The Washington Times-Herald

March 15, 2013

Yoga balls new in the classroom

By Nate Smith
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — When one walks into Emily Dills’ second grade classroom at Lena Dunn Elementary School, one’s head will be bobbing. The bobbing is not your head, but watching the children go up and down while sitting on yoga balls.

But something one won’t find is a sleeping, tired child. In fact, the classroom was energetic and alive when interviewed.

The students in the classroom have been sitting on the balls for a few months and they like them a lot better than regular desk chairs. One student even named hers.

“I named her Ada,” she declared.

Like many of our children, the rest of the class started naming their chairs as well. The idea for the ball chairs came with Dills, who brought them with her to Lena Dunn. Like teachers in Indianapolis in recent stories, she read about the idea and the benefits for younger students.

“I looked up some YouTube videos and read some more articles and thought it would be a great thing to try,” Dills said.

When Dills gives some reasons on why the balls are better than chairs, it makes sense for children.

“Kids move, and they wiggle. And they should be able to wiggle but in a controlled way,” Dills said. “I read articles about how it engages muscles that stimulates the brain and makes them sit up straight.”

When the school year started, the students were in regular chairs and learned how to use them correctly, like not tipping them. Then, the students learned a set of expectations for using the bouncy chairs. Otherwise, they would become toys.

“We keep sharp things away from the balls so we don’t pop them,”  Kyanna Turner said.

But the children have taken to them. When asked, they even said their attention span is better. They work harder and learn better posture. They even say themselves they do better in the classroom.

“They help us stay awake,” Keegan McDannald said.

Lena Dunn Principal Brenda Butcher, when pitched the idea by Dills, thought it was a great idea.

“I am used to creative teachers who utilize many strategies to assist their students,” Butcher said. “They have utilized different items with students who have the need to move, such as koosh balls, fidgiballs, stretchy bands and sensory seat pads. As I thought of her request, I thought why not for all kids.

“Most students have the need to move. I would have enjoyed a ball chair as a kid myself.”

Dills said student performance shows the chairs are working.

“When I first started teaching them, I noticed a lot of putting their heads down on the desk and a lot of tipping their chairs and slouching,” Dills said. “It really kind of forces them to sit up straight.”

The teacher paid for the special, anti-burst chairs through a special education funding website called Donors Choose.org. The site matches donors with worthy projects in a community or school. Many schools, including Washington Schools have used the site to fund equipment that tightening school budgets can’t fund.

“When I wrote the grant, some people could write to me and there were some people I didn’t know,” Dills said. “A donor said ‘I want to give to this project because I was (the fidgety) kid in school.’”

Currently, there is one project at Griffith Elementary School that is using Donors Choose to fund a speech project. Butcher said the site has funded two grants at Lena Dunn recently, books for a small classroom library and the library received more books after its recent renovation. In fact, the benefactor for the Lena Dunn library renovation, Tom and Stacey Emmons, found out about the school’s needs through Donors Choose.

“Over the last couple of years, we have received a few netbooks, an LCD projector and books funded by Donors Choose.org,” Butcher said. “I would encourage all teachers to reach out on this site as we have found there are many companies and individuals who are generous when it comes to helping children.”

As spring begins, the students in the second grade will have but a couple more months of learning in Mrs. Dills’ classroom. Unfortunately, that means their ball chairs will go to a new group of students next year. When asked, the students were not happy they can’t just bounce into third grade.

“Can we take them?” One student asked.

“We have to share them with new second-graders,” Dills explained.

As if on cue, the students gave the defeated “awww.”