third grade teacher Denise Leach implemented a new seating plan this year that has most of her students bouncing around.
Leach's students have replaced their desk chairs with 55-centimeter exercise balls.
"I observed another class doing it at another school in Farmington," Leach said. "And I liked the idea immediately. It made me think of some students that I was having difficulty with getting them to sit properly in a chair. They have a lot of energy and I felt like that would be a good thing to help them spend some energy in a positive way."
There are a number of benefits to using an exercise ball for seating, she said. The ball greatly increases student focus and attention, burns off excess energy, and allows students to move without making noise and disturbing others.
"The biggest thing I've noticed is my kids don't leave their seats," Leach said. "They stay in their seats all day long. It's not an issue to say go back to your seat."
Leach said she keeps a strict set of rules, developed with the help of the students. They must keep two feet on the ground at all times -- a mandate that wasn't part of the original rules. They can only sit on the exercise ball -- no laying, standing or kneeling. Rolling or throwing the exercise balls is not allowed.
While the students are more focused, Leach said she had to get used to all the movement.
"The first week I had to tell myself when I looked around my room, I saw all this motion and I would want to go stop it," Leach said, adding that she had to remind herself that it was OK for children to move in class. "So I physically had to keep myself from asking them to stop. But after a week, it disappeared and I didn't see the movement at all."
After she returns from an absence, Leach said the students often tell her the guest teacher took their exercise balls away, just because of all the motion.
Parents are required to purchase exercise balls for their children. They take them home at the end of the year. Parents had the choice of buying their own ball or giving Leach $10 for a classroom order.
"I got an email from one parent that said thought it was a great idea for her child because it helps her stay focused and in her seat," Leach said. "Another parent was really happy because they felt it was really good for posture and physical activity."
Not all parents chose to have their children participate in the program.
According to Leach, at the beginning of the year, it was about half and half. Now, four students still use chairs.
"Some parents didn't think it was a good idea," Leach said. "Some parents thought it was a waste of money. And I had one child whose mom had physical reasons that it wouldn't be a good thing for her."
Mom and son see benefits
Nicole Bopp's son Griffin is in Leach's class and was really excited about using exercise balls this year.
"He loves it," Bopp said. "He's a boy. They move a lot. He can sit, he can bounce without disturbing the class. He can burn off that energy without being a problem in the class."
Her son talked so much about all of the positive aspects of the exercise ball, Bopp decided to try it out for herself.
"We actually have an adult-sized medicine ball here at the house that we use for working out," Bopp said. "He was so excited about it, I actually took it to my office and I've been using it as my desk chair at my office ever since."
Bopp has since noticed there is no afternoon slump in her day, simply because she cannot slump in a chair. Having to focus on staying seated forces her to stay attentive. She sees many benefits for her son as well.
"I think the best part for him is being able to burn some energy and not get in trouble," Bopp said.