MONTEAGLE, Tennessee - The quietest kindergarten classroom you'll ever see might just
be in Monteagle, Tennessee.
Five and six year olds at Monteagle Elementary School just doing
their work; no wiggling, and staying out of each other's hair.
What's different about them?
They get to sit on a ball, all day, every day.
"You get to roll around, do fun stuff and exercise!" says
6-year-old Lauren Vanlone. "It helps us sit up straight," adds
6-year-old Riley Taylor.
From time to time, a little bouncing gets the wiggles out.
Any kindergarten teacher will tell you, that's a good thing.
Dawn Foutch, a 14-year teaching veteran, is a believer.
She and fellow kindergarten teacher Robin Colston applied for a
UT Extension Office grant after reading about a Mayo Clinic
The Rochester, Minnesota medical center reported that students
with attention problems focused better when using a stability
exercise ball for a chair.
After some classroom tryouts, teachers reported a quieter, more
orderly environment for kids from pre-school to middle school.
"The classroom has been quiet," according to Ms. Foutch. "We've
had no chairs squeaking, no wiggling, no scrunching down in chairs.
You can imagine how tough it can be for these little ones to be
asked to sit in a stiff chair all day. It's just not their
Ms. Foutch and Ms. Colston take occasional breaks from the usual
classroom fare to encourage the little ones to bounce and
Almost immediately, after "getting it out of their system,"
they're engaged in learning again.
The balls have an additional use for 90 minutes each week, when
students take them to the gym for physical education classes.
In the classroom the balls allow movement, but none of the noise
associated with traditional chairs and desks.
Students who tend to be "wiggly" continue to exhibit extra
movement, but are able to do so quietly.
The Mayo Clinic study also revealed students had better
concentration, improved posture and fewer discipline problems.
That's why Marion County school administrators are taking a
close look at the two Monteagle classrooms, considering an
expansion of the no-chair philosophy.
"Sitting on the ball seems to keep them focused. It really keeps
them grounded, so to speak," says principal Janet Layne.
Mark Griffith, Marion County's Director of Schools, admits he
had to be sold on the idea of replacing chairs with exercise
"I was a little skeptical at first. I had to do some research to
see what they were talking about. But every time I see it, I'm
impressed with what's going on in this Kindergarten class," he
says. "I wish I had one of those to sit on in my office."
As for the old chairs, they're so unpopular they're hidden away
in a corner of the classroom, used as punishment.
If you misbehave on your ball, you get the chair, and everyone
would rather have a ball.
Ms. Foutch says after one month, no one has had to give up their
ball, even for a minute.
Principal Layne hopes to expand the usage of the balls into
other grades in the near future.
As part of the grant agreement the school is doing a study
comparing the students' physical conditions, discipline referrals
and learning abilities before and after the balls were