How seating ergonomics affect learning
Students sit in thousands of different positions. Upright, slouched, twisted, tilted, straddling their seats. They stretch out their legs, sit on them, cross them, bounce them. They balance on the front of their children chair or precariously teeter on the back, tempting gravity – and common sense. They’re kids!
This “free posturing” presents big questions for those who design classroom furniture and those who buy it. Given the highly individualized nature of sitting, how can a single children chair design work for an entire classroom? Second, how can that children chair improve learning, meet ergonomic standards, and keep kids comfortable? The answer is in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Before your school invests, here’s some good background information to, well, sit with.
Sitting Is Complicated
According to some within the ergonomics research community, sitting is complicated. Dr. Tim Springer is founder of the Human Environmental Research Organization (HERO, inc.). He is a recognized expert in measuring worker performance, ergonomics, behavior and the environment. For over 30 years, Springer has helped a wide variety of client organizations make their environments better places to be. Even though his work has centered on adult office seating, his findings can apply to classrooms, too.
He says that even when we “sit still,” our bodies are constantly moving. Sitting involves large and small motions. Maintaining balance and slight position changes involve micro motions. Larger macro motions involve moving our arms and legs. Both motions are essential for our well being.
But for students, that’s easier said than done. Consider this information from the University of Manitoba Department of Kinesiology and Recreation Management:
• Time in the Saddle. Kids spend a lot of time (some say too much) sitting. According to the University of Manitoba, elementary children spend around nine hours sitting per day. Another source reports that students sit in classroom children chairs for close to 80 percent of their time. Even preschools spend a considerable amount of time in children chairs.
• Posture Patterns. Posture patterns begin around age seven. Classroom seating was originally designed to enforce upright posture throughout most of the 20th century. This position can create an excess amount of muscle exertion. Poor posture can also compress the diaphragm, which affects breathing and voice quality.
• Wrong Fit. Children wildly range in size, growth, strength and cognitive ability. Over 83 percent of school children sit at children chair-desk combinations that are not suitable for their body height. The researchers also purport that most school furniture is out of date and doesn’t confirm to minimum orthopedic-physiological requirements.
• Physical Stress. The consequences of using classroom furniture that doesn’t meet acceptable ergonomic standards include very real physical symptoms. Typically, conventional children chairs have had a rigid seat that inclines backwards and merges into a seating hollow. This design can cause lack of blood circulation; rounding of the back; tense should, neck and back muscles; constricted digestive organs, and spinal cord pressure.
• Educational Drawbacks. It’s well documented that ergonomically poor classroom furniture also impacts cognitive ergonomics, i.e., how our minds work and other mental processes. Examples include lack of attention, poor concentration, poor memory and lowered achievement levels. Obviously, this also impacts teachers, administrators, parents, etc.
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