In classrooms across the nation, students spend untold hours sitting at desks and tables working on their lessons or listening to their teachers. That lack of movement might not have been a concern years ago, when children’s time away from school typically was spent outdoors playing and exercising. But as children spend more time in front of a video screen than on a ball field, greater numbers of them are becoming overweight.
The time they are tethered to their classroom chairs and desks only accentuates their sedentary habits, and the prolonged lack of body stimulation can make it harder for them to concentrate. The right kind of furnishings in a classroom won’t by themselves turn a generation of inactive, out-of-shape students into physically fit health buffs, but schools can provide seats, desks and chairs that are better suited to keeping students’ bodies active and their minds alert.
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Measuring up If children are getting bigger, the classroom furniture they use should get bigger, too. In some cases, a child’s growth spurt can make a right-sized desk a confining and uncomfortable place. If a chair or desk is too small for a student, his or her discomfort could make it difficult for them to perform in the classroom.
“The kids are getting bigger,” says Celestine Hart, director of purchasing for the Lansing (Mich.) school district. “I have seen where we’ve ordered furniture advertised for kindergarten and first grade not being large enough. Now we are looking a little closer and measuring to make sure what we are getting is big enough.” The size issue also comes up at the high school level, where the desks available aren’t a good match for some beefed-up football players and other large students.
“Some of these students don’t fit into some of this furniture,” says Laura Sarelis, an interior designer with Kingscott Architects in Kalamazoo, Mich. “They aren’t children anymore. They’re full-grown men.” The solution to accommodate these students is more flexible classroom furniture. Instead of attached desk-chair combinations, many schools are using chairs that are separate from desks or tables. Adjustable desks and tables can be matched to the size of a particular student.
Instructional benefits Furnishings that enable teachers to explore different methods of instruction can enhance a student’s learning experience and provide more movement and stimulation than a day stuck in a desk and chair. That means furniture that is flexible — tables that can shift from sitting to standing height; desk surfaces that can be placed at different heights and angles; and tables, desks and chairs on casters so they can be moved easily and quickly.
“Whether you are obese or petite, a football player or a piccolo player, everybody is different,” says Sarelis. “In our workplaces, we expect that our chairs are adjustable and our desks are adjustable. Why shouldn’t we expect that in schools?” In some cases, Sarelis says, teachers have to be convinced that giving students the ability to adjust their tables and roll their chairs won’t lead to anarchy or just be another fad that fades away in a few years. “You’re giving students the opportunity to move from a sitting to a standing position,” she says, “just like workers in an office might walk to the water cooler or the coffee area to change their environment.”
Price is a critical component of school furniture purchases, but the staff members who are buying the chairs and desks should be weighing more than just price. In Lansing, Hart says the purchasing department meets with staff members to determine what kinds of furnishing would create a better classroom environment.
“Working in groups is a lot more prevalent,” says Hart, “so we have been purchasing more tables. You can’t have desks bolted to the floor anymore.” In deciding what to buy, Hart says she has to be convinced that what teachers or staff members want will enhance the learning environment. “We have to try to figure out what is a teacher’s personal preference vs. what is truly an instructional issue,” says Hart. “It’s a balancing act.” continue reading