03 Dec 2016

Better Seating Means Better Focus

Category: Health,LearningAdmin @ 1:34 pm

I still remember some of the seats I was expected to sit in at school. The worst were metal ones, often attached to the desk so that I could not even adjust how close I sat to the work surface. They were so uncomfortable that I would alternate between leaning forward to put some of my weight on my arms on the desk, sitting back with legs crossed in various ways, putting my feet under my seat and sitting at the edge of my chair, and sitting sideways. I usually managed to do my work, take notes and listen to the teacher through all of this, but not every student handles pain so well.

These metal seats have largely been replaced by plastic ones that in most cases are more flexible, and so a little better on the bum, but no better for posture. in fact, they usually throw the pelvis backwards, forcing the back into the back support — which rarely provides any lumbar support — causing the shoulders to round forward and putting strain on the back and neck.

How did we come to expect children to sit on such seats for more than a few minutes, let alone most of a school day? One solution, obviously, is to get better chairs. Unfortunately, better chairs tend to cost more and generally do not stack as well as cheap plastic ones. When it comes to our children’s health and education, I think better chairs are worth the expense, but the number of classrooms I see with cheap chairs is evidence that either: 1) those in charge of buying chairs simply do not think about the effects a chair might have on health and learning outcomes, 2) school districts cannot afford decent equipment, or 3) both.

If you, as a parent, suspect that your child is having trouble sitting still because the chair is uncomfortable, what do you do?

  1. Fight for better seats for all students.
  2. Fight for a better seat for your child only.
  3. Buy a better seat yourself, and then insist that the school allow your child to use this seat instead of the seats everybody else uses.
  4. Buy a seat or back support that is placed in the existing seat.

If your child has a relevant medical condition, the only likely complaint from the school will be lack of funds, in which case they will certainly let you buy a chair yourself (No. 3). Otherwise, the school may worry that the rest of the students will see a special seat for just one student as grossly unfair.

An easier solution may be a portable support (No. 4). This device can also be taken along on the bus and used at home, providing additional benefit. A good example is the SitSmart seat by BackJoy®, which improves the position of the pelvis. (They make both adult and child-sized versions.) This allows the back to be more properly balanced and reduces muscle strain and pain. It also encourages the use of the proper muscles for good overall posture.

Inform the school that your child is experiencing pain and trouble concentrating because the chair is hurting him. Therefore, you will be sending a special support to school with him. When you present it this way, it is highly unlikely that anyone at school will object.

Most children will assume that your child has a special need for this device, just like other children need glasses. If it occurs to them that they, too, have trouble sitting in the school chairs, and so they go home and ask their parents to get them the same device, you may have done them a favor.

Another solution is to stop forcing children to sit in chairs so much. In Montessori, for example, children are encouraged to do many activities beside small rugs that they roll out on the floor. In this way, they alternate between sitting at a desk or table and sitting or kneeling on the floor, with a bit of walking in between activities. Montessori classrooms also commonly include some movement activities that children can choose during independent work time, such as yoga or walking along a path that has been taped to the classroom floor (known in Montessori as "Walking the Line").

(Source: https://youtu.be/W-eNEBgRnXI)

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