Teacher ditches chairs for yoga balls in class, sees student improvement

By Jeff Allen, Seminole County Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, September 15, 2014, 11:46 PM EDT

School desk chairs haven’t changed much over the years. But in one Seminole County classroom, the chair has been reinvented.

Melissa Bardwell’s classroom at Forest City Elementary School is much like other classrooms, except for one major thing.

A teaching conference gave Bardwell an idea on how to get rid of fidgety students who might even nod off every now and then.

“I started it when I heard about the research increasing students’ scores dramatically," said Bardwell. "And also helping with the students that have attention deficit disorders, because it gives their mind the engagement it needs by them moving their body.”

Bardwell scrapped regular desk chairs – for Yoga balls. You can imagine people’s first reaction.

“I’m told I’m crazy,” Bardwell said.

But Bardwell said she’s noticed a huge improvement in learning. She said just the slight movement it takes for students to balance themselves on the ball increases bloodflow and oxygen to the brain.

“And then also by sitting centered on the ball, it causes both sides of your brain to be active, and so an active mind engages the student into having active learning,” Bardwell said.

The teacher encourages the use of the Yoga ball, but it’s not absolutely mandatory. If a student gets a little tired, they can just switch over to a regular desk chair.

“We’re so used to sitting on chairs, but it’s great now," said third grader Joshua Sanchez. "We’re used to it.”

Bardwell actually started using the Yoga balls about three years ago, when she used her own money to buy a classroom set of them.

Lately, the idea seems to be catching on. A Winter Springs High School teacher is now raising money online so she can get them for her classroom. Bardwell’s students said the balls are more comfortable than regular desk chairs.

“Finally I get to move around," said Devin Turner. "You can’t really move around in a chair.”

And the added benefit of getting a little exercise while learning  is something these students don’t seem to mind. 

We found some private schools and daycares that also use the yoga balls. But so far, Bardwell’s classroom is the first public school classroom in Seminole County to utilize them.