L’Anse Creuse students utilize popular exercise equipment to improve learning

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published September 17, 2014

 Students in Karen Fraeyman’s first-grade class at South River Elementary School sit on balance balls rather than chairs. Studies show that younger school-aged children are able to stay more alert when using their core muscles to 
sit on the balance balls.

Students in Karen Fraeyman’s first-grade class at South River Elementary School sit on balance balls rather than chairs. Studies show that younger school-aged children are able to stay more alert when using their core muscles to sit on the balance balls.

Photo by Julie Snyder

Advertisement

HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Some first-graders at South River Elementary School are having quite a unique start to the new academic year.

Students in Karen Fraeyman’s class aren’t just sitting at their tables completing their daily assignments; they’re balancing.

More specifically, the students don’t sit on chairs, they’re sitting on balance balls: the popular exercise equipment often seen in workout facilities and physical therapy centers.

Fraeyman first introduced balance balls to her students last year with positive feedback.

“They worked great,” she said. “We hardly had any behavioral issues.”

Balance balls were first introduced in the 1960s for physical therapy purposes. Today, they are still used for those purposes, and also by fitness fans as a way to strengthen abdominal and back muscles, and in some offices as a way to improve posture while sitting.

In the 1980s, some occupational therapists began recommending balance balls to educators for classroom use, as they were proven particularly helpful for children with special learning needs. Then, in 2003, a study by the American Journal of Occupational Therapy concluded that in students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sitting on therapy balls improved behavior and legible word productivity.

Fraeyman began researching the balls for students in her classroom and found many sources that indicated that their use benefited all children. In order to balance yourself, the brain is engaged; that level of engagement is optimal for learning.

“Students tend to be more focused on their learning and their work for longer periods of time,” said South River Elementary Principal Laura Holbert. “Their need for movement and sensory input is constantly being met and regulated. Some students sit very still. Others bounce quietly while they work.”

All of the students prefer using a ball over a chair, though Fraeyman has had one or two students in the past who have asked to use a chair instead.

“They would end up using the chair for a couple of minutes and go right back to the ball,” she said.

The students however must follow a set of rules when using their balance balls, including how to safely sit down, how to safely stand back up, where to keep their ball when it’s not in use, how to safely transport their ball and why it’s so important to keep sharp objects away from the balls. The balls vary in size and are assigned to a student based on his or her size, Fraeyman said.

“You don’t pick up the ball and move it,” said first-grader Delilah DeGowske. “You roll the ball from one place to another.”

Fraeyman’s is the only class at South River that utilizes balance balls, though there are other L’Anse Creuse Public Schools teachers in other buildings that are using them successfully.

“We have seen nothing but success and positive results from the stability balls, and are looking at expanding their use into other classrooms,” Holbert said.

Advertisement