Often when I visit a classroom, I look at the environment in which the student needs to function. One of the things that often amaze me is the number of students that are sitting at ill fitted desks and chairs. I know it is difficult in middle and high school to make sure the students have the proper height chair and desk but in the elementary school, there should be no problems since the students spend the majority of their time in the same class all day.
When most think of ergonomics, they think computers. When I think ergonomics, I think of the general environment. Our students are sitting at desks that are either too high or too short. I recently went to visit a classroom of a 3rd grade student. The concerns were that the student’s handwriting was difficult to read, student would fatigue and the student complained of arm pain. This student was on the petit side. When they pointed the student out to me, all I could do was shake my head. The students’ desk was two pegs higher than it needed to be for her. For this student to write she needed to lift her arms up onto the desk raising her shoulder. No wonder this student was complaining of arm pain and getting tired. This meant she had decrease control over the ability to use her pencil. This students chair when she sat back she could not put her feet to the ground so she was moving all over the place and sitting on her legs. The rule of the classroom is 6 feet on the ground. This student even if she wanted to could not accomplish this task. After explaining my observation to the case manger, we walked down to the building principal. I again explained the situation and asked if a maintenance person could visit the classroom. We had the students all line up against the wall, picked three students at a time and asked them to find a chair they liked and to sit in the chair. If it was a proper fit, the chairs were labeled with the student’s name. For the students that were in-between chair sizes we created different footrest (this was done over time). Then we had the student take the chair to their desk. The maintenance person, teacher and I lowered and made desk higher for the students. I returned to the classroom a week later to talk to the teacher about the concerns. The student’s handwriting was still difficult to read but you could read it, she was no longer complaining about pain and being tired. The teacher noticed that the students seemed to be more comfortable and not wiggling in their chairs as much.
Sometimes it is not a tool that is needed but the environment that needs to be adjusted to meet the needs of the individuals working in it. It takes just a few minutes to adjust chairs and desks throughout the year. There are benefits to making sure students have the proper environment to do their work.
How to check for proper height and fit: