Like many kids their age, the students in Andrea Wildeman’s Grade 5 and 6 class at Aberdeen Elementary are constantly on the move – or would like to be. And in her classroom, they can do that while sitting at their desks, bouncing on the balls they use as chairs.
The consistent bobbing in her classroom is not a sign of disorder – Wildeman is convinced it’s the key to her students’ focus.
Wildeman’s students don’t spend much of their day on regular school chairs – they sit on WittFitt stability balls. The large, inflatable balls are designed specifically for the classroom and intended to allow kids to focus while giving them the freedom to move.
The balls – which have small legs to aid in stability – allow users to gently bounce in their seat, which is intended to help students who struggle to sit still. The balls require a degree of attention and core strength to stay stable, which can help students who may be inactive, have poor muscle tone or even bad posture. Though she said it takes some getting used to, the balls have greatly improved the focus of her students.
“You can see the difference in how they have to put their feet flat on the floor and how they have to sit up straight to keep that ball underneath them.”
Wildeman’s students also like it. They sit happily, some balanced and still, while others bounce away as they work.
It’s an idea that Wildeman said she has been wanting to try for about 10 years. She got serious about introducing the chairs this year because of her active class of 16 boys and nine girls. The students in her class are diverse and have different needs, including students with learning issues and a variety of energy levels. Wildeman said the chairs have a variety of benefits for the children’s different needs, but the main one is keeping them seated and focused on their schoolwork.
“You say, ‘I want you to sit down, and I want you to do work for a long time,’ well, that’s not possible for a lot of kids.”
Students had to get parental permission to use the balls – every parent in her class signed without hesitation – and the students took some training, including a written test to make sure they understood exactly what the balls were for and why they were using them.
The use of the balls isn’t mandatory, as students can use a chair if they wish. Wildeman said it took a bit of time for students to work up to sitting on them all day, but now most use them throughout the day. Wildeman and her teaching assistant both use them as well, which Wildeman said allows her to sit for longer while typing report cards. She said other teachers have been interested in the project, though some have joked that they might find watching the constant movement nauseating.
With students ranging in height from four foot two to five foot eight, the ball chairs can been inflated higher or lower so each student can sit at the right level for their desk. Wildeman said student’s penmanship has even improved because of the more custom fit.
Most of all, she’s happy to see her students enthusiastic about something that benefits learning.
“The fact that they come in and they want to sit down… that is something I’ve never seen before.”