Wig­gle while you work

Teach­ers re­place chairs for bet­ter learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment

The Dallas Morning News - - METRO & STATE - By NANETTE LIGHT Staff Writer nlight@dal­las­news.com

Peek in­side Jen­nifer Cass’ sec­ond-grade class­room and you won’t see kids sit­ting on desk chairs in neat rows.

Some gen­tly bounce on sta­bil­ity balls. Oth­ers rock back and forth on plas­tic wob­ble chairs that move like spring an­i­mals on a play­ground. Some sit cross-legged on pil­lows around a low ta­ble. The rest lounge on their stom­achs on plush bath mats.

Sec­ond-grader Qua­lyon Perkins said his fa­vorite seat is the “bouncy ball.”

“It helps me be­cause when I get wig­gly, I don’t have to act crazy. I can just bounce or wob­ble,” he said.

It’s called flex­i­ble seat­ing, and Cass is among sev­eral Hex­ter El­e­men­tary teach­ers who have con­verted their class­rooms with hopes to im­prove stu­dents’ fo­cus and al­low them to choose how they learn best.

The ev­i­dence isn’t there yet, but the teach­ers say they see a dif­fer­ence.

“I have a lot of stu­dents who like to fid­get or move while they work, and reg­u­lar chairs don’t al­low them to do that,” said Cass, who teaches math and science at the Dal­las ISD school. “Wob­ble chairs al­low them to move around while they learn.”

Cass said she ditched tra­di­tional chairs al­to­gether af­ter notic­ing most of her stu­dents last year didn’t sit in them to do their work, opt­ing in­stead for bean bag chairs and the floor.

“Why do I have all these desks and chairs in here if no one is us­ing them? They don’t like them, so I got rid of them,” she said.

She said her stu­dents get to choose seat­ing based on where they learn best, and there are rules for the new seats, like both feet on the ground and no spin­ning.

“So it’s not nec­es­sar­ily which one is the most fun. It’s where do you learn best,” Cass said.

The equip­ment isn’t cheap. A Kore wob­ble chair, which comes in rain­bow col­ors, sells for nearly $70 on Ama­zon. Ac­cord­ing to the com­pany, it can strengthen core mus­cles and the rock­ing mo­tion can be calm­ing and or­ga­niz­ing for the brain, help­ing kids pay at­ten­tion.

Prin­ci­pal Jen­nifer Jack­son said the district didn’t foot the bill for Hex­ter teach­ers. Many of them sought do­na­tions — rang­ing from over $600 to over $2,000 — on the non­profit web­site DonorsChoose .org. More than 20 Dal­las-area teach­ers are among roughly 3,000 pend­ing re­quests from across the coun­try on the site for flex­i­ble seat­ing.

“As we learn more about how our minds and bod­ies are all con­nected, how it’s one unit, I think we’re go­ing to see more of it,” Jack­son said of flex­i­ble seat­ing.

A 2015 study by re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis’ MIND In­sti­tute — an in­ter­na­tional re­search cen­ter that stud­ies neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal dis­or­ders — found that fid­get­ing for chil­dren with at­ten­tion-deficit/ hyper­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der may ac­tu­ally help them think.

“Par­ents and teach­ers shouldn’t try to keep them still. Let them move while they are do­ing their work,” Julie Sch­weitzer, di­rec­tor of the UC Davis ADHD Pro­gram and the study’s se­nior au­thor, said in a news re­lease.

But as far as she knows, whether wob­ble chairs and other flex­i­ble seat­ing helps hasn’t been stud­ied.

“How­ever, it is a very ripe area for ex­plo­ration,” Sch­weitzer said in an email. She said the ben­e­fits and the costs to the child and the over­all class­room en­vi­ron­ment should be tested.

De­spite the lack of re­search, teach­ers say wob­ble chairs and bouncy balls can be help­ful for stu­dents, es­pe­cially those with ADHD ten­den­cies.

While many stu­dents were ex­cited about the new seats on the first day of school, not ev­ery­one likes to wob­ble or bounce.

Ella Green­man, a sec­ond­grader in Cass’ class, prefers a floor pil­low to the wob­ble chairs and bouncy balls, say­ing it’s eas­ier for her to fo­cus.

“The pil­low is squishy. Some­times it’s hard to work and bounce,” she said.

Caro­line Har­ris, who teaches sec­ond-grade read­ing lan­guage arts and so­cial stud­ies at Hex­ter, re­placed desk chairs with a class­room set of wob­ble stools this year af­ter spot­ting them in other class­rooms. But she kept a few sta­tion­ary stools around a ta­ble for kids who want to stay still.

“They don’t have to sit on a wob­ble seat,” she said.

And teach­ers say the repet­i­tive mov­ing isn’t for all ed­u­ca­tors. The wob­ble chairs have been a hur­dle for sub­sti­tute teach­ers used to sta­tion­ary chairs, Har­ris said.

“Hav­ing some­one come in who’s not fa­mil­iar with them and doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily know what’s go­ing on or why we have them, that’s been a chal­lenge.”

Just like the work­place has changed — think stand­ing desks and sta­bil­ity balls in­stead of chairs — class­rooms are adapt­ing to how stu­dents work best.

“We all see the same things: kids want­ing to stand or want­ing to move around in their chairs,” said Shan­non Bow­den-Veazey, a third­grade teacher at Hex­ter. “This gives them the op­por­tu­nity to do that.”

Bow­den-Veazey in­sti­gated flex­i­ble seat­ing at Hex­ter when she brought 13 sta­bil­ity balls into her class­room last year af­ter notic­ing kids lean­ing in their desk chairs, bal­anc­ing on the chairs’ back legs.

She can’t say for sure whether it’s helped aca­dem­i­cally but said she no­tices stu­dents stay­ing seated who, in the past, would roam the room.

“It gives kids a dif­fer­ent way to deal with en­ergy or even some anx­i­ety they’re hav­ing in their lives,” Bow­den-Veazey said.

A teacher for more than 20 years, she’s no­ticed kids have a harder time fo­cus­ing than they did a decade ago. She blames it on a va­ri­ety of fac­tors such as tech­nol­ogy and nu­tri­tion.

“It’s got­ten worse. They can’t sit,” Bow­den-Veazey said.

Pho­tos by Ting Shen/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Sec­ond-grader Qua­lyon Perkins Hex­ter El­e­men­tary sec­ond-grade teacher Caro­line Har­ris re­placed her tra­di­tional class­room chairs with wob­ble chairs to al­low her stu­dents to wig­gle and move while they learn. Har­ris says she thinks the chairs help high-en­ergy stu­dents fo­cus bet­ter.

The White Rock school also uses sta­bil­ity balls do­nated through DonorsChoose .org. Many stu­dents say they like the non­tra­di­tional seat­ing.

Sec­ond-graders Leia Peña (left) and Daniel Kang sit on wob­ble chairs dur­ing read­ing class at Hex­ter El­e­men­tary. More than 20 Dal­las-area teach­ers have sub­mit­ted re­quests for the chairs through DonorsChoose.org.

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