Considering the type of seats and sitting arrangements constructed for classrooms in our schools, could we boast of giving our students a good education they deserve, irrespective of the quality of teachers and aesthetics of the institutions?
In the classroom, due to the designs of the seats, we have the sights of students sit in thousands of different positions. They either are sitting upright, slouched, twisted, tilted, and straddling their seats. They stretch out their legs, sit on them, cross them, and bounce on them. We consider it that they are minors, and making the best out of everything that comes their way.
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 chair design work for an entire classroom? Second, how can that 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 take into consideration.
Sitting Is Complicated
According to some within the ergonomics research community, sitting is complicated. Dr Tim Springer, founder of the Human Environmental Research Organization (HERO, inc.), an expert in measuring worker performance, ergonomics, behavior and the environment 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.
“The only truly effective way to maintain a seated posture for extended durations is to continuously cycle through a range of natural, centred and healthful positions,” he said.
According to the University of Manitoba Department of Kinesiology and Recreation Management, maintaining that effectiveness is easier said than done for students.
FACTS ON GROWING ADULTS ERGONOMICS
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 chairs for close to 80 per cent of their time. Even preschools spend a considerable amount of time in 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 per cent of school children sit at 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 conform to minimum orthopaedic-physiological requirements.
Physical Stress: The consequences of using classroom furniture that doesn’t meet acceptable ergonomic standards include very real physical symptoms. Typically, conventional chairs have had a rigid seat that inclines backwards and merges into a seating hollow. This design can cause a 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 lower achievement levels. Obviously, this also impacts teachers, administrators, parents, etc.
WAYS SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS CAN GET THE MOST ERGONOMIC FOR CLASSROOMS
- Right Size
Height in school furniture Classroom seating should support healthy posture from a young age, especially since young bodies are developing rapidly. It should also decrease fidgeting. Ideally, students should be able to sit with their feet firmly planted on the floor and their backs against their chairs.
- Right Fit/Adjustable
It’s not enough to provide a buffet of chairs, desks and tables and let students randomly choose. It’s essential to ensure that chairs and desks are properly scaled to fit the size of the individual student. A chair should fit the person who sits in it, and a desk should fit to his or her height.
That said; look for a manufacturer who offers adjustable versions of its most popular chairs to meet the needs of small, big and tall kids.
- Seating that Moves
The most notable advancement in classroom seating is seating that moves. Designers and engineers now understand how various degrees of movement, rather than rigidity, of the chair itself can promote learning.
Educators can actually tailor the ergonomics of the classroom furniture to support the curriculum. Seating should be designed to contain movement and direct attention straight ahead. It works like a bucket seat, providing back and shoulder support, while orienting the student toward the front. This allows more movement, so students can face front and both sides. The seat should provide a wide seat pan, flex, and pronounced lumbar support to encourage good posture and breathing.
While ergonomics is essential, classroom seating must fit functionality. In other words, it has to complement the curriculum. Because 21st Century learning often takes place in groups numbering from two to six students, classroom furniture must be nimble enough to be configurable into groups.
Classrooms have become active learning environments; this requires portable (in weight and design) chairs that students of all ages can quickly and easily move, arrange, stack and store.
Hence structural designs are breaking away from the ‘sit still and listen’ teaching style to one where students and teachers engage in the space. Seating has to adapt to what is going on in the classroom in order to gain a measurable increase in student performance.