Saturday, May 25, 2013

Yoga Balls in the Elementary Classroom

"You're gonna let these kids sit on yoga balls in class?!"

When my co-worker and good friend of sixteen years first told me her plan, I'll admit I was a little skeptical. I may have even told her she was nuts. Upon asking her later, she agreed, "Yep, you told me I was nuts. It's okay, I still love ya!" We have that kind of relationship. I know her. She is not the kind of teacher who is appreciative of kids "bouncing off the walls," and this is just what I was imagining happening with this crazy idea of hers. However, she has always been the kind of teacher who takes the bull by the horns, and she usually ends up taming the bull somewhere in the process. Meet my friend, Elizabeth.

She is a doctoral student who drives 75 miles one way to school every day, usually going 75 mph, but her speed is beside the point, I guess (hope there are no GSP officers reading this)... Anyway, she calls this her "thinking time." This can actually be considered more dangerous than her speed! She stumbled upon this idea of the yoga balls while perusing the internet one night. She pondered it further during her "thinking time," and approached our principal with this idea - full of ammunition. She had her research to back up what she believed was a good idea. Let me just say, we are lucky to have the principal that we have been blessed with. She is awesome. She thinks outside of the box, and encourages that in her teachers. If you approach her with an idea, and if you have sound research to back it up, and if you truly believe your idea can make a difference in our students' lives, honey, she'll make it happen.

So that's how Elizabeth ended up with a classroom full of yoga balls. And you see our principal smiling in the doorway. Elizabeth is four months into this experiment and it is working well. But you should have seen the looks into her classroom when folks walked by and saw her students bouncing up and down in February!

Now, let's go back to Elizabeth's commute. She has a long ride, and she listens to the morning shows to pass the time.  One show that she enjoys listening to is Bob and Sheri  in the morning. Well, one morning, they happened to be discussing yoga balls in general, and how they didn't do all that they were cracked up to do. That's all it took for Elizabeth to get out her cute pink phone, and dial that number, and let them know, "OH YES THEY ARE!! I teach with a classroom full of third graders bouncing on yoga balls!" This was said in her most authoritative teacher voice. Smart hosts that they are, they knew they had a story, and told Elizabeth to call back in eight minutes, and they would put her on the air. You can listen to her 15 minutes of fame.  (As of right now, this link doesn't work. I'm gonna put Elizabeth on the task of taking care of this. Rest assured that it will be back up soon!)Fast forward to 1:20 into the program to hear her story.


Since she is now a minor celebrity, I thought I'd interview her.

Me: What in the world, girl?
Elizabeth: Well, you work with me, so you know we have several students with ADD/ADHD, students who are on the autism spectrum, and some with simple maturity issues. I wanted to find a way to keep our students engaged, so I started researching.
Me: You know, I like your idea, but I was skeptical at first. It seems to be working, but how do you manage this? How do you keep these kids from bouncing from one wall to the other?
Elizabeth: We had a class on yoga ball etiquette. What we do and don't do on the yoga balls. Modeling was involved. We don't stick pencils into the balls, obviously. Boucing is allowed, even encouraged! Why have them, otherwise?
Me: And what about you? Do you have a yoga ball as well?
Elizabeth: You know I do! I even teach from it sometimes!
Me: You are a bundle of energy yourself! I can see that happening! Would you mind sharing your "yoga ball etiquette?" How do you make this work in your classroom? 
Elizabeth: Okay. Yoga ball etiquette is as follows:
  • Feet on the floor.
  • Small bounce.
  • Slightly roll side to side.
  • Only sit on one ball.
  • Sit on bottom - not on knees.
  • Do not throw ball.
  • Do not roll so that you are lying on your back.
  • Do not lie on your stomach. 
Me: What about the ones who just can't/won't follow the yoga ball etiquette? What do you do then?
Elizabeth: All students are given a choice. We have a few students who choose to sit in chairs. When we got the balls, I stacked all my chairs into a corner of the room. Students who prefer to use chairs switch them out as they come into the classroom. Some students change daily depending on their mood. They may prefer a ball on Monday, but on Tuesday they would rather sit in a chair. It is up to them. And for the one or two who abuse the yoga balls, either by diving into them or poking holes into them, they sit in chairs as well.
Me: So, overall, would you say that yoga balls are effective in your classroom? 
Elizabeth: Yes. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, there are some who do better in chairs, so that's where they sit. But overall, the balls seem to keep my kids more on task; more engaged.
Me: What about grades? Have they improved?
Elizabeth: I've not had the balls long enough to correlate grades to them. But I can tell you that I was AMAZED at how well they worked during state testing. I could really tell a difference from previous years...the kids who finished early kept quiet and were less 'antsy' while waiting on the others to finish.
Me: What other benefits have you seen?
Elizabeth: When they have their feet on the floor, the bouncing strengthens their core, which leads to increased blood flow to the brain. Both sides of the brain are engaged due to bouncing and balancing. This increases focus. It also keeps their little bottoms from going to sleep like it does in a hard chair. When the body is moving, the brain is working. That's what we want for our kids!

And there is my conversation with my friend and coworker, Elizabeth! Thanks, girl! Love ya!


  1. I love this story! I've heard of the idea of using yoga balls, but I've mever seen a teacher actually do it. I'm glad it has worked so well!

    Teacher at the Wheel

  2. Great post! I enjoyed reading it.