Schooldays at Home: Ergonomics Matter for Children

Arrange Your Home Workspace For Comfort, Good Health

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Ergonomics in the workplace is all about ensuring workstations help keep employees in comfortable positions that fit their size and helps them perform work without strain.

The principles are just as important for children who now spend many more schooldays at home, more likely than not working at makeshift desks —or no desk at all. Most children at home are working on laptops, devices meant for only short periods of use.

It may not seem like a big issue because children are known for sleeping and sitting in odd positions and not feeling sore as an adult would.

However, Jeana Voorhies, doctor of chiropractic and assistant professor of chiropractic clinical sciences at New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls, said that since children are still growing, “it can have an impact on neurological development. It puts some strain on t hose structures. Over time, especially as a child, we’re setting them up for some bad habits and potential long-term effects.”

Ideally, parents should have a workspace the right size for each child; however, this gets complicated as finances and space are strained in dedicated space for each child and possibly the parents as they may be working from home as well.

Voorhies said that the 90/90/90 rule is the goal. When seated, the back and hips, knees and ankles should each be bent at a 90-degree angle.

The line of vision is also important.

“We don’t want to be looking down for too long,” Voorhis said. “Ideally, that screen should be right in your line of vision. That can be simple by putting books under the laptop. It brings it up to the line of vision so the neck is in a neutral position.”

In a regular school day, most children move around more than they may move at home. Ordinarily, they may join in activities in the classroom, PE, athletics or at least moving from class to class, depending upon their age. Voorhis said that at home, children can move their laptop to different positions such as standing to break up their day.

“One position I love to let their children do is to take the tablet or lap top and lie on their tummy, propped on their elbows,” she added. “In that position, you take your neck and spine out of that flexed posture. It gets the spine into an extended position.”

The strain is not limited to the body. Bekir Kelceoglu assistant professor Industrial and Interaction Design at Syracuse University, said eyestrain can result in staring at screens too long.

“Focusing on a screen that is close to your eyes strains eye muscles a lot,” Kelceoglu said. “Even though you’re just going to a Zoom meeting it’s not like a regular meeting since there’s one focal point. It’s not a diversion of focus. That makes your eyes more tired.”

Other points of ergonomics include the hands. Most computer keyboards and mice are made for adults and may not be at the correct height for children.

“It’s like one size of clothing or shoes and they have to use them,” Kelceoglu said. “That’s not really working well with students. The biggest thing is to remind them that having breaks is pretty important to keep the muscles moving.”

He uses a worktable as his home office desk. The table can move to a seated position as well. He added that the table is meant for a garage space, which makes the desk is very sturdy (www.homedepot.com, Adjustable Height Work Table by Husky, Item 301809931, $179.00). The attached wheels make it easy to move as needed.

Megan Campbell, doctor of osteopathy and pediatrician at Madison Irving Pediatrics in Syracuse, has had a lot of children present with back pain.

“You ask them and they spend 8 to 10 hours a day hunched over their computers,” she said. “They don’t get a lot of breaks and activity. I’m sending kids to physical therapy and counseling on posture. They’re still doing schoolwork in bed or on the couch.”

In addition to advising children using a desk or table, she tells parents to encourage children to get up during breaks, stretch and become active.

“It’s difficult during the winter to go on walks, but bundling up with hats, coats and gloves helps,” she said. “Take a walk 10 to 15 minutes to help the body and clear the head.”


Ensuring You Have A Comfortable Workstation

The Syracuse University Ergonomics Task Force suggests a few elements of proper desk ergonomics:

• The desk height and width are crucial to a proper workstation.

• The desk or tabletop should be between 26º to 28º off the floor.

• The width of the desk/tabletop should be between 28ºto 36º.

• The work area should be neat and tidy.

• You should not have less than 3inches from the top of your legs to the bottom of the desk.

• If you are using an adjustable keyboard support, make sure it supports both your keyboard and mouse.

• Allow leg and foot clearance under the desk. Do not store boxes, waste baskets, or personal belongings under the desk.

The Right Chair

Are you using the right chair for you at your workstation? A properly designed and adjustable chair is critical to a workstation.

• The chair should be fully adjustable – height, armrests, lumbar support, and backrest.

• The height and tilt of the backrest should be adjustable. The tilt adjustment should be forward and backward.

• The chair should be sized correctly for the user.

• If a new chair is to be purchased, it is recommended the chair be loaned for a 3- to 5-day period so that the user can allow his or her body to adjust to the chair.

• The front edge of the seat on the chair should not be in contact with the user’s legs while sitting. This will help to minimize poor leg circulation and allow the user to sit back against the backrest.

• The chair should be supported by a five-leg base for stability and glide easily along the floor surface.

• Become familiar with the operations of your chair. Many people do not know how to use all of the adjustments on their chair.

The user must be positioned properly in the chair.

• Feet flat on the floor.

• Knees and hips at a 90-degree angle.

• Buttocks back in the chair.

• Lower back should be against the backrest and be supported in the lumbar region of the back.