- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 6, 2016

MORRISON, Ill. (AP) - Northside Elementary School second-grader Maya Decker bounced gleefully on an exercise ball. P.E.? Negative. This is how Chelsea Stuart’s students roll. And sit, bounce, recline and lie down.

Maya, 8, was happily rapt as her teacher went over a math worksheet March 15. A few feet away, Aiden wobbled side to side on his wobble-cushion chair, but his eyes didn’t leave his teacher.

Meanwhile, Carson White, 7, laid on the floor, his head propped up on his palms as he listened to the lesson. There also are padded seats and enormous bean bag chairs.

Stuart said there’s been a noticeable change in her students’ engagement since her class threw conventional seating out the window.

(Note: No furniture was thrown out the window. Lots of tables and chairs are merely in storage.)

Part of the reason has to do with kids burning off excess energy.

“This class has so much energy, it helps us get it out,” said Jacob Allison, 8, seated on a wobble cushion.

“I’m the second-most energetic kid in the class,” Aiden said. “Jacob’s first.”

“I’m third,” said Aiden’s partner, Ryan Peppers. He was seated on a tried-and-true, standard chair. Many of the kids still prefer the classic seating.

“Not everyone learns the same,” Stuart said.

The kids have learned that with great comfort comes great responsibility. Aiden was kind enough to demonstrate how not to use the exercise balls.

“You can’t just be bouncing out of control,” he said, springing on an imaginary ball. He then laid on his tummy across the chair, to show another unpermitted method.

Stuart had read fellow teachers’ blogs and incorporated some of her own ideas to form a sort of hybrid system that she proposed to administration before this school year. Using the nonprofit site donorschoose.com, she was able to buy the creature comforts and swap them in for tables and chairs during winter break.

There’s more to it than where kids put their duffs, though.

“There’s been a lot of learning opportunities through the new seating,” Stuart said, “and a lot of it ties in with the new learning standards.”

One of the key components in those standards is collaboration. Each morning, when Stuart picks sticks with the children’s names on them to determine who gets to pick their seating first, there are big decisions: Do you want to sit next to someone new? Because if you sit next to your best bud …

“Are you going to be able to control your excitement?” Stuart said. “Will you be able to pay attention, or will you be talking too much?”

The wide-open space in the middle of the room, made possible by the removal of 24 desks and the chairs that go with them, makes group projects easy to pull off. The seating makes it much easier for Stuart to group students together. The wobble cushions and exercise balls also help build core muscles.

Payton Rumfelt, 8, sounded downright diplomatic as he described life before alternative seating.

“Before we had any of this, we were not amazed,” he said. “We wanted something else, for the bones in our back and the bones in our bottom.”

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Source: Sauk Valley Media, https://bit.ly/1TVdVFm

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Information from: Dixon Telegraph, https://www.saukvalley.com


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