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Students, take your ... stability balls?

Third-graders in Deb Felstul's Morris Area Elementary School class sit on stability balls while working on assignments.1 / 2
Students in MAES 6th-grade teacher Jane Lesmeister's classes use a slightly larger version of the stability balls.2 / 2

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

It seems counterintuitive: In an effort to help energetic 3rd-graders and 6th-graders concentrate on their school work, let's give them a bunch of big, bouncy rubber balls.

But that's what Morris Area Elementary School teachers Deb Felstul and Jane Lesmeister have done, and the results have been positive.

Through a grant from the Morris Area Public Schools Foundation, Felstul and Lesmeister replaced the chairs in their classrooms with "stability balls."

The children sit at their desks on the large rubber balls. The balls give the students a stable seat while allowing them to move, improving their posture and concentration.

"They're moving but they're working," Felstul said of her students. "It gives them a chance to bounce a little bit, wiggle a little bit, but not so they're disrupting class. Isn't that what children should be doing?"

Felstul and Lesmeister, co-presidents of the Morris Teachers Association, began discussing research on the use of stability balls. They applied for the grant, which was accepted, and the custodial staff inflated the stability balls for use the week after Christmas break. The balls have small rubber "pegs" that allow them to remain stationary when students aren't using them, and so they can be placed up on desks when the rooms are cleaned.

Research has indicated that the stability balls allow the students to move around, which helps increase blood flow to their brains and keep them alert.

The stability balls also force the children to concentrate on maintaining their balance, which translates to better posture and better concentration on their tasks, Lesmeister said.

"We were a little concerned, but like with anything new, we said we'd try it and see how it goes," Lesmeister said.

The children were given the option of using the stability balls or keeping their chairs, and almost all the children opted for the stability balls.

Felstul and Lesmeister have found that students are getting up less or asking to go to the bathroom just to be able to move around.

The stability balls have proven effective for all students, but they are especially helpful for children with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Felstul said.

"You really have to allow them to move if you're going to help them learn effectively," Felstul said.

With school budgets being cut, students many times are getting less time for structured physical activity and recess. That means they have even more energy to expend during class time, Lesmeister said.

The stability balls might help alleviate problems that come from children being too wound up to get down to their studies.

"We really don't know how it's going to work," Lesmeister said, "but I gave a math test and, boy, they all sat there and didn't move. And they were working hard. Time will tell."