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Jul 25 / The Teacher Geek

Bottoms Down: Managing Exercise Ball-Chairs In the Classroom

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In my last post, I reflected on my experience using exercise balls as chairs in a second grade classroom. I will love you forever if you read the entire post, but for those who want the summary of my thoughts, here you go:

Please, may I have some more?

That pretty much sums it up. So, would you like to try them, too? Here are 5 (+1) tips for obtaining and managing exercise balls in your classroom:

1. The best way to obtain some is through grants.

They’re moderately expensive – around $20-$25 each – but don’t let that deter you. Start with 2-3, perhaps out of your supply budget. That way, you can do a “pilot” in your classroom. Then, when your pilot is successful, your administrator might be inclined to include some in the budget for the following year. If that’s not an option, try for PTA/PTO grants. If you district has an educational foundation, try that route. Some states, towns, and cities offer grants for student fitness and/or education. Edutopia has an extremely helpful page that lists many national (USA) resources for grant funding. Keep in mind, you don’t need a proposal in the $1000′s of dollars. Many foundations will award small grants (often called mini-grants). Finally, there’s DonorsChoose.org – a favorite place for direct-giving of small projects.

1A. Order the right size balls.

Meaning, don’t do what I did, and order a pre-school-sized ball for a second grader (whoopsie!). Here’s a helpful size chart (scroll to the middle – it’s on the right). As you are browsing, something to consider is that there are ones with and without “feet” (the feet keep them from rolling around). I had ones without feet and they worked fine – they could be lightly wedged under desks when not in use. Also, select the ones that are “burst-proof”. Here is a sight (which I do not necessarily endorse, they just seem to have a good selection) to give you an idea of what’s out there.

2. Introduce the balls to the class through a lesson.

Gather everyone on the rug, and make the introduction. Explain that they aren’t toys, but that they will help us sit up straight, have strong core muscles, and maybe even help us focus. Model how to sit on the ball correctly (feet flat on the floor at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, back straight) and how, while sitting, you can very lightly bounce and swivel while you are working, without leaning. Give every child a chance to sit on the ball for a few seconds. Explain where and when they can sit on the balls (in my class, it was during seat work and rug time, not during circle time or centers). The students will be curious as to who gets the balls at what time. So…

3. Explain the rotation schedule.

I only had 2 balls for 18 students. I made 2 lists: One list had just 4 names on it, (names of students that the school psychologist and I agreed upon would get the most benefit from the balls). The other list had all the other students’ names. My schedule was that 2 students would get the ball for the whole school day, and the next day, it would be the next students on each of the list – basically a high rotation and a low rotation. I did not necessarily make the list apparent – I made a small sign with velcro spots on it, and each day I would put they next students’ names on it. (Sorry, I didn’t take a photo!) But I laminated the list on the back of the sign, and soon enough many students were figuring out that some students got to sit on the ball more frequently than others. This came up during Morning Meeting, and I simply said that this was the schedule that Mr. L (the school psychologist) and I had come up with. Since Mr. L is a rock star in my school, the students didn’t question it again.

4. The Rules for the Balls

In my class, sitting on the ball is a privilege, not a given. If a student used the ball inappropriately, the ball immedately goes to the next person on the rotation list. For instance, throwing or dribbling the ball was a no-no. Bouncing so high that your bottom left the ball was also kiboshed (I had a hand signal for when the bouncing was on the verge of that point — a palm-down wave). Continually sitting in an unsafe manner (I had a couple that tried out criss-cross-applesauce legs on it…that would be no, and no) was also grounds for losing your turn. I should also mention that students didn’t have to sit on the ball if they did not want to – occasionally this happened. When the students realized, after a witnessing the handful of times that the rules were tested, that I was serious about the consequences, I had absolutely no problems!

5. Cleaning and storing tips

The student on the ball at the end of the day was responsible for using a cleaning wipe to wipe the surface of the ball. In my class, chairs got placed upside-down on desks at the end of the day, and the ball was placed inside the legs of the chair.

Once we got the rules and routines down, they became a normal and accepted part of the class. I’m changing schools this year, and I hope to incorporate the balls again – and maybe even get one for my desk. I’m sure I left something out so if you have any questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them. If you’ve used them in your classroom, please share any tips and tricks you have up your sleeve!

Bouncily yours,

The Teacher Geek

23 Comments

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  1. Kristie / Aug 6 2011

    I didn’t even occur to look into a grant to acquire more exercise balls. My building had one for each classroom. I will need to see if I could get a few more.

  2. Laura / Dec 9 2011

    Will be purchasing ten for my third graders. Is it really necessary to purchase the burst free ones, the’re so much more. Tx!

    • The Teacher Geek / Dec 10 2011

      I think it depends on the behavioral dynamics of you classroom. If you feel like they are going to be testing the limits of the balls constantly, then I would get burst-proof. If you think they can manage it for the most part, then the extra expense might not be necessary. Let me know how it goes!

      • Laura / Dec 12 2011

        Will do! I have found 55 cm balls at Walmart for less than ten dollars, so I’ll give those a try. Thanks!

  3. Laura / Dec 13 2011

    What size fits your second graders? Most of my third graders range from just over four feet to nealy five foot. It seems like the 45 cm is the recommendation. Does that sound right? Thank you!

  4. Mrs. K / Jan 21 2012

    I’ve seen the “exercise discs” (like an exercise ball, but flatter and fits perfectly on a chair) and thought they would be a great alternative to the exercise ball because they’re easier to store and cheaper. What are your thoughts on this?

    • The Teacher Geek / Jan 22 2012

      The discs are easier to store and cheaper. But the exercise balls themselves give a “bigger dose” of stimulative feedback (that’s my un-scientific phrasing). In my non-scientific findings, most kids who need the feedback do better on the ball. However, I had one student that it was just too much for. He went back on the disc and that seemed to be the right thing for him. The balls work the core muscles more, and they can be used as behavioral currency more so than the discs – the kids just love the balls. Also, in my class, we spend about 75% of our seated time at the rug, and they can easily bring the balls to the back of the rug. So, try out the discs if they are available. I just think that the balls take it to the next level.

  5. #1 Principal / Jul 6 2012

    Hi TG,
    Im a principal at a PreK-5th school. Last Novemeber I bought a set of exercise balls for all of my 4th graders (88) and their teachers. By December more teachers wanted to try it and by January the majoirty of my staff were on board. I now have an exercise ball for every stduent and staff member in my school. My office staff all have a ball, my cafeteria manager, custodian…….Everyone!
    This was my initiative for infusing more movement into the classroom. They want us to increase the rigor, well, then lets increase the engagement.
    The research also shows, on top of spinal alignment and core strengthening, that we are fighting child hood obesity by potentially burning 350 calories per day.
    You mentioned special needs students…..you can no longer tell which students are special needs in my school because all students have a ball.
    Also, my school is a gifted\talented academy…. I mention this because what my teachers have noticed is that some of our most gifted students are the ones who bounce the most. They ALL love it!!
    We took it a step further by choreographing several 5 minute exercise videos. We play the videos every morning after our live morning announcments. This gets the blood flowing first thing in the morning. In the videos we tried to incorporate simple brain based ideas such as crossing the mid line to engage both hemispheres of the brain….. As I walk the halls watching them bounce, they are having fun!!
    I bought the balls for my 1st-5th graders and staff members….However, for my preK and Kinder students, I solicited help from my WONDERFUL PTA! The reason is because we needed the balls with the little feet.
    I try to stress to my teachers to not see the balls as just active seats, but how can they incorporate them into their daily instruction? One of my science teachers took her kids with their EB’s into the gym and they pretended that their balls were molecules……One of my math teachers had the students bouncing on the balls while tapping the beat to a multiplication\perimeter song….The engagement was through the roof.
    As with anything new\different, I have my skeptics and those that flat out won’t try anyting new, that’s ok, they will come along, or not. Im here for students first!!
    Well, I ran accross your post and wanted to share my experiences….. If you have any questions, please let me know as I will message you with any of mine! :-)

    • The Teacher Geek / Aug 13 2012

      Sorry for the late reply, I was traveling much of the summer and my reply slipped under my own radar.

      So much to love here!! I love that every student has one, the exercise videos, the molecule exercise…so awesome! Thank you for sharing!!

    • Donna / Aug 16 2012

      I am in the process of writing to get a grant to purchase the balls for my 2nd grade classroom. I am really not sure where or what to buy. Could you possible give me the website where you purchased from. My grant requires me to include price and name?

      Thanks!

      • The Teacher Geek / Aug 20 2012

        Hi Donna,
        I believe that our PE teachers use Flaghouse (www.flaghouse.com) for the stability balls, even for those that came into the classroom. Look for ones that are “burst resistant”. If you call Flaghouse they can also help you choose the right size for your kiddos.
        -Nancy

      • Carron Collier / Sep 1 2012

        I recently purchased 11 balls for my daughters 3rd grade class. My daughter has SPD and ADHD and this is a great accommodation for her, but the teacher is willing to have more in her classroom. (I believe it will both help other students and then my child is not singled out). I purchased the 55cm ALTUS ball with sand from Walmart (not available in the store but can order to ship). They were about $17 each with shipping included. Walmart also has Gold’s Gym balls without the sand for about $9 each. At 55cm this ball should be the proper size. The balls can be deflated to accommodate smaller children.

        • The Teacher Geek / Sep 1 2012

          Wow, that’s a great price. Let us know how they hold up. Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Katie / Jul 13 2012

    What size ball would you recommend for first grade?
    Thanks
    Katie

    • The Teacher Geek / Aug 13 2012

      For 1st graders, I would say for under 4’8″ tall, go with 45 cm (17 in.). I’ve seen smaller ones, but they’re reeeeeeally tiny, like for 4 year olds. But make sure you buy from somewhere you can return them if it’s the wrong size.

  7. Mrs. S / Aug 13 2012

    Hi! I am a first-year teacher and have purchased two of the nubby stability balls for students to use at the writing table (hoping to encourage writing!) I want to print some research regarding the use of the balls in the classroom to put out at Meet the Teacher night in a couple of weeks and to provide to administrators in hopes of obtaining some funding for additional balls. Any suggestions?

    • The Teacher Geek / Aug 13 2012

      You know, when I wrote the original post, I found some things on using the balls for students with OT/sensory issues, but I had a hard time finding good (read: non-anecdotal) studies on using them in the gen ed populations. What you might want to do is use just the two balls (are they balls, or the discs?) this year, rotating them around the room, and taking observations and notes. See who it works for and who it doesn’t work for, and in what type of situations (whole group, independent work, etc.). Then next spring, you can make your case for some more with your data to back you up. Also, as a first year teacher, try not to put too much on your plate that’s extraneous of gaining mastery of the curriculum. First year is very overwhelming (ah, I remember it well…sort of…it was kind of a blur…) and you’ll want to “knock it out the park” with things like your instruction, classroom management, and building a classroom community.

  8. Annie / Aug 20 2012

    I have used a few ball in my classroom for years and just got approved for a classroom set. My question is do you have any suggestions for how to prop them up on the tables so that the custodians can clean the floors?

    • The Teacher Geek / Aug 20 2012

      Hi Annie,
      We’ve always had the students put their chairs up on the desks (upside-down) at the end of the say, creating a perfect “cage” for the balls to fit into.
      -Nancy

  9. Kelly / Aug 30 2012

    My daughter just started second grade this year. Her teacher has the whole class using the stability balls. My concern is they use them thoughout the whole day. I am worried that sitting on the balls all day will be too tiring for their backs. I asked my daughter if her back got tired after awhile & she said “no, but my neck hurt from watching a movie”, this does concern me. My daughter says they are aloud to ask for their chair but she said she is afraid to. Is it safe to use these for that many hours.
    The teacher did give them rules, they sounded similar to yours (my daughter was the one explaining them to me).
    Should I be concerned?
    thank you, Kelly

    • The Teacher Geek / Aug 31 2012

      Hi! I’m a little more concerned that your daughter says she’s afraid to ask to a regular chair. Every child should feel like they could opt out of it at any time, and hopefully you can work with her to help her find her voice to ask. That being said, it does take a few weeks for the core muscles to strengthen (perhaps less if they are using them all day, every day). If core muscles are not strong enough yet, the body/back will round out and slump, putting pressure on the neck when she needs to look up at something. When the kids are sitting on the balls, it’s important that they keep both feet on the ground (at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock) and their pelvis straight and forward.

  10. Debra Reichert / Sep 22 2012

    Thank you so much. I teach at an international school in Brazil and we only have two balls. I am so happy to find this very helpful managing solution.
    YOU are a rock star!

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