Meet the Viral Teacher Who Created Tennis Ball Chairs for Her Special Education Students

Were you inspired by her story? So were we! So we sat down with Amy Maplethorpe to get the 411.

Tennis Ball Chairs

When you’re a teacher, you don’t really imagine yourself going “viral” one day. But that’s exactly what happened to Amy Maplethorpe. She is a first grade speech-language pathologist at Raymond Ellis Elementary School in Round Lake, Illinois. Here at WeAreTeachers, we’ve seen Amy all over the internet for her innovative teacher idea. We wanted to know more about her and the project, so we recently caught up with her to learn more about these very famous and viral tennis ball chairs.

Tennis ball chair

How did you come up with the tennis-ball chair idea?

I was searching the Internet for sensory-related items to incorporate into my school’s sensory room. I came across a chair with whole tennis balls on Pinterest and adapted the idea to create the chairs.

What age range do you teach?

I am a speech-language pathologist, so I work with students in grades first through fifth who have communication deficits. These chairs are used primarily for the students in the Supported Learning Program who have diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, and Developmental Delay.

How has the chair worked in practice?

For first-grade students, teachers and support staff have seen students following directions and decreased restlessness while waiting within the sensory room.  A third-grade student will sit in the chair and listen to music while in the sensory room. When he returns to class, he appears relaxed, regulated, and ready to learn.

Do you use other sensory objects in your classroom that you could pass along?

In our sensory room, we have various swings, a scooter ramp, a sensory bead table, a trampoline, and many more objects that could address a student’s sensory needs. I have also used exercise balls as alternative seating.

How are you challenged as a teacher to always come up with your own innovative ideas?


I would say that as a speech-language pathologist, I am not challenged, but rather encouraged to incorporate innovative ideas. It is important to me to get to know my students, then I can develop activities or tools that can encourage academic and communication success.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about your job as a teacher?

As a speech-language pathologist, I would like people to know that this profession is “more than just words.”  Communication encompasses so many areas and in my opinion, nonverbal communication “speaks” the loudest.

Do you know a teacher with an amazing, innovative idea or approach? Use the Write for WeAreTeachers form on our site to tell us about him or her. You just might see their story on