Children are naturally active and wiggly. As adults, there is a lot we can learn from children's ergonomics! They know what we have long forgotten – the body is designed to move!
Children change their posture regularly, moving from desk, to floor, to beanbag, then hanging upside down, all driven naturally by the demands of what they are doing. Whilst it is most important to embrace and encourage these healthy, active postures, we must not forget to provide them with the right workstation set up when they do need to complete more intensive, sedentary tasks.
The ever-increasing requirements for tablet and laptop use inhibit and restrict children's ability to move around. Often the desks that they are using are designed for adults! We need to enable them to sit comfortably and develop good posture habits from an early age.
Kids sit where you tell them to sit (most of the time). Working at the kitchen table is fine, we just need to stop and apply the same ergonomic principles to children as we do for ourselves! If the height of the table is too high, adjust the height of the chair or add a cushion to raise them up to an appropriate height for keyboard and mouse use (elbow just above desk height). If their legs are unsupported, encourage them to use a footrest or a sturdy box to support the feet.
We need children to maintain a more neutral and relaxed position of the shoulders and upper limb, whatever device they are working on. When using a laptop or a tablet try to use an external keyboard and mouse, allowing the screen to be positioned separately, at a more appropriate viewing angle
Aim to avoid long periods of neck flexion (bending their chin down). The further down the chin, the more strain is placed on their little growing bones and muscles of the neck and shoulders. Check that the monitor is at least at eye level. This can be done by using a laptop riser or a stack of books, then use separate keyboard and mouse. Similar principles apply to smart phones, look for ways to raise the height of the screen to avoid ‘text neck’ (See image below). Suggest they use a phone stand or phone ring, or in the car, encourage them to use their bag on their lap to position their phone on the bag.
As Children get older, they are often spending more time on a smart phone device, often for extended periods while in a non-optimal body posture (lying in bed, or on a bean bag). The most important thing is to make sure they are not doing things on a small phone screen that can be more appropriately done in a more comfortable posture on a larger tablet, laptop or desktop screen. Ensure that they are not spending long, uninterrupted periods on their phone or tablet. When using a smart phone try to use both hands to avoid awkward, repetitive thumb use.
The discomfort associated with glare may also be a contributing factor for neck and shoulder pain. If the room does not have much natural light or if overhead lights are insufficient, try using a task light (downwards facing desk lamp) positioned on the opposite side to the mouse to prevent shadowing. Or if direct screen glare is an issue, use strategically positioned blinds or curtains.
Regardless if they are sporty or not, a child's body is not designed to be stuck in the same posture for long periods. The most important thing to remember is that bodies are designed to move, and move often! Remember to encourage, not only a mix of different postures, but break it up with whole body movement tasks. It can be as simple as taking a quick walk around the block while reciting their times tables, bouncing a ball whist brainstorming ideas or getting outside to rehearse a presentation, let’s get creative!
We hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of ergonomic considerations for children at their desks and the simple strategies and practical solutions to support your kids. As you can see, there is a lot to consider when ensuring children adopt best posture habits for their long-term health. We know we haven’t even looked at schoolbags yet and that is easily a whole topic in itself, maybe a blog for the new school year…. watch this space!