Pedal desks, sit-and-stand spins help kids focus in school

From left, Pam Holland leads her students in an exercise break where Hunter Woolstenhulm and Austine Limberhand use their unsteady seating to help them focus their attention at Garfield Elementary School in Miles City.

STEVE ALLISON, Miles City Star via AP

MILES CITY — Anyone who walks into first-grade teacher Pam Holland's classroom in Garfield Elementary School in Miles City will notice the bright colors on every wall, posters galore and the odd-looking furniture throughout the room.

With the help of several donors Holland was able to purchase several new pieces of classroom furniture — a pedal desk, and a sit-and-spin desk.

In Holland's classroom, the traditional plastic straight-backed chairs have almost been completely replaced with alternative seating such as wobble seats, exercise balls, the peddle desk, and the sit-and-spin desk.

"This whole thing started because my classroom this year has some high-needs kiddos. In terms of needing to be able to move throughout the course of their day. I have some kids who were outwardly active and off-task a fair amount. What I found when I started doing research was that kinesthetic classrooms are not just for those kids who have issues with attention and issues with activity levels," said Holland.

According to Holland, the movement allowed by the seating in her classroom also helps with juvenile obesity.

Holland said everybody benefits from the movement.

"It's not just those kids who have behavioral issues or attention issues or weight issues. All kids benefit from it," she said.

Holland reached out to the community to assist with the equipment because the district didn't have the extra funds.

Holland took it upon herself to write a grant in her own time to submit to local community organizations. Before submitting it, she ran it by Garfield Elementary School Principal Josh Patterson, who gave her the go-ahead.

"So far it's been really great," said Patterson. "It's beneficial for all students."

According to Patterson, there are several other teachers who are excited about the alternative seating options.

Patterson says that it's a possibility that the school could perform a cost-benefit analysis at the end of the year to see if adding alternative seating to other classrooms would be possible.

According to Patterson, he would want the teachers to go through training to make sure the equipment would be used correctly.

Holland submitted the grant to the Holy Rosary Healthcare Foundation, a donor who wanted to remain anonymous, and a couple of foundations in town, as well as to Al and Lucy Homme, Dennis Mullen, and Dr. Ed and Janet Young.

"I've never done something like this," said Holland. "I kind of submitted it all over the place because I just didn't know how people would respond."

The community responded well, Holland said.

The Holy Rosary Healthcare Foundation was the biggest donor for the pedal desk. They donated $1,150 toward the purchase while the anonymous donor purchased the sit-and-spin desk for the classroom.

According to Jackie Muri, the foundation's executive director, for the past three years they've had a program that sets aside money for community projects.

What really impressed the foundation, Muri said, was that Holland had done her research.

"It seems expensive, but it's a small investment to help the kids be successful," Muri said.

The peddle desk and sit-and-spin arrived in January right before classes began after Christmas vacation.

"Ideally what you want in a kinesthetic classroom is for movement to be incorporated throughout the entire day," said Holland. "It's not just a one shot does it all."

Holland found during her research that movement improves brain function, increases the ability for a child to stay on task, increases concentration, and helps improve memory. In addition, the children in kinesthetic classrooms have been found to be happier to be at school.

During her research, she signed up for a class called School Moves.

According to the School Moves website, it is a class that provides strategies for focus, learning, ADHD, reading challenges and sensory issues.

The research Holland did also suggests the benefits extend to older students as well, all the way up to high school students.

The only concern that Holland had was creating a schedule for her 17 students to take turns on the pedal desk and the sit-and-spin. Currently they get a turn on the peddle desk about once every three days.

"I have seen kids with behavioral issues respond very positively. I've seen a decrease in negative behavior in my classroom," said Holland.

Alternative seating is not the only change Holland has made. She's also dded kinesthetic stations throughout the room. Some of those stations are smiley jumps, figure eights and balance boards.

The smiley jumps have the students put their hands on their hips and jump from side-to-side over a line. According to Holland, in addition to moving they're also tracking with their eyes from left to right just like reading. The figure eight station is where they sit on the floor with a wooden figure eight and keep the marble rolling in a figure eight pattern. That's teaching them to cross the midline and is a focusing tool. Being able to cross the midline is an important developmental skill. It's needed to tie shoelaces and to participate in sports.

Holland's classroom also features balance boards. The kids take the balance board and a reading passage. They stand and balance while reading. It's called heavy work. The idea is if your body is doing heavy work while it's learning to do something it helps the body tie it all together. It's easier for them to remember and retrieve the information. They usually do this with a partner.

Holland has also taught her students a breathing exercise called Heart to Home. This helps the students when they feel stressed in the classroom.

The students start each day by going to the gym. They have a vocabulary list every week and do wall push-ups with the list in front of them. When they go down they say the word, and they say it again when they come up. They then run four laps and walk one. In the beginning there were several who couldn't run all the laps, but now every student can run them.

According to Holland, the students like the exercise aspect, and being able to focus. She said they also think it's fun.

"My goal is to do more with this. Actually my kids had the peddle desk for about two weeks and they said to me if you could find a little more money we would really like another one of these," said Holland.

Holland said she has received nothing but positive feedback about the kinesthetic classroom from parents, teachers and students.

According to Holland, a few other teachers at Garfield are now working on their own grants.

"We try as instructors to meet every kid's needs. What I found was by meeting my highest kid's need I could meet everybody's," said Holland. "I can't say enough for the people who donated. I don't have enough thank-yous. The changes I've seen in my classroom have been phenomenal."

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