How do you create good ergonomics at school?

The classroom is one of our most important workplaces. With ergonomic furniture, the classroom becomes a positive working environment with learning and personal development at the centre. It's a matter of creating a varied and flexible environment that supports the various needs and abilities of both pupils and teachers.

Today, we know that the physical environment in the classroom is of great importance for learning. Good posture, lighting, acoustics, ventilation and a flexible environment that creates variation all improve well-being and make it easier to maintain a high level of concentration.  But the fact is that many pupils – although the school is their workplace – are not given the opportunity to work using furniture suited to their age and height. What's more, the variation in height between different pupils in a class can be considerable, and the same classroom is often used by different classes, with great differences between the pupils' heights. So it's important to furnish with adjustable solutions and products.

The survey carried out by Kinnarps in Swedish schools sends a clear message.1

"40 per cent of pupils don't feel comfortable sitting on their chairs, and at the same time 50 per cent of them think that the physical environment is important, or even decisive, for how they feel at school. Their teachers agree: two out of three teachers think that the physical environment is important for the pupils' performance."

Anders Larsson, Next Education Manager, Kinnarps

Customised height is important

The right combination of desk and chair is important in enabling the pupil to sit correctly. Fixed or adjustable desks in combination with the right chair, preferably height-adjustable, take the strain off the body and increase the pupil's powers of concentration.

"It's always the pupil's height that is decisive for ergonomics, regardless of whether they sit or stand up to work. So it's important not only to offer furniture designed for pupils in the right age group, but also to combine height-adjustable chairs with height-adjustable desks so that the pupils can optimise their working height for both sitting and standing work," explains Anders, who is Next Education Manager at Kinnarps.

Promoting standing work is not only healthy for the pupils but also results in better workplace ergonomics for the teachers, as it reduces the time they need to stand leaning over benches and desks.

"Choosing the right furniture can also improve workplace ergonomics for other categories of staff in the school. Chairs that can be hung on desks for cleaning make things easier for the cleaners, and flexible furniture with castors, or stackable chairs, is often appreciated by the caretaker."

Flexibility is an especially important quality for both desks and chairs in creating a classroom that supports the learning process, and where the interior design can be customised to suit the activities in progress at any particular time. The right kind of castors makes it easy to rearrange the furniture from traditional rows into various configurations and back again.

How to choose the right school desk

Choose a desk that has been specially developed for the school environment and is available in different height ranges for pupils from pre-school classes to high school. A height-adjustable desk makes it possible to customise the desk to the right height for both sitting and standing work. Bear in mind, too, that the choice of desktop is important for sound ergonomics – noise is actually what is perceived as most disturbing in a classroom. Desktops with a linoleum surface or with hardwearing sound-absorbing tops made of laminate, chipboard and cork are a good choice from an acoustic point of view. You can also choose to fit sound absorbers under the desktop in rooms with particularly stringent requirements for the acoustic environment.

Mobile desks can take a number of different forms, with traditional large, lockable castors or so-called micro-castors integrated into the leg. Micro-castors have the advantage that desks can be positioned and connected next to one another with no gaps, and are most suitable for use in a classroom with no thresholds. The larger castors are ideal for moving desks over longer distances, or where they need to be moved across thresholds and into adjoining rooms.

How to choose the right school chair

The right chair is decisive in giving the pupils an ergonomic work posture. The chair should be chosen to suit the pupils' age, and should ideally be height-adjustable, so that the pupils themselves can adjust the height of the chair in relation to the desk, to suit their individual needs. Also, if possible, choose a chair with a tilt that follows the body. A chair like this encourages natural movement, which means that the pupils feel better and can achieve more. 

When you lean forwards over a desk or a bench, your feet tend to swing backwards. Because of this, high school chairs should have a footrest both in front of and behind the seat to relieve the strain. The footrest should preferably be height-adjustable to suit the pupil's height.

The chair's seat depth should also be customised for the correct height. If the front edge of the seat is in front of the fold of the knee, the seat is too deep, and you are forced to sit with straight legs or slide forwards on your buttocks, which results in a rounded back. If the seat depth is too short, the legs receive insufficient support. You get the right seat depth by choosing a chair customised for pupils in the right age group.

It's easy to make the right choice

With the help of our table you can easily see which chairs and desks are suitable for combining for pupils of different ages and heights.

Allow children to succeed by creating good classroom environments

It should be a matter of course that pupils have good workplace ergonomics, according to Ulrika Myhr, one of Sweden's leading experts in the field of paediatric physiotherapy.

"It's important to feel good in your body. Good ergonomics in the school can have major positive effects for children's motor development, capacity to learn and physical health."

Myhr has devoted her entire professional life to children's motor development and is today one of Sweden's leading authorities in the field. She is a certified physiotherapist and has researched and taught both in Sweden and internationally, in countries including the USA and Russia. She has wide experience of working with children of all ages and with different types of abilities, with a particular focus on motor development and child neurology. Today she runs the company 'Learn to Move', where she is a trainer, lecturer and consultant with a focus on what is best for children. 

"Research shows that good motor skills and physical strength influence a child's cognition from as early as the age of 18 months. Children with good motor skills have much faster cognitive processes, and therefore a greater capacity for learning.  There's also a major socio-economic benefit, as back problems give rise to substantial social costs."

Ulrika Myhr, one of Sweden's leading experts in paediatric physiotherapy

Strength is in short supply

According to Myhr, ergonomics in our schools leaves a great deal to be desired. Many schools today, even middle and high schools, are furnished with primary school furniture. It goes without saying that someone who is almost an adult will not feel comfortable if they have to sit and work using furniture designed for small children.

"There's a belief that it's difficult and expensive to choose the right furniture for a school, but it doesn't need to be. If you take the age of the pupils as your starting point, you can find suitable furniture in 95 per cent of cases," says Myhr.

When you sit incorrectly, you become weak, which in turn leads to a sensation of pain.

"Strength is in short supply among children today. Poor sitting also affects the capacity for learning. If you're half sitting, half lying in your chair, changing your position all the time and feeling uncomfortable, it's hard to focus on what the teacher's saying. It also contributes to an unsettled feeling in the classroom."

The connection between body and mind

"Sitting correctly is a matter of maintaining a good posture throughout the day and throughout your entire life. Someone with a good posture also has a good body function. But it isn't only about the body. Posture also reflects a person's mental state. A crooked posture in a young person often says something about their self-esteem."

The connection between body and soul has long been neglected by schools. If we want to have children with positive self-esteem, and give them the best learning opportunities, we also have to give them the best possible conditions, Ulrika Myhr believes.

"In schools, it's subjects like languages and maths that have had high status, while sport has ended up near the bottom of the list. But from the point of view of children and young people, the body is immensely important. If you're physically 'clever', it gives you status even if you don't perform so well in school. So I think it's really interesting to follow the schools that have introduced pulse training into the timetable, for example in Sollentuna municipality. After only a few weeks, they've noticed that there's a big difference in concentration in the classroom, the pupils eat and sleep well and are physically active."

Tips from the physiotherapist

Never compromise on chair height

You can never compensate for incorrect chair height with a high or low desk. The best idea is to give the pupils a height-adjustable chair, so that they themselves can adjust it to a height that feels comfortable. 

Choose a chair for dynamic sitting

 A tilting chair gives the pupils the opportunity to choose between rest and activity, and at the same time they get a certain amount of muscle training. Pupils are simply capable of sitting longer in a tilting chair.

Give pupils sitting instructions

Children are usually very quick to understand the basic principles of how the body works, and so it's also motivating for them to sit correctly and think about their posture.

So, by choosing the right furniture for the classroom, it is possible to create learning environments that stimulate the learning process and make teachers' work easier. If furniture is ergonomically designed and offers flexibility with regard to working height and customisation for different activities, it results in stronger, more alert pupils who can achieve more. And when you choose, ask particularly about the acoustic properties our furniture has. Smartly designed school furniture can also contribute to a good acoustic environment that can work wonders for a calm, studious atmosphere in the classroom.

1. According to a survey carried out in Swedish schools by Demoskop on behalf of Kinnarps in 2016.

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