WOMELSDORF – Some fourth-graders at Conrad Weiser West Elementary School love their new chairs – probably because they’re not really chairs at all.

Fourth-grade students complete schoolwork while sitting on stability balls in teacher Annette J. Wall’s classroom at Conrad Weiser West Elementary School in Womelsdorf. Proponents say that using stability balls in place of chairs can lead to improvements in posture, handwriting and classroom behavior for some students.

The kids are sitting on stability balls, the air-filled, resin balls often used for exercising. But unlike the exercise variety, these have small legs that keep them from rolling.

According to WittFitt, a Wisconsin-based company that has supplied stability balls to more than 200 schools, they can lead to improvements in posture, handwriting and classroom behavior for students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“If somebody has proper posture, their blood flows better,” said Lisa N. Witt, a former teacher who runs WittFitt. “If more blood’s going to your brain, it takes more oxygen, which tends to make you more alert.”

Exercise-ball chairs are gaining popularity in classrooms, from preschool to college. Some adults even use them at work.

At the elementary school in Womelsdorf, about 10 miles east of Lebanon and 10 miles west of Reading, a total of 40 students in teacher Annette J. Wall’s class and a learning-support class have been using the stability balls for about two months.

Wall got the idea after seeing them featured on a television show.

“I said, kind of jokingly, ‘I should get those for my kids,'” she recalled.

Wall talked to school nurse Beverly Yoder, who helped the school obtain a $1,600 federal grant meant to encourage health and good nutrition for children.

The school used the money to buy the stability balls, which sell for $23 to $32, and learn how to use them.

Students are expected to follow seven rules, including keeping their feet on the floor and making sure the inflated devices are safe from sharp objects.

Between classroom activities, students keep their minds fresh by doing exercises such as bouncing on the balls or pretending to box.

If a child’s back gets tight, there are regular chairs in the room that students are free to use instead.

Stability balls are also called exercise balls, gym balls or Swiss balls. They were first used by Swiss therapists to improve balance in children with cerebral palsy. Now, they’re used for physical therapy, home workouts and in place of chairs. Fitness experts say using stability balls can strengthen the back and abdominal muscles.

In the classroom, Wall hasn’t seen grades or test scores skyrocket, but she has noticed some improvements among students. They sit up straight, she said, and it’s not often that she has to remind them to stay focused.

Fourth-grade students Austin Costenbader, left, Tyler Freeman, center, and Brent Thompson, right, solve math problems as they sit on stability balls in a classroom at Conrad Weiser West Elementary School.

Students extolled the virtues of the strange furniture.

“You get more oxygen to your brain, and it’s probably more fun than chairs,” said Olivia Longenecker, 10.

“I like them because they give you better handwriting,” said Brent Thompson, 10. “They also keep you more alert and give you better posture.”

The unusual seats don’t stop children from fidgeting, but they aren’t noisy like chairs can be.

“It’s OK to wiggle a little bit, and the ball allows them to do that without disturbing others,” Wall said.

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