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Getting the Wiggles Out Helps Students Learn


In teachers Danielle Terpstra and Kristen Accorsi’s classrooms, 50 first-graders sit on yoga balls, wobble stools and yoga mats, and stand on balance boards. They keep in constant motion while completing their work, participating in groups and paying attention to the lesson.

There are no rows of desks and no expectation to sit still. Instead, students have ample ways to “get the wiggles out,” as 6- and 7-year-olds so often need to do. They get to wiggle, bounceand rock all day long.

Bouncing’s Bountiful Benefits

Immediate benefits of increased movement include:

  • burning more calories;
  • using up excess energy;
  • improving metabolism;
  • increased motivation and engagement;
  • better oxygen flow to the brain;
  • improved core strength and overall posture;
  • less stress and improved mental health.
  • longer-term benefits include higher academic performance, better overall health and improved behavior.

Source: the Enhance P.E. Task Force, created by the Illinois State Board of Education

“It gives them the movement they need,” Terspstra said. “It tends to keep them in their own space a little better than moving into each others’ space.”

The Oriole Park Elementary School teachers collaborated to implement the new flexible-seating arrangement, funded partly by a grant from the Wyoming Community Foundation, to meet the needs of their students.

It’s both a way to add choice for students on how they wish to sit, and provide them more ways to move throughout the school day.

First-grader Ryliegh Kerkstra likes it. “I like the balls a lot and the wobbly things because they really help me learn. You can bounce and look at the teacher.”

Benefits of Movement During Class

Accorsi said she has several very active students who learn much better if they are able to move. “They are allowed to wiggle as much as they want while I’m teaching,” she said.

Accorsi learned about flexible seating from a Detroit teacher’s blog, and has seen its benefits borne out in her class. Her most active student stays on task better on a wobble stool. It allows him to move but not get out of control.

Alexis Foote chooses a cushion
Alexis Foote chooses a cushion

“I’ve seen really great benefits from it,” she said. “Students are really excited that they are allowed to choose what seat works best for them.”

Once in a while, bouncing on the yoga balls gets a little out of control, but students are getting used to using the seats properly, teachers said. It seems to work for first-grader Emery Truskoski.

“I bounce gently and I’m still looking at the teacher,” Emery said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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