Helmut Schmidt, Published February 20 2013
Fargo first-grade class skips chairs, stands up for learning
“It’s pretty healthy for you, and you get stronger,” Shorma said.
It was tiring at first, the 7-year-old said, taking a brief break Wednesday afternoon from writing about President Abraham Lincoln.
“It was like you were running a marathon!” she said.
“It’s just cool,” she said.
This is Eppler’s third year presiding over a standing classroom. What started as a leap of faith for the teacher at the Catholic school is now an educational gospel she doesn’t mind spreading.
“I love it. There’s less chatter,” Eppler said. “I absolutely love the fact that they (her 22 students) are able to move. They are able to get their wiggles out.”
The children spend part of their day sitting or kneeling on a padded area in front of their electronic white board for lessons. The rest of the time, they stand at shared tables to do their schoolwork.
Eppler said the switch cost nothing. The chairs went into storage, and she raised the legs of the tables so they’d be the right heights for her growing students.
Leanne Magnotto, a parent and a volunteer at Nativity, has a daughter in Eppler’s class, and her third-grade son was one of the first students who stepped up to vertical learning.
“The kids are more on task because they can jiggle a bit,” Magnotto said.
She sees better penmanship and a quieter classroom as students burn the energy they can’t run off outside during winter cold snaps.
That makes home life less hectic, too.
“It’s not so chaotic,” Magnotto said. “It used to be everyone was jumping off the walls.”
Jessica Baumgartner, an occupational therapist who works with one of Eppler’s students, says children need lots of opportunities to move.
Rather than spinning out of control, they become more alert and focused with activity, she said.
“They’re more engaged. Movement is the key here. Their muscles are moving; they’re getting more blood flow,” Baumgartner said.
There’s not a lot of research into the benefits of standing classrooms, but what is out there is promising.
Mark Benden, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, says the health benefits of standing in “dynamic” classrooms should get educators to sit up and take notice.
A study by Benden and his colleagues found that students in classrooms with standing-height desks burn 17 percent more calories than kids whose backsides are deskbound.
“More importantly, overweight and obese students are burning 32 percent more calories while working at standing desks than their peers who work in traditional seated classrooms,” Benden said.
Officials at the Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead public school districts couldn’t say Wednesday whether any of their classrooms followed the standing model.
Eppler said it does take students a little time to get used to a lot more standing, but they adjust.
“At this point in the year, they’re now concerned about sitting too much, so they go and stand,” Eppler said.
In fact, 6-year-old Bella Dukart says sitting isn’t all that comfortable now.
“It feels a lot better to stand. You can move around more, and I can think better,” she said.
Eppler, for her part, is sold on the concept.
“I see it as a positive thing for the whole classroom,” she said. “I absolutely love it. I don’t think I’ll ever have chairs in my room again.”
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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583