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Choosing Healthy Classroom Furniture
By: Dr. Dieter Breithecker

We would like to make examples of your wiggly, squirming students. And encourage everyone to copy them. We learn from children that moving is living.

For young children, movement is necessary, not naughty. Activity benefits both the body and mind. Although this can be frustrating to teachers and parents, the non-stop acrobatics are actually healthy and vital for growth. What appears to be unnecessary or sometimes even dangerous mischief can actually increase blood flow and oxygen supply to developing organs, muscles and brains. 

There is a downside of sitting still. Professor Dr. Klaus Bös researched and recorded the movement of 1,000 children, ages 6-10 years, over a period of seven days. Children today spend significantly more time sitting than they did 20 years ago, and we know they are less active, which can present many drawbacks. Movement is beneficial, even while sitting. And in the interest of supporting the healthy development of children, more awareness is needed about the subject of posture.

Traditional classroom etiquette encourages children to sit up straight and still. Even the commonly held opinion that movement detracts from attention and concentration is no longer valid. There is no ideal long-term sitting position. And school furniture should be designed accordingly. It needs to safely accommodate growing bodies’ natural need for movement by eliminating unhealthy rigid sitting.

Movement Keeps the Mind and Body Fit
Good chairs invite students to move and facilitate alternating sitting and body postures. This flexibility is an important factor in promoting improved physical health and mental concentration.

Practical examples of dynamic sitting include:
• Sitting on one’s heels on the chair
• Sitting cross-legged on the chair with inclined table/desk top
• Sitting in a riding position with the chair turned backwards, supporting the chest, with a level table/desk top
• Sitting sideways on the chair with the upper part of the body supported by the backrest
• Sitting on the table/desk edge with one foot on the floor and possibly one foot on the chair
• Sitting on the front edge of the chair with the upper body sprawled on the table/desk
• A rear sitting position, with one knee bent and one foot on the chair seat
• A forward sitting position, stretching the body on the chair

Many conventional school chairs are fitted with a rigid seat that inclines backwards and merges into a seating hollow. The student’s bottom is held in this hollow, cramping the solar plexus. The resulting flat breathing as well as inadequate blood circulation causes the working of the organs to be restricted due to lack of oxygen. The results can decrease attention and concentration.

 1. The pelvis turns increasingly backwards and the back becomes rounded. In developing bodies, the bone structure can be permanently deformed.

 2. The shoulder, neck and back muscles become tense.

 3. The spinal cord is pressed from one side.
 4. The stomach muscles slacken and the digestive organs become constricted.

While sitting, our bodies have to fight gravity. A rigid sitting posture is manageable for a limited time. However, an exclusively static posture can lead to mental and physical impairment due to poor oxygen supply.

This causes what some call, “The School Headache.” The child’s back is noticeably rounded and their head is bent back in order to attain the necessary spacing between the eyes and the project at hand.

Dynamic Beats Static, Hands Down
Here’s a quick demonstration to illustrate the point. Stand up and stretch your right arm out, then raise it to a horizontal position. Hold your arm very still. After a short time, you will likely feel an urge to move your arm, or at least your fingers. This natural desire for movement helps ensure the necessary blood and oxygen supply to the arm.

If you don’t give in to this intrinsic need, the blood circulation will become worse and inevitably, the deprived arm will drop down again, despite your most determined efforts to fight it.

It’s important to note that the organs are dependent on a continuous blood supply. This can only be maintained by meeting the body’s dynamic demands.

Desks and chairs need to be working together to support dynamic movement. To achieve maximum results, an ergonomic student work area should:

• Adapt to the height of the child
• Conform to the child’s autonomous need for movement
• Accommodate the various activities of the classroom

The human body, especially those of growing children, requires a steady flow of blood and the oxygen and nutrients that it brings. Movement is fundamental to this process, which is why a static body posture should not be maintained over a long period of time.

A common example of this natural requirement for movement is the regular change of supporting leg when standing. The body unconsciously shifts weight from left to right as needed. And so it is with sitting. The body needs a desk and chair system that enables freedom of movement.

An optimal working position is achieved when the table or desk is not only adjustable in height, but is also equipped with a 16- to 20-inch inclinable working surface. The writing and reading surface is then comfortably positioned for the viewer and the upper part of the body and the head can be held upright.

School furniture must be adaptable because every body moves its own way. Chairs should be designed to encourage movement rather than restrict it. They should be equipped with a flexible seating surface that follows every change of body position and invites continuous motion. Simultaneously, they should incorporate some sort of swivel mechanism ensuring easy turning in both directions. This encourages the natural impulsive movements of sitting children.

Additionally, several physiological benefits are achieved.
• Spinal vibrations are changed regularly.
• Spinal discs are continuously supplied with nutrients.
• Complex back muscles are stimulated.
• More than 100 joints in the spine are able to move freely.
• Blood circulation and oxygen supplies are optimized.
• The brain metabolism is supported, encouraging concentration.

School furniture should suit the children – not the other way around.

The correct adjustment of school furniture is done in two steps.

First, the chair should be selected so that the front edge of the seat is the height of the bottom of the student’s kneecap. The angle between the thigh and the trunk should be slightly more than 90 degrees to ensure that the hip joint is above the knee joint. Both feet should be in contact with the floor. To utilize the full depth of the seat, the front edge of the seat should not press against the lower leg. When a student leans back, the backrest should provide support just below the shoulder blades.

Next, the table/desk height should be adjusted while the student is sitting in the proper chair. First, have the student sit at the side of the table and let his/her arms hang down freely at the side of the body. The arms should then be raised until they are at 90 degrees to the body. The tips of the elbows should be two to three centimeters below the table top/front edge of the table.

Should the school furniture not be adjustable in height, try to select furniture that suits the height of the students so that the above-mentioned requirements can be fulfilled as closely as possible. This adjustment should be re-evaluated twice during the school year.

Also, realize that different activities require different seat inclinations. Just shifting the body weight changes the inclination of the seating surface towards the front or back. This enables moving easily from a restful position, which relaxes the back, to a physiological working position.

Sitting, as well as dynamic sitting, demands that the muscles, sinews and ligaments hold the body in place. A relaxing place for the trunk can only be found when the backrest is reclined. This relaxing position offers the spinal discs, muscles and ligaments a chance to recover.

Working demands a certain orientation to the table or desk. The forward movement of the upper part of the body is assisted by a seating surface that is also inclined forward. This ensures that the pelvis is slightly lifted, which, in turn, enables the back to be kept upright more easily. Students should be encouraged to use the backrest for support at all times.

Sitting and moving in the classroom is a pattern of behavior that is heavily influenced by the organization of the work and furnishings in the classroom. School children need surroundings that help them feel at home and suit their natural requirements.

Ergonomically designed school furniture can offer significant benefits and contribute to students’ learning success. So let them wiggle, squirm and move. It will benefit not only their bodies, but their minds.

Dr. Dieter Breithecker is the head of the Federal Working Group on the Development of Posture and Exercise in Wiesbaden, Germany. For more information, contact VS America at 704-643-9121.

Sidebar 1
Tools for Classroom Organization
By Cynthia Talley

Classroom organization has been an on going topic for discussion for years between teachers. It is a teacher's job, starting in kindergarten, to help students get organized in the classroom. This lesson will be the one of the many important lessons students learn in school. The classroom environment should be modified to help reduce distractions by organizing the needed material a student needs in everyday learning.

A number of schools are using tables instead of the traditional school desk. This practice can be found in kindergarten through 8th grade. Since tables have no storage space, and the traditional school desk has very little storage space for workbooks, text books, pencil boxes, lunch bags etc., teachers are having to find alternative ways to store materials.  Shelves, cubbyholes, plastic storage bins and crates are a few ways supplies and materials may be stored. 

An alternative method to keep students from being distracted when retrieving items from storage is a bag that hangs on the back of the child's chair. These chair bags have pockets that store materials needed by the student on an everyday basis. Items such as workbooks, pencils boxes, water bottles, writing slates, library books, crayons and many other items can be placed in these chair bag's pockets.  Having the needed materials immediately accessible to the children, but out of their sight, helps keep the classroom organized from clutter. It allows students to stay focused on the lessons being taught.

Several teachers have realized that even leaving a basket of crayons on tabletops is a big distraction for the children. While you are trying to teach, little minds are running away with thoughts of how many crayons are in the basket or ideas of what they could do if they could get their hands on the crayons. These small distractions can create both a disorganized classroom and student. Chair bags are an effective tool to eliminate disorganization and keep distractions to a minimum.

Cynthia Talley was a substitute teacher for a number of years for teachers
who used parent made chair bags to organize their classrooms.  She saw the
usefulness a chair bag gave a student and teacher.  For eight years, she has
been the owner of Happi-Pocket Chair Bag.  She can be contacted through her
Web site,

Sidebar 2
Product Roundup

ChurchPartner has introduced an innovative line of classroom seating and desks. After years of research into the ergonomic needs of students in their classroom environment, Virco Manufacturing has developed the Zuma line of classroom desks and seating. Graceful lines and the intrinsic flex of the Zuma seat combine with a rock-solid frame to yield the next generation of classroom seating. During their school career, students have more physical contact with their chair than any other piece of equipment. Once you sit in a Zuma, you will understand why this is the chair they deserve. The modular design of the Zuma bowfront desk provides a wide range of storage accessory options from color-keyed plastic book boxes to wire book baskets with or without pencil tray. These desks are available with standard rectangular tops or trapezoid tops allowing hexagonal and octagonal cooperative learning groupings.

Happi-Pocket Chair Bags
Happi-Pocket Chair Bags help stop the clutter and disorganization in a classroom. Happi-Pocket Chair Bags keep students' supplies organized and easy to reach. Happi-Pocket holds everything from papers, pencils, workbooks, crayons, rulers, scissors, etc. Happi-Pocket is available in two sizes. They are made of machine-washable denim. They are exceptionally strong and have sturdy construction. There is one extra deep workbook compartment. Workbooks fit all the way down into the pocket. Two small pleated accessory pockets are big enough for a pencil box, small paper back books, a plastic bag filled with crayons etc. Happi-Pocket is a division of Happi-Nappi.

Educational Edge from Hertz Furniture
Academia Furniture Industries, a division of Hertz Furniture Systems, offers Education Edge, color-coordinated classroom furniture. There is no doubt about it: students concentrate and learn better when their learning environment is designed just right. For crisp, contemporary, color-coordinated style, the Educational Edge Classroom passes the test with flying colors. It is a smart, cost-effective way to furnish any new classroom or to give any old classroom a fresh, new look. Hertz Furniture Systems offers a wide variety of desks, chairs and other classroom furniture. Their No. 1 goal is to manufacture the highest quality products that are durable, attractive and competitively priced. They strive not only for customer service, but for complete customer satisfaction.

Heavy-Duty Chrome Tablet Arm Chairs from Alfax Furniture
Alfax Furniture offers sturdy chair desks with injection molded seats. Strong 31-inch high shells of high-density linear polypropylene with heavy-duty support ribs are riveted to underside of chair. Bright nickel-chrome 13-gauge 1 1/8-inch steel frames have 18-gauge back legs and support under seat. The desks offer a large 18-inch x 24-inch writing surface along with 16-ga. steel legs with 14 ga. tablet supports. Two-sided bookracks aid easy access. Hard plastic topped with scratch-resistant Melamine provides ultra-hard writing surface. Two-piece hard plastic seat/back allows easier movement. Chromed 1 1/8-inch tubular steel legs welded to heavy gauge steel support plate. Steel/nylon glides protect floors. Rubber-cushioned swivel glides adjust for any surface.

Combo Desk with Indestructible Full-Steel Frame from Adirondack Direct
Adirondack Direct offers a Combo Desk with Indestructible Full-Steel Frame. Heavy polypropylene shell has two ventilation slots for day-long seating comfort. Non-exposed rivets ease cleaning and prevent clothes from snagging. Heavy-duty 18-gauge tubular steel frame is riveted to chair shell and wraps around entire back for maximum support and durability. Legs have rubber cushioned steel swivel glides. The Combo Desk features deluxe scratch and peel proof standard chrome frame. The laminate top for Combo Desk has durable vinyl T-mold banded edge. Bookrack is included.

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