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Bean bag chairs, exercise balls finding way into classrooms

Bean bag chairs, exercise balls finding way into classrooms


WILDWOOD — James Carpenter, 9, is more than happy to demonstrate the new bouncy chair in his classroom at the Glenwood Avenue School. He’s already developed a system to carefully bounce and write at the same time.

“You just have to keep your arm on the table so it doesn’t move,” he said, demonstrating.

Laquell Holley, 8, is happier tucked into a bean bag chair. “It’s calm, comfortable,” he said. “And it doesn’t do stuff like wobble.”

The new “flexible seating” model in three classrooms at the Glenwood Avenue School is giving students more options while helping them focus and even enjoy school more.

The flexible seating addresses both health and education concerns. Research has shown that movement can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder concentrate. Another showed movement helped students focus when they were doing complex tasks such as math.

A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found children can spend as much as 85 percent of their day just sitting — at meals, in cars and buses, in school and at home. Childhood obesity remains a problem.

But there are efforts to change that.

Options are as inexpensive as $15 Bouncy Bands that were created by an elementary school guidance counselor and attach to traditional desks, giving students a way to move their feet while sitting.

A group called Standup Kids gives schools grants up to $5,000 to buy standing desks.

The variety of chairs is an effort to recognize that not every child learns in the same way, and all children need to move.

“Seven-year-olds are just not meant to sit upright in a chair all day,” said second-grade teacher Jennifer DeWeese, who developed the plan at Glenwood.

It started last year, when DeWeese had a student who had trouble sitting still. She did some research and found a wobble cushion for the student’s chair that allowed him to move while still sitting at his desk.

DeWeese wanted to expand the concept to her entire class this year. With the support of Principal Christel Pond, she researched different seating and desk models.

This year, her classroom has a few standing desks and a curved low table with floor cushions. Another table is surrounded by child-sized bouncy chairs — exercise balls inserted into wheeled chairs. There are Hokki stools that wobble, a couple of webbed bungee chairs and bean bag chairs. And yes, there are still a few traditional desks.

“So far it’s working beautifully,” DeWeese said. “The students are mobile, and they are working more collaboratively. It keeps the energy high.”

The bottom line for educators is that one size does not fit all, and offering options makes school more interesting and enjoyable.

“We are creating a space where kids want to come to school,” said Northfield Community School Principal Glenn Robbins.

The Northfield school’s “Idea Street” project started last year by converting middle school hallways into alternative learning centers with stationary bikes, wobbly stools and cafe tables.

This year, Idea Street will include more exercise equipment, including stationary bike desks, some of it paid for with a grant from Sustainable Jersey for Schools.

“Sitting still all day is impossible,” Robbins said. “We want to get away from the cemetery rows of desks. Flexible classrooms opens their minds, encourages creativity.”

Kevin Jarrett’s digital shop classroom in Northfield has no chairs at all, which encourages students developing projects at worktables to move around and interact.

The seating in Wildwood teacher Catherine Elsey’s science and technology classroom includes wheeled office chairs, colorful stationary stools and wobbly Hokki stools.

“But once they start working on projects, they’re all standing up,” she said.

Teacher Maria Santiago also offers a choice of chairs in the learning resource room in Wildwood. She created a seating chart, and students each day clip a clothespin with their name on it to the picture of the chair they want to sit in. Santiago read a story about a boy looking for a quiet place to read as an introduction to the concept.

“It gives them some ownership of their work, some control,” she said. “They really like to choose where they’re sitting, and giving them some choice reduces behavioral problems.”

Pond said other teachers can visit the pilot classrooms and she’ll consider expanding the concept if there is support. Each classroom’s new seating cost about $1,000.

“You need to have teacher buy-in,” she said. “But I think of my own children and how they’d love this.”

DeWeese set up basic “Flexible Seating Expectations” that include using the chairs correctly. Students do group activities on a carpet, and she began the year by assigning children to different seats to try them. Students have behaved because they don’t want to lose the new seating.

Alexis Cruz, 7, used a bouncy chair at a table to write his Patriot Day paper, but the bean bag chair is his favorite.

“I can read good there,” he said. “It’s comfortable.”

Wildwood Superintendent J. Kenyon Kummings, a former special education teacher, said he is excited by the pilot classrooms and would like to get support districtwide. The physical education teachers are also developing a first-period workout for students who need to burn off some energy.

“They say sitting is the new smoking,” he said. “But it’s just nice to give students options.”

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressDamico

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Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at

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