We tend to dwell on the discomforts of typical sitting patterns of adults at work, and for all of the right reasons.
However, the positional habits start much earlier than that- children in school.
In this article, we discuss current sitting trends and research for children.
After I will give my guidelines and recommendation into how these trends can be safely adapted.
Update: I’ve received a ton of messages from parents asking about product recommendations. If you’re interested, please read my children’s adjustable chair and desk set guide.
HOW SHOULD A CHILD SIT?
Aside from active slouching, there is no “wrong” or “right way” for a child to sit as long as there’s movement involved.
Very few children will purposefully sit in a strict 90-90-90 position in school all day because they are built for movement.
As long as fidgets or movement do not constantly interrupt academic learning, then educators should be allowing children to move around throughout the school day.
CHAIR & DESK PRECAUTIONS
Of course, there are wrong desks and chairs that can negatively impact a child’s sitting pattern.
If a desk and a chair restrict movement, then the child is forced to statically sit for long periods of time which can be harmful.
On the other hand, if the chair and desk set-up encourages way too much movement then the child is subject to distraction as well as distracting fellow students.
LIMITATIONS OF CONVENTIONAL SEATING
Traditionally, at least in the United States, children in school are set up with desks and chairs that are rigid and standardized in nature.
This means that the seating arrangement is definitely NOT a “one size fits all” approach.
Some children may be too small in stature while others are too large to properly sit at their desk.
Children with postural and musculoskeletal conditions lack customized seating to promote a healthy seated position.
Adjustments (Seat, desk, back rest, etc)
Fortunately, there are plenty of ergonomically-friendly desks and chair for children that can be adjusted for individual postural needs.
First things first- adjust the height of the chair followed by adjusting the height of the desk.
The chair height should open the angle between the torso and the thighs up to approximately 100 degrees, so that the back of the knees are comfortably against the front edge and the feet are both flat on the floor.
The seat’s backrest should fully support the spine all the way up to the area between the shoulder blades. For the right desk height, place both arms on the desk and adjust until both elbows rest at an angle slightly wider than 90 degrees.
Tilting- recommended angles
To encourage the natural curvature of the spine while seated, the pelvis should be slightly positioned forward. The backrest should be tilted far back enough to encourage that 100 degree angle we were talking about earlier between the thighs and the torso.
RECOMMENDED CHAIRS & DESKS
Obviously, achieving these adjustment goals can’t happen using conventional school desks and chairs.
In order to allow for individually tailored seating adjustments, you would have to look into using pediatric ergonomic chairs and desks.
They have dynamic features such as adjustable height, adjustable arm rests, multiple angle settings, contoured padding, etc.
Children’s Art Tables
A child who is completely engrossed in their artwork will naturally throw caution to the wind regarding their posture.
This means there is more hunching and more bending forward at the waist in order to really observe the details that their creative hands are producing.
This can cause some bad sitting habits to become deeply rooted and lead to muscle soreness and joint stiffness at a very early age.
Consider looking into ergonomic art tables that promote a healthy posture similar to that of an ergonomic classroom desk and chair.
Features to look out for include: supportive backrest, adjustable chair height, adjustable desk height as well as a mobile easel with adjustable angles, and art supply compartments within healthy reach of the child.
Ergonomic Chair & Desk Sets For Children
There are a wide variety of chair and desk sets for children, so selecting the product that best fits your child’s needs will require a little bit of research.
Static chairs versus chair with wheels
Wheels will allow them a bit of freedom to roll back and forth to adjust their posture, or will wheels be too much of a distraction?
Angled desk tops
Does your child need to desktop to angle upwards to promote healthy hand and wrist positioning? (very important for children with reduced fine motor skills or hand strength)
Should your child have a chair that has a dynamic angle between the seat and the backrest in order to promote mild movement opportunities while sitting?
Does your child need padding on the seat, and if so what kind of material?
Weight capacity and age limits
Will the desk and chair set-up last? Consider that children are subject to random growth spurts, so check the weight capacity and age recommendations of each product.
ACTIVE SITTING IN CLASSROOMS
Experts are promoting active sitting for adults at work as well as young children in school in order to combat the dangers of static, lengthy sitting.
What it is Active Sitting
Active sitting is defined as the ability to perform micro movements by activating core muscle groups while in a seated position in order to promote physical and mental health benefits.
Benefits Of Active Sitting
Children who are placed in desk set-ups that promote active sitting reap multiple benefits aside from simple physical exercise.
First, many children function well in school when they know that they are provided with choices and allowing for customized movement gives them decision power regarding their posture.
Next, active sitting gives young children movement and sensory input that they absolutely crave throughout the day.
Additionally, desks that allow for movement around the classroom allow for collaboration between the students in team-building activities.
Lastly, seating systems that allow for active sitting make children comfortable. When a child is physically uncomfortable, it drastically changes their motivation and ability to learn.
ERGONOMIC SCHOOL BACKPACKS
Let’s have a short discussion about backpacks, which is a practical and commonly required nuisance for children in school.
Overall, backpacks are very helpful for children in order to carry school supplies while keeping their arms and hands available for other things. However, backpacks can present a real danger for children because so many kids AND parents have no idea how much stuff a child should be carrying on their backs.
How much should they carry?
At the very most, a child should be only carrying 15% of their body weight. This includes any lunch boxes or musical instruments that they are carrying outside of their backpack at the same time. For example, if Timmy weighs 85 pounds, he should only be collectively carrying just under 13 pounds.
Adjustable Furniture For Children
Adjustable school furniture for kids is not a bad investment.
Since children are constantly growing anyway, it will save you money in the long run by not purchasing new desk set-ups every year.
It will also keep your child from getting stuck with a desk that is way too small for them which can negatively stagger their posture.
Furthermore, adjustable furniture increases muscle movement, joint range, and blood flow which provides children with overall comfort, physical input, and a ready and willing mindset for learning.
Ergonomic desks and chairs is not an end-all solution for a child’s daily movement regimen. Teachers should still be incorporating educational activities in their daily curriculum that gets their students out of their chairs.
This can include recess breaks, dancing activities, team-building exercises and games that encourage walking and standing, etc.
Since computer use runs rampant through schools, it is essential for students to start developing healthy habits for screen use while sitting at a desk.
Recommendations & Guidelines
First of all, it is extremely helpful to provide students with desks that can ergonomically support computer screens. This includes height adjustable desktops for viewing purposes in order to avoid hunching forward to read the fine screen print.
The monitor should be close enough to the child’s body so that the child doesn’t have to squint or lean forward to see what’s on the screen.
The keyboard should have angular adjustments and padding so that the wrists are in a healthy position while typing.
Wrists should be neutrally positioned (or straight) so as to prevent nerve impingement, joint pain, and potential long-term damage to the wrists and hands.
The mouse (and keyboard) should be at a desktop height that opens up the angles of the elbow at 90 degrees or slightly more. An ergonomic mouse should neutralize to prevent injury and pain in the hand muscles and joints.
A sturdy footrest may be helpful during computer work in order to promote positional changes to the feet while sitting. This will increase circulation through the legs and prevent dangling of the feet while working.
Sitting ergonomics is not just designed for old people. Young children benefit from healthy seating arrangements because it starts the good habits early and prevents future sitting problems translated into their potential careers.
Examples of ergonomic furniture
The following are a handful of example products available on the market in regards to ergonomic furniture for young children:
- Freeform table: Amoeba-shaped desktops that strategically allow for individual and group work in a fun and healthy way.
- Adjustable sit/stand table: Desktops with adjustable height settings to promote frequent standing and motion during table-top activities.
- Multi-purpose table: Wide desktop for individual and group work while allowing plenty of room for supplies.
Chairs (Swivel & Air cushion)
- Height adjustable-swivel chair: The swivel allows for deeply craved movement while allowing sitting for active learning.
- Dynamic cantilever chair: The shell promotes a forward posture with optimal back support, even when the child leans backwards.
- Swivel chairs for sitting and standing tables: The swivel allows for directional changes while the height can be used for sitting and standing workstations.
- Air cushion chairs: Air cushions provide optimal comfort along the pelvis and tailbone.
- Hokki Stool: A convex base and no back to allow for safe movement in all directions.
Compartments & wardrobes
- Mobile wardrobe cupboards: Supply cupboards on wheels allows for teachers to place storage as close or as far away from desks to encourage frequent standing and motion.
- Low cabinets with trays: Cabinets with individual trays allows for storage of multiple types of supplies or providing storage for each child that’s easily accessible (i.e. lunches, homework, supplies, etc.)
- Supply cupboards with lock and door features: Supply cupboards can also come with some security operated by the teacher for those overly curious hands.
Start early, ergonomically-friendly sitting habits with your children while they are in school.
Eventually, those habits will become ingrained into their daily routine as an adult which means avoiding the hassle of poor consequences to their health and their work stamina.