Fifth-grade pupils at one Kansas elementary school take their classes on fitness balls. The unusual seating reflects teacher Jonann Ellner’s belief that the oversized balloons are a better fit than desks and chairs for children. And the balls can be found in some other classrooms around the United States. One noted ergonomist agrees with Ellner, but others experts decry the use of fitness balls as seating.
At Heatherstone Elementary School in Olathe, Kansas, according to a story in The Kansas City Star in April, children sit on large blue or yellow exercise balls instead of chairs. Fidgety kids direct excess energy into staying balanced, the Kansas teacher told the newspaper, “allowing them to focus on learning.” They sit up straight, and their improved posture sends more blood to the brain, also a learning boon, she added.
Colorado teacher Lisa Witt studied a dozen of her sixth-grade students in 2001 to demonstrate the benefits of the balls to a skeptical principal. Video studies of the students showed improved posture, more time spent on task and less squirming while they sat on the balls, she told the newspaper. “People are not meant to sit still.”
Ellner’s biggest argument for the balls is fit. “We have all different sizes of children, but the desks and chairs are all the same.”
Cheryl Bennett, ergonomics specialist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and chair of the Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments committee of the International Ergonomics Association, agrees that kids need furniture that fits. The balls come in different sizes and can be inflated for a customized fit, which is a big advantage, Bennett told The Star. Studies have found mismatches of up to 90 percent between classroom furniture and the children who use it, she said. “That means furniture is fitting only 10 percent of kids.”
In the April 2005 edition of Ergonomics Today