We adults already know that ergonomics is beneficial for our bodies, minds, and spirits. We have learned from published research and our own experiences about the importance of proper posture, effective lighting, and ergonomic furniture. Many of us, however, have not paused to consider how our children can benefit from ergonomics. The fact is that they can and do benefit even more than we do. We just need to find a way to make ergonomics fun and exciting for them and they will do the rest!
Children benefit from ergonomics in 4 major ways: long-term health, movement, lighting, and safety.
Ergonomics can be defined as how an environment supports the natural movement of those who occupy it. Because of this, it is essential for children. Kids need movement. And they need fun. As they move, the neuro-pathways in their brains connect. And an ergonomic environment that empowers their natural movements is extremely beneficial to their development. Teaching and training will be much more effective if you make it fun for them as well as educate them as to why this is so very important.
Ergonomic Tips for Children at the Computer
Many children use the family computer for many hours; but these home workstations are often set up by adults for adults. 63 percent of 9- to 17-year olds prefer web surfing to watching television. Ergonomic experts, school technology specialists and medical professionals say that incorrect posture at the computer puts kids at risk for wrist, neck, back, and shoulder problems.
Let’s make it fun for kids to stay healthy!
One of the best gifts you can give your children is teaching them to touch type. This gift will last a lifetime. The earlier you start, the better. Touch typing will minimize neck and shoulder issues over time.
Make it a family game; there are apps (and websites) for that. Try TypingWeb.com or ABCya. This is time well spent, fun for the kids, and will save you many aches and pains that are common causes of bad posture.
Posture: The longer kids sit at a computer, whether it is for gaming, buddy interaction, or FaceTime, the more time their backs are molded to whatever they sit on. Essentially, a variety of good sitting and standing places that fit their body will keep their bodies flexible and working for their many years of technology ahead.
Sitting: Kids need to sit comfortably on a chair that has an upright solid back support, with legs extended no more than two to four finger lengths from the back of the knee to the end of the chair. There are chairs with shorter seat depth that will make a difference.
Feet: When seated, children’s feet should be in front of the seat and placed flat on the floor. If a child’s legs are dangling, feet should be placed on an object such as a phone book, or step stool that is high enough to get their hips level with their knees and wide enough for their feet to be flat and fully rested on the platform.
Shoulders and Arms: Shoulders and arms should be relaxed. Elbows should be at a 90-degree angle to the body. The mouse should be to the right or left of the keyboard.
Wrists: Wrists should be in a neutral position, not bent up or down and level with elbows.
Keyboard location: Locate the keyboard so that the “B” key lines up with the belly button. Also, keyboard should be flat on the desk or table. Bring the keyboard close to the edge of the desk and the mouse next to it. There are smaller keyboards and mice for smaller hands.
Monitor position: Screens of 17 inches or less should be an arm’s length plus 3 inches away from the fingertips. Screens 19 inches or larger can be placed 5 to 7 inches away from the fingertips. The height of the monitor should be no taller than the center of forehead, lower if glasses are involved. Notice neck position.
Breaks: Like adults (and even more so), kids can lose track of time. Schedule breaks from the screen for the kids to get real movement (preferably outdoors) and hydrate with water. Take breaks with them and fun time, movement time, wiggle time, shake it out time. This is good for the kids, good for you and fun for the family. More importantly it’s setting up a routine and healthy habits for all.
Cornell University has done a lot of research on kids and ergonomics.
Ergonomic Lighting for Kids
In addition to movement, children need natural light as it positively affects their concentration and helps prevent computer vision syndrome (CVS). Set up children’s computer and homework areas to be well-lit and glare-free. Go with a light that casts more of a yellow or orange hue to mimic natural lighting and avoid any circadian disruptions. Avoid having the monitor in front of a window.
Ergonomic Safety for Kids
An ergonomic setting also promotes the safety of our children. A variety of healthy postures whether playing or using the computer for homework will ensure good circulation.
Standing at countertops, dressers or surfaces that allow their body to be upright and doesn’t restrict their feet when at the counter. Tools including proper height counters, wrist rests, and correct height foot rests will encourage healthy postures whether they are kneeling, sitting or standing.
When a parent actually does what they are trying to encourage their children to do, it is the most impressionable. Demonstrate good posture and have fun doing it!
Try making a game of taking photos of each other with good or poor postures and at the end of the week the most good posture person gets a treat.
Motivate your kids, make it fun for them, and in the end, you reap the personal satisfaction for teaching your children well and the reward of taking care of your body.
Ergonomics for Every Age
Little eyes and ears mimic what they see, so be a role model for your children. Take wiggle breaks. Set up your desk and lighting that way you want them to. Encourage dinner conversations about good posture, exercise together, and take breaks to be silly together. The end result is a healthy family that has fun together.
Ergonomics is not for any one age group. Its benefits promote health, well-being, safety, and productivity in children, teens, adults, and seniors. The importance of setting up our environments to empower our bodies is an investment that is worthy of focus and practice.
About Karen Burke
Karen is the founder and president of Kare Products, specializing in active ergonomic solutions. She has 30 years experience in ergonomic product design and consulting.