Position Your Child for Success
An ergonomic work environment is one that reduces discomfort and risk of injury. With the rise in remote learning, an at-home ergonomic space has never been more vital – not only for adults, but also for children. Poor ergonomics can cause physical stress to the body and long-term health issues, ranging from muscle fatigue and neck pain to eye strain and musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome.
While not everyone has room for another desk in their home, parents can get creative with designing an ergonomic space for their children by using the kitchen table, kitchen counter or a nook in their living room.
Here are tips to create a home school environment for your child that promotes healthy posture and productivity.
Pay Attention to Height
Make sure your child is working in a space where they can view a screen at eye level without bending their neck up or down to decrease potential neck strain. Check the height of your desk, counter, kitchen table or other work space. If your child works off a tablet or laptop, use stacks of books or boxes to keep the screen at eye level.
Likewise, chair height matters. Ideally, your child will sit with elbows, hips and knees positioned at a 90 degree angle to the desk, while placing both feet flat on the ground. If you do not have an ergonomic chair, use cushions or pillows to adjust height and provide posture support.
If your child works while sitting on the couch, you can use a lap desk to elevate the screen. Place a pillow behind your child’s back to promote proper posture.
Choose a Designated Work Space
Set aside an area of the home that is specifically for remote learning to help establish routine and support concentration. Joy Baganz, OTR/L, MOT, lead occupational therapist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, recommends selecting a remote learning space where your child can sit upright and will not associate the area with playtime or bedtime.
“You want your child to be focused and ready to study versus lying in bed with the potential of falling asleep,” advises Baganz.
Take Sensory Breaks
Allow for periodic movement breaks every 20 to 30 minutes to give your child’s eyes a pause from screen time, reset the brain and do something active to increase blood flow.
“Breaks are very important, especially for children,” states Baganz.
In fact, movement breaks have cognitive benefits, including increased productivity, concentration, creativity and memory. While sitting in front of the computer screen, allow your child to sit on a moving object, such as an exercise ball or rocking chair. Fidget toys, including stress balls, are helpful tools to keep children tuned in.
Bring Back the Old-School Pen and Paper
While remote learning requires screen use, provide tools for writing and drawing. New research suggests that children who handwrite digest more information and recall concepts better than children who use keyboards for digital learning.
Bring the Outdoors In
Decorate the work space with indoor plants. Research shows that working near plants can improve mood and increase productivity. Additionally, houseplants help purify indoor air.
Prevent eye strain by using sufficient lighting that does not require increased screen brightness. A desk lamp with a dimmable lightbulb that can be adjusted throughout the day is ideal. Position your child’s screen at a 90-degree angle to any windows to block glare from the sun.
Don’t forget the health benefits of natural sunlight, too. Blue light from electronics has been shown to suppress your body’s ability to produce melatonin, which impacts sleep. Getting at least 30 minutes of outdoor daylight exposure can counteract the negative effects of blue light. You can also promote healthy sleep by limiting use of screen-based media a few hours before bedtime and removing electronic devices from the bedroom.
Your home was not designed to be an office or a classroom. These tips are recommended to help keep your child healthy while learning at home, but perfection is not the goal. Have fun with the process, and invite your child to design the learning space with you to achieve a healthy setup and routine you can both enjoy.