Wobble Boards

From the very beginning of the school year, I noticed how much my students wanted to stand on our learning area’s log benches and balance on them. I gave them the log-circle-camp-spiel. “We don’t put our feet on the logs because your shoes will wear down the wood and we will need to replace the logs. Let’s help preserve them by not walking or standing on them.” For this new learning area log circle, the importance of keeping feet off the logs was two fold. The cradles that hold the logs do not fit perfectly and the logs rock back and forth in them. This, of course, makes standing on them all the more fun! A balancing challenge! Although standing on these logs, rocking front to back, is inherently dangerous. Losing balance on a backwards rock could result in a head injury. Not to mention this is a learning environment, and having students rocking and balancing right in the circle is ridiculously distracting. I realized right away that I wanted wobble boards for my class.

Wobble boards are often used in traditional classrooms and are so beneficial to learning. A standing, balancing challenge can activate the brain and help some to focus on discussions and listening. I wasn’t sure that the traditional store bought balance boards would work on the forest floor though. I also wanted to use logs as the material, so that the wobble boards would fit into the natural environment of our learning area.

I first thought about cutting a hardwood log in half lengthwise. One could stand and rock front to back but closer the ground so it would be easier to step down. A long time MH employee and lifelong wobbler reminded me that the front to back rock is not ideal for safety reasons. Also, apparently, a side to side rock may feel more organizing. I decided to put a length of 2 by 4 over the half log and create a side to side wobble board.

When determining what type of log to use for the base I looked for a hardwood, locust. I took several locust logs and inspected them. I rolled them on the ground and observed the curvature of each. One seemed very even and straight. My partner and I cut that one. We also cut another less curved log to try out as well. We placed the entire length of the 2 by 4 on a half log. I got down to eye level and chose a length that seemed appropriate. I wanted the boards to be challenging, but not so challenging that students could fall or be distracted from learning.

We cut the 2 by 4 and nailed it to the locust base. I tried it out. It felt just right! I wanted to try the other log half to compare. We cut another length of 2 by 4. I placed it on the less curvy locust half. This board balanced when centered without tipping at all. I stepped up. It was significantly easier. It felt like it may be a good fit for smaller, less coordinated bodies perhaps. Since my students are 5th/6th I decided the first log was the best. We used the locust half to create the 2 wobble boards.

When thinking about introducing the boards, I knew I would have to be deliberate and careful so that everyone would use them properly, safely, and equitably. I decided to hide them outside the learning area the next day. It was the beginning of the second week of school and we needed to establish some norms and expectations for all areas of our day. We discussed our expected behaviors for nature play time, walking as a group, and cleaning up. Then I told our class about the wobble boards. They were instantly excited! I had been talking about wanting to get wobble boards since the first week. I told my students that in order for me to feel safe, we would need to discuss the expectations for the boards before I could bring them out of hiding.

The norms we came up with are take turns, finish food and put your mask on, wobble side to side on them when standing, and the adult chooses who uses the boards. The last norm was more of an adult-gets-final-say expectation, because after we picked these norms I said to the class, “I want us to use these boards equitably. Let’s have a discussion and determine what seems fair for using them today.” A student mentioned that he does not himself have trouble keeping still when learning, but would still benefit from using a wobble board occasionally. He recognized that other students in the class may need to use them more often. All the students agreed and recognized the there were 2 students that should be able to use them first because they had the greatest need to wobble. We came up with a schedule so that everyone had a turn to use the boards that day.

One student had a turn later in the day. This child sat on the wobble board. “Hey! You are supposed to stand on the board, not sit!” Another cried out. I interjected, “Actually, I hadn’t thought of using the boards that way, but that seems like a safe way to use them.” Others began sitting (as well as standing) on the wobble boards during their time to use them. Another day a student put the board in front of their log in the circle. “The wobble boards need to stay on the outside of the circle,” I reminded the student. They responded, “but I want to sit on my log and put my feet on the board.” And like that, yet another way to safely use them was established.

Another norm came to my mind often. You can use the board as long as you are not distracted or distracting to others. The boards are easy to move and when used for standing, we put them on the outside of the circle, so students can stand facing in toward the rest of the circle and participate. On the first day of use, I scheduled myself a time to use the wobble board. I modeled what it looked like to read out loud while standing and balancing. I also showed the students that teachers also need time to wobble.

As new students joined our class, the expectations for wobble boards were restated. Scheduling time to use them became complicated. Tasks that required coloring and writing left students with boards sitting unused behind them. Students that wanted to use them asked the one not using them for a turn. I held firm on the schedule for now. It was important to me that the use remained equitable. Students began to step up onto them when they were ready to walk and were waiting for others. They were looking ready for unscheduled time with the boards.

As we move forward, I want students to retrieve them from the “closet” when they need them. I want students to share and notice when they would benefit from the use. I want my students to feel comfortable asking someone who has had a long turn, if they can have a chance. I want to relinquish my structured schedule over the use of wobble boards as my class learns how to responsibly and effectively incorporate these boards as a learning tool.