Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stand Up for Education

Middle school aged boy standing at his desk. A stool is behind him.
“Sit down and be still,” might be the most commonly heard phrase in elementary schools everywhere.

What are we teaching our children when we expect them (even those without disabilities) to do what they are developmentally and physically not ready for. Children are active creatures. It is how they interact with the universe: they fidget, dance like no one is watching, wave their hands wildly when they talk. It only makes sense that a standing desk can help burn off some of that energy and give students a new way to interact with their studies.

Look at the picture to the right. At the bottom of the standing desk is a swing bar. A child can put his foot on the bar and swing it back and forth as he learns. For children who need to be active, this little bar can keep them active, without being disrupting.

I am hooked on this idea. Maybe it should be part of the stimulus package: A new jobs bill for mom and dad; and a standing desk for every student. Obviously, for students who cannot stand or prefer to sit, traditional desks should still be available.

I did an unscientific study of about 30 high school freshmen. I showed them a picture of the standing desk and stool and asked which they would prefer. ALL of them wanted the standing desk. I really do understand.

Middle school aged male student standing at a taller desk with a stool behind him.

I was a great “fidgiter” in school; still am. I am forever clicking and swirling pens, shaking my leg, rapping fingers on a table, toe tapping, playing with the phone cord, doodling, playing with phone settings, and losing hours playing Bookworm. I cannot just watch television, I must be typing, or playing a game, or wrestling the dog or some other thing. It drives my husband crazy when we are lying in bed and I pull up the laptop to check mail or play scrabble, while we are watching Keith or Rachael. He asks, “Did you see/hear that?” I say “yes” and give him a short synopsis to prove I was listening. I am writing this now, as we are driving to Chicago. I am a walking, talking, human-doing, not a human-being. But… I digress, as my kind frequently do.

Why is sitting to learn the educational standard? What kinds of adults are we raising if we tell them that they must sit with their hands in their laps? My second purely unscientific analysis in this blog is as the industrial age belched onto the scene, employers wanted workers to be docile, obedient, and follow orders. They wanted workers to sit and do repetitive tasks without leaving their station. Sitting in school facilitated all of that and the education system trained the students the way the industry wanted.

Before the industrial revolution (I actually did a little research), standing desks were common. Think “The Christmas Carol.” Both Bob and Ebenezer stood while doing their bookwork. They had stools they could use if they needed to rest a bit but mainly they stood. For two centuries, (18th & 19th), standing desks graced the homes and offices of the rich. Only the poor had to sit and slouch.

The study of ergonomics is a field of study that grew mainly because of sitting; time spent working on computers, driving, watching television and repetitive motion. Ergonomic experts analyze the way we work, and how we can do so more effectively and with less stress. Here is what one website on the subject had to say about stand-up desks:

It turns out that the stand-up desks of history are extremely good for reducing injury. Standing doesn't allow the leaning and slouching that is possible in a seated position, your back and neck remain straighter, and a properly positioned monitor allows users to look straight ahead, minimizing neck movement and strain.

Working while standing does provide more energy, and eliminates the afternoon doldrums almost entirely - in fact, some proponents use their stand up desks only in the afternoons, finding that sitting through the morning appeals to them.

Adults without known disabilities were the focus of this study. It appears to me that something as simple as a stand-up desk could actually save a child’s academic career if it works for him/her.

It’s IEP Season

Young elementary school female standing at a desk sized for her.

As parents and children get ready to develop plans for students who fidgit or become easily distracted, consider a standing desk. They are rather cheap at about $250 each. However, before buying a desk consider these “trials.”

Cinderblocks – They are cheap and versatile. Use cinderblocks, bricks, or wooden blocks to lift a conventional desk. Ask a janitor or handyperson to build a little jig for the rocking arm.

Podiums are ready-made workspaces for standing. Borrow one from a church, convention center and see what happens. Most students will need more room than a traditional podium; but it can give an IEP team some idea if it will work.

Stools give students the option to rest tired feet if they want to, but they still have the option of the fidget bar. Did I mention I love the fidget bar?

Probably the oddest thing about my new standing desk fetish is that I could never use one. I can only stand for a few minutes without extreme leg pain.

However, I am not thinking about me, I am thinking about all those children (me included) who year after hear from their teachers that their behavior is disruptive, that they do not pay attention, and they are not compliant. They hear it so often they give up and drop out.

I do not know how I am going to do it; but I have decided I am going to become a one-woman zealot about standing desks.

If you want to learn more, Google, “standing school desk”. There’s a wealth of information and also places to buy them.


Jenn said...

This is fantastic! I agree with you...these should be in schools! Thank you for sharing this. It is new to me but very interesting.


Don Parker said...

I can only imagine how much energy I may have had for my classroom work with the ability to move my body. I recall being so darned fidgety all the time. I'm sure, with the opportunity to stretch, I would have gotten so much more out of school.

This option should be available to students/parents who choose, regardless of having a disability.


WildKat said...

I couldn't use one of these desk now either after a spinal cord injury, but I sure would have liked the idea when I was in school! I loved biology because we got to go to the lab and had high counters and stools. Most of the class would stand and only used the stools very occasionally. Mostly when someone needed a little extra height to do something. I think it would stop a lot of the annoying type of fidgeting like finger tapping and pen clicking that can annoy other students too if people could fidget more with their feet and not have to stomp their foot to do it.

Carol said...

It is just great to be validated and have others recognize that conventional education and "sitting still" is not alway the best learning enviorment. I work for a governmental agency that sees the benefits of creating a working enviornment that lets you move (which going to school is the work of the young) is benefical to the overall, mental and physical ability to perform what is needed to do your job. I have a standing station at my job with a chair that I can sit or stand while I work. Yes, I figet, but as an adult, no one complains. Children who are natural "movers" are repremanded, left out of things and labeled "difficult" if they do not "sit still". The Stand-up desk is the best idea ever.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher and would love, love, love to present this to our curriculum director. Is there anymore information abou tthis anywhere? More articles, etc. I swear I saw something about this on 20/20 like a year ago as well.

Sildenafil said...

We have to get an special sense to treat children because they're really potential, we need to use different techniques to encourage to participate in class, in that way they won't be scared when they're in front of the class giving an speech or making their tasks.

TC said...

The school and parents should nurture children with special needs by thinking of the limits they can do with life. Self help skills are important to making children with disability independent.