Adults aren’t the only ones slumped in front of a computer screen for hours at a time anymore; with the increase in time kids are spending learning from home this school year, often with Chromebooks or other laptops, it’s important to make sure they are set up in the best ergonomic position possible. Starting good habits at a young age will lessen the likelihood of developing pain or injury now and into the future.
The same basic ergonomic principles for adults also apply to kids. A neutral position, in which the least amount of stress is placed on muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels, is best. That means sitting with:
- Their feet resting flat on the floor (or on a stool or stack of books if your child’s feet don’t reach the floor)
- The chair raised so their knees are approximately level with their hips and the backs of their knees rest comfortably against the front edge of the chair
- The monitor at eye level and approximately an arm’s length away
- Their back supported by the back of the chair (or a pillow between their back and the chair) up to their shoulder blades
- Their forearms parallel to the floor with minimal bending at the wrist
A good rule of thumb: If it looks awkward, it’s probably not ergonomically correct.
You don’t need fancy equipment
Whatever posture issues you’re seeing with your child — such as slouching, an inability for their feet to rest flat on the floor, or a laptop that is too low to be at their eye-level — can be fixed with props you have around the home. Occupational therapist Stacy Rumfelt explains to Macaroni Kid:
Pillows can be used to prop up your child if they are slouching in their chair. Placing pillows behind their back will allow them to sit up straight on the edge of their seat. In addition to pillows, a stack of books can boost their laptop to a higher screen position to prevent slouching. [I] also recommends a document holder which has the ability to reduce cervical (neck) flexion.
If your child’s feet can’t touch the floor, items such as boxes, crates or a stack of books can quickly solve that problem. The goal of setting up an at-home homework station is to maintain a neutral posture to lessen pressure on the neck, back and extremities as much as possible.
She suggests trying these simple, inexpensive fixes first and only moving to more expensive tools, such as a child-size keyboard and mouse, if the posture issues continue.
Remind them to get up and move
Don’t forget that children’s bodies need to move. Occupational therapist Meredith Chandler writes for the Ergonomics Health Association:
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.
So that’s one benefit of virtual learning — unless they’re currently on a Zoom call with other students, no amount of fidgeting or getting up to walk a few laps around the living room is going to disrupt their classmates. Encourage kids to take frequent breaks to get up and move by dancing to a song, doing some jumping jacks in place, or skipping across the backyard.