balls the same height as their desk chairs, kids have exhibited improved concentration and ability to focus. Dr. John Ratey, author of “Driven to Distraction” and a Harvard professor, explains that the movement kids make while they’re balancing on the balls help to stimulate their brains.
Begin the school year by demonstrating your own “desk chair,” an adult-sized exercise ball. Talk about the advantages of the ball over a desk chair, and give students an opportunity to comment and ask questions. Explain that each of them will be receiving their own ball; let them select colors of their choice, if possible.
Distribute the balls and have students write their names on the balls with permanent markers; you may prefer to write the names yourself. Brainstorm with your students for what rules with the balls they think should be enforced. Add any other rules you think are necessary and then post the rules, which might include such ideas as the following: students can only use their own balls and students must stay seated on their balls when at their desks.
Begin each day with a “free play” session during which kids can have fun with the balls by hopping around the room for a few minutes. This will allow kids to get some vigorous exercise and use the balls in ways that are not allowed after class instruction begins. If room allows, or if the gym is available, let kids also roll and bounce their balls.
Limit the time kids spend sitting on the balls. Fabio Camana, who serves the American Council on Exercise as an exercise physiologist, says that the balls should not be used for more than 10-15 minutes in any one session. Camana feels that using the balls too long may counteract any benefits of improved posture.
Educate parents about the value of using exercise balls instead of desk chairs. Explain the benefits at an open house or a parent-teacher night. In some school districts, parents may be expected to furnish the balls; if this is the case, consider a program in which the balls are saved from year to year. Most exercise balls can be deflated and easily stored.