In my Yoga-Based Sensory Integration workshops, one of the most common questions I get from teachers and paraprofessionals is how to improve attention spans & encourage engagement. I have offered & discussed many different sensory-based techniques & have had some great suggestions from workshop participants. Lately, I have been reading more about a strategy that I myself have used for several years: replacing desk chairs with exercise balls.
I had read about this years ago in a women's fitness magazine article & since I have replaced my own computer desk chair with a large exercise ball (also called Therapy Balls or Swiss Balls) I have noticed a decrease in shoulder pain (in my 'mouse' arm ) and a definite improvement in my posture. I also have found that I am much more focused & work more efficiently when I have to work at the desk for longer periods of time.
If you have not tried this, I encourage you to do it. Its almost impossible to slouch while sitting on this-you will roll right off of it! ( Be sure to select a ball that "fits" meaning that when you sit on it, your thigh is parallel with the floor and your feet will rest flat on the floor.)
I have come across several articles (see links below this article) on how a growing number of schools are using this simple technology for students. The results and feedback look positive, and I have noticed the difference for myself, however I would like to see more actual research on this for students, especially in the area of ASD, SPD, ADD & ADHD.
In general, the muscles that are constantly in use in order to sit correctly on the balls will also help improve posture, core strength & integrate the vestibular & proprioceptive senses. Brain integration improves as does alertness, along with a decrease visual & mental fatigue.
When you look at what schools spend on desks and chairs they are also cost-effective. The typical exercise balls cost $15 to $40, depending on the type and size. The balls are also quieter than chairs too, adding to the overall quality of the learning environment.
For one elementary school in Florida, the results have been encouraging. The balls were purchased with funds from the PE department. The kids seem more attentive & like the balls better than chairs. The PE & classroom teacher are collecting data to see what the overall outcome is & effects are.
In another experiment in Michigan last year with college students who used exercise balls as chairs, the study indicated overwhelmingly a preference for ball chairs. The results were Published in the Chronicle of Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education. The study found that there was also at least a perception of improved concentration and focus.
While some children with sensory challenges exhibited improved behaviors, others appeared to be distracted by the balls, indicating that, as with many interventions, this may not be helpful nor appropriate to all children. For some children with poor muscle tone, this may not be a recommended activity so closely supervise & please check with your OT, PT or other therapist/doctor before attempting with children who have diminished mobility or vestibular/proprioception challenges.
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For more information contact: Barbara