Byline: Kate Schultz Daily Herald Staff Writer
Late this school year, Maggie Brewner's fifth-grade classroom at Richmond Elementary School in St. Charles had no chairs. Two months before the end of the year, Brewner replaced all the classroom chairs with physio balls.
Physio balls are commonly used in physical therapy and for exercising, but they can also improve posture and balance. Brewner got the idea to replace chairs with physio balls after talking to a physical therapist at Advanced Physical Medicine in St. Charles. She decided to research the use of physio balls on the Internet, and she learned that the exercise balls improve circulation to the brain, which helps the patient function better in many aspects of everyday life.
Susan Klein-Vogelbach was the first doctor to use physio balls for physical therapy in the 1960s in Switzerland. Since then, many schools in Switzerland have replaced chairs with physio balls, also commonly called Swiss balls, in the classroom. After extensive research, Brewner decided she wanted to try it in her class.
With the help of Dr. David Williamson, a chiropractor at Advanced Physical Medicine, she made the switch from chairs to physio balls in her classroom. "People told me I was crazy because it would be a distraction," Brewner said. "So before we brought the balls into the room, the students created a list of 11 rules to obey. One rule was the balls were to be used for sitting only unless told otherwise. They also decided that if anyone broke any of the rules, the punishment would be to take away the student's ball. I've never had to do that."
Brewner said that there was been a significant improvement in her students' grades and behavior since the implementation of the physio balls. "The kids stay on task longer because they don't feel the need to get up and walk around. Their test scores have been improving too."
Williamson said the reason the students are behaving better and improving is because the balls "require them to maintain balance unconsciously. It makes the body aware of what's going on and is a form of stress relief."
The balls require the students to sit up straight. If they slouch they will lose their balance and the ball will become uncomfortable. "It's good for their health overall. There are physiological, mental and academic benefits," Williamson said.
"The students and parents have responded well to the change," Brewner said. "The kids love them and parents have said the students sleep better."
The balls especially help students with ADD or ADHD. The slight constant movement helps them maintain their focus and helps them concentrate.
As with anything, safety is a priority. "These balls can do more harm than good if they are the wrong size," Williamson said. "It's important to make sure the students are fitted properly." Each student in Brewner's class was measured and fit for a ball by a doctor and each ball is marked with a number so that each student knows which ball is theirs.
The balls can also be dangerous if they are punctured, so the class received anti-burst balls. "This way if they were to be punctured, the air would leak out slowly and not collapse. It is very safe," Williamson said.
Brewner is the only teacher at Richmond to use physio balls in the classroom, but others have expressed interest. "It was beneficial for me to start using them in the middle of the year, because I got to see the before and after. Next year I won't have that benefit because I'll be using them all year," she said.
"We hope to have physio balls in every classroom in the future," Williamson said. "The benefits are endless."
Sing out proud: Four Haines Middle School choirs each took first place in their individual competitions, with one being named the Grand Champion at the Music Showcase Festival in May.
The event, held at Niles North High School in Skokie, featured singing groups from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. …