“That there is great variation in the height of scholars is well known,” wrote James Graham in 1904, in an article entitled “Some Particulars of Adjustable School Furniture” published in Perspectives in Health. “Observation shows that the difference in heights of children of the same age may vary from six to 11 inches, and these various differences in height and growth can only be accommodated by desks and seats the height of which may be easily changed.
“In almost all our schools, however, from the highest to the humblest, the bodies of the scholars have to accommodate themselves to fixed seats and benches, and many evils arise from this system, even where the desks are in a rough and ready fashion adapted to the size for the scholars,” wrote Graham, a school inspector in Yorkshire, England. “A large percentage – much larger than is generally supposed – of our school children have a tendency towards eye and spinal troubles and consumption, and investigations have shown that being seated hour after hour accommodating themselves for all kinds of work to a fixed desk adversely affects boys and girls – and particularly girls. This is most harmful in the case of young children, but the inconvenience is also very pronounced in the case of the young adults, and of fully grown men and women in attendance at technical and evening classes held in elementary school buildings, or even in secondary school premises, where only the ordinary school equipment designed for children is available.”
While Graham’s article may have been the first recorded treatise on the benefits of school furniture that adjusts to accommodate different sizes of students, it certainly wasn’t the last. The need for adjustable furniture continues to increase today, thanks to the implications of shared space and small schools, which call for children from a wide range of grades to share library, gym and cafeteria space.
We asked several furniture, fixture and equipment manufacturers for their take on the necessity of adjustable furniture. They echoed Graham’s original assertion that adjustable furniture is not only beneficial in a school setting, it is also a good value because of its ability to meet the size needs of different age groups. Read on for more insight.
1. What type of adjustable furniture do you make?
John Gerrard, Copernicus Educational Products: We design and manufacture furniture and products for classrooms, libraries and daycares. Many of our products offer adjustability, either by traditional means such as height adjustability, or in a more unique way, in which we allow our end users to adjust the unit to meet their desired functionality needs.
Tom Franta, Jonti-Craft: We offer a wide variety of adjustable furniture, from tables to storage.
Ron Smith, Smith Carrel: We manufacture high-quality institutional carrels and computer furniture in both adjustable and fixed-height models.
Tim Skiba, Sunway: We have three types of adjustable furniture that we offer to four different markets. The first is manually adjustable furniture (with set screws or knobs) that can be used in the school and home office markets. The other two are electric or hand-crank adjustable furniture for the office, industrial and home office markets.
2. In what settings is adjustable furniture essential?
John Gerrard, Copernicus Educational Products: Adjustable furniture is most beneficial in an area or setting where there is a variety of users, each with different needs and different intended uses for the product. School or day care settings are perfect examples of areas that benefit greatly from the addition of adjustable furniture and products. Furniture in these settings needs to work for both adult supervisors and for a variety of children in one class.
Tom Franta, Jonti-Craft: School furniture is rarely adjusted within the same classroom, but rather from year to year. As a class with a larger number of children moves through elementary school, the amount of tables required for the class will move with them. As they proceed into the next grade, the height of the tables will need to increase.
Ron Smith, Smith Carrel: Adjustable height units tend to be used more in the elementary grades where there are varying heights and sizes of students to be accommodated, possibly in the same classroom. Also, if need be, adjustable furniture can be used for first grade students one year and fourth grade students the next.
Tim Skiba, Sunway: I believe adjustable furniture and specifically standup furniture is most necessary in the educational market. Although this is a relatively new concept in the classroom, I feel that students can benefit by having the option of sitting or standing throughout the day. There can be added health benefits, greater attention to task, and better body ergonomics.
3. Has the demand for adjustable furniture increased or decreased? What do you think is driving that trend?
John Gerrard, Copernicus Educational Products: The demand for adjustable furniture has grown and will continue to grow. With budget restrictions and tighter spending, adjustable furniture is a better choice in a school or daycare setting. There is a greater opportunity to use an adjustable product with a variety of age groups or change its location from year to year.
Tom Franta, Jonti-Craft: We have seen a nice increase in adjustable table sales. With the size variation of children it has become more important for schools to be able to adjust the height of the tabletops. Many school districts have moved away from using desks and have replaced them with tables. In addition, architects and designers are focused on making learning environments as flexible as possible.
Ron Smith, Smith Carrel: Demand for adjustable furniture is off a little in the last year or so as funds have tightened. It may be down as much as 10 percent. This is due mainly to cost. Some think it leaves an area where mischievous students can cause problems.
Tim Skiba, Sunway: The demand for adjustable furniture has increased over time. Currently in the office environment, big business and OSHA are driving the need for more adjustable furniture. We are seeing an increase in demand for our AlphaBetter Desk [adjustable, stand-up desk with unique swinging footrest bar to help students shift their weight and naturally correct their body position] and stool as awareness in schools increases across the country.
4. Is adjustable furniture more expensive than its nonadjustable counterparts? If so, what should retailers tell their customers who balk at the price?
John Gerrard, Copernicus Educational Products: In general, adjustable furniture should not be any more expensive than its nonadjustable counterparts. In the case of a marginal price difference, dealers should remind their customers that there is a lot to be gained from an adjustable unit. Our Inspiration Station Teaching Easel, for example, might initially seem priced higher than apparently similar models. However, it can be adjusted to work uniquely for each end user, and these adjustable features make the unit more valuable than others.
Tom Franta, Jonti-Craft: Usually the cost difference is minimal. When discussing a potential sale with a customer, it is important to focus on the goals that the customer is trying to achieve with the furniture. Saving a couple of dollars on a table is not a good investment if it is improperly sized for the children using it.
Ron Smith, Smith Carrel: The cost of adjustable height furniture is approximately 6 to 8 percent more than fixed-height furniture, which is not a huge investment for the flexibility or insurance it offers.
Tim Skiba, Sunway: Yes, adjustable furniture is more costly. However, in businesses the costs have been more than offset by an increase in productivity and the well being of the employee. This can translate into reduced insurance and workers’ compensation claims. The AlphaBetter desk and stool may be as much as double the cost of a traditional school desk, but its height adjustment range allows it to accommodate classrooms from grades three through 12, making it a one-size-fits-all application.
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