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Delano students on the ball

February 4, 2008

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

Fitness balls are bouncing their way into Delano Elementary School.

Is their addition to classrooms beneficial to students and a wonderful new teaching tool, or just a passing fad?

Is the use of these colorful and bouncy balls in school interfering with the learning process?

If you ask teachers and students, many would say “no.”

Lisa Downer, a basic skills teacher at DES, first began using the fitness balls with her students last year.

“Because I work with students on their tougher subject areas, some students will retreat into a more passive learning state,” Downer said. “The exercise balls are moving with the students, so they tend to stay more alert and engaged.”

She said nervous habits are reduced, such as tapping pencils or squirming around.

And, since she works in a small area, mobility is a factor, and movement is beneficial to learning. She feels strongly that the fitness balls are helping students to remain active learners.

Their use quickly spread to Paul Ludwig’s fourth grade classroom. In the beginning, Ludwig purchased five balls and parents responded with positive feedback.

Soon, every child in his classroom had one. Some were donated and others were purchased by parents.

Ludwig has noticed that it is very easy to tell when the students are a little restless and need to get up and move around.

“Sometimes, students take “ball breaks” to move around and do a few different activities on the ball,” Ludwig said.

The fitness balls are popping up in other classrooms, as well. Fourth grade teacher Jan Christophersen said 18 of her students are using them.

After the initial first two days of bouncing, she said, the students have settled in.

“One of the rules for having the ball,” Christophersen said, “is that both feet need to be on the floor in front of you.”

Her students have told her the balls are comfortable to sit on, but admits there are concerns that adults have had about increased lower back problems, and that teachers need to be aware in case the children complain of back aches.

This is a concern for Dr. Gary McGowan, a local chiropractor.

“I can’t say I’m all for it,” McGowan said. “Fitness balls for exercise are great, but for use all day as a chair, I’m not convinced. Teachers should be alert because children may have a tendency to slouch, which will cause posture problems.”

According to WittFitt, a consulting company that promotes the integration of the stability ball into the classroom, sitting on the balls can actually improve posture.

A study performed by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester showed students with attention problems could focus better while using the exercise balls for chairs.

Zion Lutheran, an elementary school in Mayer, found the exercise balls so successful that the school has replaced all classroom chairs with them.

Delano Elementary School Principal Darren Schuler said this addition to his school seems to be an effective release of energy for students, but isn’t sure whether it is a trend or if it will continue.

Neva Stoebner’s fourth grade class has 11 out of 25 students using the fitness balls.

If you ask her students, they say the balls help them to sit up straighter, and are comfortable.

The children do admit there are disadvantages, including; no backrest, the bouncing can make their handwriting messy, and it’s hard to know what size to buy.

If you visit the Target web site, it lists 65-75 cm-sized fitness balls for under $12.

Many teachers at Delano Elementary School say they are well worth the price.

“Some people are kinesthetic learners,” said Neva Stoebner. “So, having a ball to balance on allows them to use small movements.”

Students aren’t the only ones using the fitness balls. Nancy Wetter, an administrative assistant at DES, has been using one since November.

Students using the fitness balls in fourth grade will be moving to the middle school next year. It is currently undecided if these students will be allowed to bring their fitness balls with them into fifth grade classrooms.

Physical education teacher and Developmental Adapted Physical Education instructor Jamie Longstreet said, “For fidgety students, especially those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), using inflated exercise balls as seating can be an effective way for students to improve their posture and cut down on their restless movement.

“They can release pent-up energy by moving slightly on the ball.”

Do you know more about this subject, or have a comment? E-mail delano@hjpub.com