Fitness balls in the classroom? Oh Yeah! I actually did not purposefully start this idea that I have grown to love. [Be prepared to follow me down a rabbit hole here.] I have been married for about a year now (Feb. 19 yay!) and I had been officially out of my parent's house for over a year before that. Even though I have been out for about 3 years I still have stuff there. A lot of stuff. Stuff that I obviously don't need but keep anyway. Anywho, on one Sunday visit I decided I was going to take some stuff out of my room and help my mom out a little. Well, I ended up leaving with only my hot pink stability/fitness ball. As you can imagine this was of absolutely no help in getting my room cleared out. But, the ball went in my car and stayed in my car...until I got to school one day that week. I was carrying in some other things and I thought I really am not going to use this at home, I might as well give it to my students.
What you need to know about my school is:
My entire school uses "life skill" tickets as a behavior management program. Whenever an adult in the building sees a student use one of our nine life skills (caring, organization, problem solving, etc.) they receive a life skill ticket. Their name goes on the ticket and it goes into a jar in their teacher's classroom. Every Friday afternoon each teacher chooses a life skill and sends it to the office. The principal has a popcorn show on TV and the school gets to watch all the lucky students go on camera to collect their popcorn. This system actually works really well but, some students have realized that the probability of being called for popcorn once a week is very low considering the enormous amount of life skills in the jar. For this reason I draw life skills for various rewards throughout the week so students recognize that the likelihood of their life skill being pulled for a reward is high.
So, I decided that I would pull a life skill every day and the winner would win the fitness ball for the day. I thought my students would like this but I had no idea how much they would absolutely, positively LOVE the ball! They reminded me every morning to pull a life skill and would take care of the ball so well when it was their turn. I remembered reading an article about fitness balls and brain based learning when I was in college so I knew I could support my reasoning to a parent or colleague if I had to.
Shortly after beginning to use the balls I noticed that when a student was using the ball they were more active, out of their seat less, and much more focused. As you can imagine this was much easier to notice with certain students than other. Over time one ball turned to two and then back down to zero as both balls ended up getting accidentally popped. I will note however that they lasted for a very long time before being popped by sharp pencils.
Without any balls in my classroom I noticed a BIG difference in behavior and focus and that is when I began to do some research. If you are a consistent reader of my blog you may know that I tend to obsess when I feel like I'm on to something (Have you noticed I like to notebook?). The more articles I read supporting stability balls in the classroom, the more I wanted stability balls in MY classroom, and not just for 1 or 2 students a day but for everyone.
And then, LIGHTBULB! I could sign up for an account at that great website I remember reading about on a fabulous blog (not sure which one), Donors Choose! I will simply start a Donor's Choose project and ask altruistic people and companies to fund my dream of having a class set of stability balls. Well, I clicked right on over, set up my account, and then began searching for the balls in their inventory...no luck.
Again I was left obsessing about how great it would be to have a class set of balls when a generous parent of one of my accidental poppers decided to send me a check for $30! Now, this was obviously waayyyy too much since I got the balls from Five Below for $5. So like the good little teacher I am I emailed my principal to see what protocol was for personal checks made out to teachers. Two weeks later I got the green light to use the full amount for the classroom materials of my choosing (with a thank you note and copy of the receipt of course). As you might of already guessed from this extra long post my choosing was FIT BALLS ( as my students like to call them). I went to my Five Below and got 6 of them for $30. It is no class set but at least each of my students will get to use them once a week.
During our Monday morning meeting we were reviewing the rules and benefits of the balls (see below) when one of my extra precious students raised her hand. "Mrs. Wiggins, since the balls help up with our health and learning so much, can we just ask our parents to buy us our own for school?" LIGHTBULB! Why had I not considered this as an option? Students could bring in their own if they wish and the other students could still have rotations through my classroom balls. I plan on presenting this to my principal for feedback and I will let you all know what she decides. I am already mentally drafting a parent letter detailing all the benefits to health and learning with an attached research study of some sort. I know that next year I want to offer the option to bring in a stability ball in September.
Benefits of Fit Balls:
1. Increased blood flow, including blood flow to the brain which helps students academically
2. Engaged bodies, engaged brains
3. Keeps students actively moving without walking around or disrupting classroom (I don't know about you but random wandering is a pet peeve of mine)
4. The ball allows students to get the wiggles out, helping them to focus better
5. Better posture (students are excited to hear will help them in sports)
6. Better coordination
7. Better handwriting due to posture and blood flow
8. Strengthens stomach and back muscles
Read About Benefits and Real Life Examples of Fit Balls in the Classroom:
Third Grade Students & Stability Balls
Increased Attention, Decreased Hyperactivity
Well Rounded Experience
1. Bounce with your feet on the ground (some of my students thought it was okay to roll on their stomach or back at first)
2. Bounce quietly & gently (other students bounced so hard and high that not only was it loud, but they were going up and down way too high to read or write)
3. Respect other people's balls
4. Check your body & clothes for sharp objects before bouncing (this rule would have helped my sharp pencil incident earlier in the year)
5. Check floor before bouncing
6. Fit ball stays at your seat
(We made this today and I plan on adding pictures of students using the ball correctly in the blank spaces.)
Overall it is not hard to manage. Students love the balls and happily follow the rules to be able to keep the ball at their seat. Students know that after one warning for ball misuse their ball can be taken away. I have never had to take a ball away.
I would love to hear your thoughts on using fit balls in the classroom. If you use them, are interested, or have any ideas about them please let me know!