More than chairs: How Alberta classrooms are going outside the box to engage kids

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How Alberta classrooms are going outside the box to engage kids
WATCH ABOVE: A Sherwood Park school is putting a new spin on seating. Students in a Grade 6 class can choose from a variety of seating options, including spin bikes, exercise balls, rotating stools and standup desks. As Su-Ling Goh reports, it's meant to keep the kids active. – Nov 15, 2016

Step into Mr. Davison’s Grade 6 class in Sherwood Park, Alta. and yes, you’ll see desks and chairs, but you’ll also see stationary bikes and exercise balls.

“It helps with their focus, helps with their creativity, helps promote problem solving, gives them some way to self-regulate as they have a place to burn off energy or to gain energy if they need it,” teacher Kurt Davison said.

Using grants from BP Energy and Dow Chemical, Davison installed spin bicycles that charge devices like smartphones in his class. He also added standing desks, exercise balls and other alternative seating options.

He noticed a change in the students immediately.

“If they were at a desk and a chair, they might be fidgeting and moving and that’s what they were focused on – trying to burn off that energy.”

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Davison said kids still have the option of sitting at a standard desk and chair, which some of his students prefer. But having a wider variety of choice has helped a lot.

“It just gives them a different area to sit and to learn,” he explained. “It gives them a bit more ownership of it. They decide where they learn best.”

“It gives them a place to fidget and wiggle. And be a kid.”

The upgrades have changed the tone of the class and students are enjoying the change of pace.

“In other classes, I’m sitting in desks and I’m bored,” 11-year-old Connor Harrower said.

“I’m focusing but I’m also daydreaming. With this … my legs are moving. I can just look up at Mr. Davison and focus more because I’m having more fun and burning off energy.”

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READ MORE: Could standing desks in school be the answer to how to keep kids fit? 

“I like the bike because if you have a lot of energy you can let it all out,” Grade 6 student Kylie Smethurst added. “If you don’t have a lot of energy you can gain it on this bike.”

The school is hopeful it can use some more funding to equip the Grade 5 class with some bikes and other alternate seating.

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The Grade 6 class at St. Theresa Catholic School has:

  • Spin bikes
  • Exercise balls
  • Standing desks
  • Muskoka chairs
  • Stools
  • Wobble boards

New schools in the Edmonton public district offer a bunch of options outside traditional seating:

  • Bean bag chairs
  • Rocking chairs
  • Mushroom chairs

A spokeswoman for the district says it’s all about understanding that not every student learns best while sitting at a standard desk. These options better accommodate different types of learning. They also let kids “self-regulate if their senses get overloaded,” Raquel Maurier explained.

Teachers already try to adjust their teaching styles to reach students no matter how they learn. Now, the physical side of the education system is catching up with that idea, Maurier said.

In other schools across Canada, yoga mats are being used in the classroom.

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READ MORE: Mississauga school incorporates yoga into school day 

Occupational therapist Shamala Manilall, who is an early learning specialist with Edmonton Catholic Schools thinks incorporating movement makes a lot of sense.

She says humans, from a very early age, use small movements to quiet the nervous system.

“We can sit for 20 minutes as adults and listen and focus, but for children, that’s much harder. They can manage maybe 10 minutes of focused attention and then they need to move,” Manilall said.

That’s why she says it’s important that learning environments and teachers support self-regulation.

READ MORE: Young Minds: Stress, anxiety plaguing Canadian youth

“Self-regulation means to be functioning at an optimal level, to be ready to take on the challenges of the day… to be ready to listen and absorb.”

And getting active helps that, no matter what age you are.

“Movement stimulates the whole brain, it helps us focus, it helps us pay attention.”

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