by Penni Rubin © 1998
By placing children in front of computers for longer periods of time, we put their bodies at risk when we do not train them to sit properly. Most schools do not purchase new furniture for their computers, so it seems that they have not considered ways to ensure good posture either. During observations at all levels (Preschool, Elem., Middle, Junior, & High) in several area schools, the children sit on straight, hard-backed chairs (and quite often on unstable folding chairs in order to fit more kids around one unit). Mostly the computers were set up on odds & ends (desks/chairs) available, and the majority of the students that I watched strained their eyes looking up at the screen, sat incorrectly & many kids dangled their feet. Think about children's bodies at the same time you put them in front of any computer (home/school) & educate the public!
Because our youngsters will need their bodies for over 100 years, I recommend a report (or a nice flier) for schools and to teachers to demonstrate the correct posture and seating arrangements for placing kids at computers. We DO teach kids at a young age the proper way to brush teeth, and they in turn learn the correct way from the beginning to save themselves severe consequences later in life. (Parents too should be made aware of computer placement / posture at home.)
The studies I have been reading on this matter are for one person sitting and using one computer, yet in schools we do not have this luxury. After viewing the Viscum Production Inc. videos, ("Torso", "Hands" &" Eyes" on helpful exercises), I see the only realistic solutions for schools is to warn the teachers & the kids into sitting as properly as they can for using the equipment made available at the current time.
We should be extremely cautious and concerned about what happens when 2 to 4 kids (multi-users) are sitting, using one fixed computer at a makeshift desk with no consideration of:
a. table/desk height
b. eye/screen level
c. neck positions
d. wrist angle
e. kind of chairs, back support
f. foot/leg position & height
3. THINGS YOU CAN DO
The Ergonomics reports have many useful suggestions on how we can help protect young bodies for life. Administrators need to understand the 2 main points:
3.1. PHYSICAL NEEDS
There are four main concerns for PHYSICALLY seating kids at any computer.
1. Positioning of hands & wrists: elbows need to remain at 90 degrees at sides of body with arms perpendicular, with your hands flat and wrists just hovering over a cushioned support pad, lifted slightly upwards, tapping gently on the keys or pushing mouse.
2. An adjustable-height padded chair with an extra back support for the lower back lumbar curve should be provided (a rolled towel works)
3. Appropriate eye level of screen & reading holder causes less neck and head aches (along with eyestrain). Looking down or eye level - not up - is correct!
4. Feet should be flat on floor with knees at right angles and knees going past the seat a few inches. Feet should take up half of the weight from the buttocks, keeping weight equally divided = pressure off of the spine.
3.2. WORK EQUIPMENT
The real problem in schools is that there is little consideration of the furniture and the size and adjustability of the equipment or how kids are placed and seated at WORK STATIONS. Because there are multiple users, the furniture has to be adjusted to fit each child's needs. Whether it be a desk set up in the back of the room, a table, or an actual computer lab room, we all must learn to sit correctly, teachers included.
A. A wrist pad support in the front of the keyboard & the mouse encourages wrists to be lifted upwards and flatter. Slanting the keyboard by raising the back a bit with a long block or skinny gift box can help. A chair with arms can also help but would be in the way when more than one student is at the computer.
B. Padding on back & especially the seat, with an extra support at the lumbar curve of the mid-to-lower back. Pillows for back/seats should be provided and a rolled up, rubber-banded towel (at belt level) will help.
C. Chair and computer screen should be adjustable - to be raised and lowered for individual heights of different children and to lift or lower any computer so that the top of the screen will be just at or below eye-level. The reading stand needs to be placed at that same level also. The primary reading work, whether it be on the screen or on a reading stand, needs to be placed and switched - directly in front - at workers eye-level.
D. A step, a small stool, or a hollow block should be made available for kids with short legs. A sign should be placed on the wall to remind kids of this: "Balance weight between seat & feet (flat on floor).
Even though the arguments can state "but kids only use computers for a short time each day" I believe that over time, all of this will play havoc on their systems. We do need to limit their computer time. Schools and teachers need to remember to warn and help children develop proper posture when working at computers.
When setting up stations, no matter what "oldie but goodie" computer is available at the time, the eye-level of the screen needs to be correct (eyes at top of screen) for kids to avoid neck and eye strain, so adults should provide adjustable chairs & tables. If not- Pads or pillows should be available in schools for chair seats & backs. Table/desk height verses chair height should be looked into in labs and in classrooms. When developing actual computer labs, proper tables and padded chairs hopefully will be ordered from now on! There needs to be optional equipment for wrist & foot placement along with signs/posters warning & reminding kids of 3 main rules:
- Keep wrists & feet flat,
- Keep elbows & knees at 90 degrees,
- Balance weight between "feet and seat".
In the films that I viewed and books that I read, exercises were stressed for focusing & refocusing your eyes, getting up and walking away at times, and also doing warm ups or massaging hands before and after typing for periods of time.
A major concern of mine is we're putting kids on keyboards too early, as I am seeing irreversibly bad typing habits starting. I am also wondering if there is a way to limit the wrist and finger action by designing & placing most buttons/icons on the right side of the screens. This way kids will only have to push gently on the mouse button instead of constantly pushing side to side or top & bottom sliding it over the pad while holding down the mouse button so much. My feeling is that saving motions will cause less wear and tear on their muscles. (I personally have trouble with my elbows, shoulders and wrists according to what kind of drawing or repeated mouse movements I do over and over again within a given time frame.)
Children should "Do life not View life!"
I feel strongly that we should be holding back on computers until fourth grade. As it is, we do not hand young children the car keys nor the use of a telephone and their own, yet we place them on computers in schools and at home without helping them to learn practical application in "humankind" or lifetime skills (process and concepts). It is important that throughout their childhood that they need to gain experiences. They should be exposed to ways to develop socially, physically, linguistically, intellectually, creatively and emotionally. Some of these have a particular window of time to learn, and later it becomes harder for them to obtain those skills (e.g. language, "Wild Child" PBS TV). At the expense of children gaining in these kinds of skills, we are also not promoting the use of ones' own imagination - the thinking, the visualization, and self-talk, (the silently verbal things we do inside our heads) either. We are SHOWING them everything and they are not responsible for the learning when these become constant situations. Instant gratification is a part of their lives, where do they practice skills of, being satisfied or figuring things out for oneself, having patience and waiting, reflective and divergent thinking time? Have these gone by the wayside? I came to these conclusions after looking down the pike (at kids just out of high school and even in the upper elementary grades). I see too many children lacking many basic skills (e.g. playing, socializing, writing, speaking, communicating, thinking) and am very concerned that we will pay dearly later on when these young people cannot hold jobs or have medical problems like back and eyestrain, not to mention not being able to think (from my own observation, my "Cry or Try" theory of learning is that "I can't, or I don't know" comes out all too often in school today.
In preschools, we teach the SPLICE theory- Social, Physical, Linguistically- first then we help to develop their -Intellectual, Creative, and Emotional sides. Kids need time and practice to learn to use their own imagination, develop conceptual, divergent and analytical thinking, etc. to be successful in the future. The CAETI Project results were that five computers in a classroom was sufficient and the students proved that they could excel using cooperative learning. Access to information is very beneficial, if the kids know what to do with that information and how to use it without plagiarizing. Yet in a demonstration of bad computer usage, an elementary school principal did a report on Eisenhower right before going to a meeting to prove how quickly a beautiful report could be generated. She merely choose a photo off the Net, downloaded a few articles, changed a couple of big words and copied the report for all the members at the meeting. Another example that I was recently told, was a computer scientist at Apple said his son was using his computer from age three, now at six refuses to learn how to write with a pencil "because everything looks better on the computer." Because of these problems, my con list grows longer than the pro list.
Ask yourselves the question: are we putting our kids future at risk because many school boards today think that the computer is the panacea for a better education. Educators of young children know that passivity in learning adds no responsibility therefore it does not stay with the student, involvement is key. So-called interactive software does not make a child stop to think, pick and click answers are on screen or else the child can switch to something else and not complete the work when there are not many consequences. At this juncture, I have more questions than answers but I feel strongly that adults need to think about how computers and the Internet are used by (how having so much information at their fingertips) and will effect our younger sets future.
My feeling is that fourth graders seems to be at the age of holding off on playing because they begin to feel the presence of their peers looking on and wanting to be treated more like adults! Middle class children today seem to do so many things at early ages that there isn't a whole lot left for them to do as teens. The teenage suicide rate grows higher, the statistics are showing us that they are turning to alcohol, drugs and sex to be able to function in record numbers. If we can hold off and provide computers later on, then they can have something to look forward to, think of their excitement, their enjoyment would balance this 'instant gratification" world - and they would be using technology more intently, and using it out of boredom or for entertainment, plus they would not be taking it for granted. If we want the computer to be a TOOL FOR LIFE then we must NOT introduce it as a TOY IN CHILDHOOD!
Placing young children on a computer too early is like sending them up an elevator to view the world. Kids need to "do" the world to build the foundation for learning. All those blocks and steps along the way help them have a reality base. From an exciting view from the top, children haven't a clue what they are really looking at A seashell size or an elephant trunk that works like a finger, the smell of a real skunk (not a cartoon figure on a screen) all helps a child grow and know. Yes the top is exciting and wonderful and fun and sparkly, but it can be addictive and I believe poisons the open mind, it gets closed and the images on the screen have not relationships to reality, nor to each other. There is no responsibility to the learning and the outcome is surface and visual knowledge, not sensory based. Yes computers have a place in the classroom, teachers can benefit from many time saving and programs that keep track of lesson plans and grades and the likes. They can publish the children's work for all to see and be proud of.
In LD situations, computers can be invaluable, but for the average child under fourth grade, I feel it is a disservice to cut them off from the real world before they do the nitty gritty work of learning about life (it may be mundane and insignificant) but it's real and necessary to form understanding and opinions and challenges and behaviors and thoughts. Once at the top, they won't want to come down, thus we have many kids who are "bored in school" who also have no clue about life and cannot find things to self-occupy their time without it being screen fed. We shall raise a generation who has nothing between their ears other than images other people put there through one of the screens in their young lives (e.g. television, videos, computer games and commercial CD's, movies, Gameboys, violent shoot 'em ups in Saturday cartoons and games they play with joy sticks, plus the MTV and CNN generation of non-readers!).
If my research is true that we find our vocational interest by age 8, then we will have a bunch of computer game testers, Zena princess warriors, Michael Jordan superstars, Spice Girl mentality young, unhealthy women, violent young men, non-reading actors who cannot learn their scripts, TV talk show hosts, and Ninja's. Is this our future? Will we have computer programmers or people who will fix and service our high-tech devices and not just play on them?"
I've noticed that kids in fourth grade do not like to "play" in front of their peers, so this to me seems to be the optimal time to give them something "adult" to learn. They have them at home to play on but here is a tool for life and they need typing lessons and it can be practiced properly at this age. If not, we are practically creating video game arcades in the back of every classroom today and wasting so much valuable teaching time in the younger grades. Yes learning can be fun, but at what expense are we willing to do away with good sound education to replace it with fluffy fru fru shallow no-depth, no responsibility for the learning process computer game mentality that can be turned off or not completed and is so addictive that there is no turning back?
Let teachers and administrators use computers in the classrooms. The future computers are not going to be the way we have them set up today anyway and our kids bodies are at risk because we are buying into this "fad" that computers are the answer to our educational problems. I feel they are adding to them and we shall pay big time for this error in judgment!
6. COMPUTER EDUCATION
1. No child today will go through school never using a computer or will they fear it
2. Children are "playing" addictive games on computers, they see it as a toy not a tool for life. This is a very time-consuming interment, kids hands have been seen being pried off the mouse and they fight with siblings at home for "air" time!
3. They are not developing proper typing skills, irreversibly bad habits could be a real detriment to their future careers. Children should take formal typing before touching a keyboard.
4. What is shown on the screen is someone else's imagination. The packaged CD's and the so-called art programs for kids are very limited. ("Pick 'n click" mentality is being promoted!)
5. Instant gratification is being practiced, when they need practice learning how to have patience and try to do things better (e.g. piano lessons take many hours of practicing & a mind set for life.)
6. Antisocial behavior is also prevalent when a child is on his own at a time when learning to get along with others (and not sock 'em up beat 'em up as in many of the computer games).
7. Children need time to practice writing with a pencil, talking and hearing and listening to pour language being spoken. There needs to be time for practicing paper & pencil mathematics for true understanding and in practical application of math concepts. Pick 'n click, drill 'n fill does not do this. (Calculators have taken away math skills, let's think about skills the computer takes away?)
8. We are becoming non-readers of screens. (Even adults look for a key word to tell them what to do quite often). Kids just look for buttons to click on, adults try to guess or ask someone to fix instead of pour through a manual. There are CD's out that read the book to the child (e.g. Dr. Seuss's ABC's, plus educational software today is very commercialized not to mention "flashy splashy" with music and entertainment, how can teachers compete with this?? we are not in the entertainment business!).
9. Computers are great for learning disabled children and for gathering data and doing research. There is a need for mouth or voice- computers. But books are much more extensive and we let kids get lazy when they can zip-zap and download someone else's reports/work with a quick click.
10. Spelling and grammar does not need to be done correctly nor practiced because there are spellchecker and grammar checking programs.
11. Art tools are very limited, especially in children's programs, so the sky isn't the limit for creative drawing, but having good problem solving skills is much more apparent when depending on a plugged in piece of technology to do your work.
12. Kids need to Do life not View it. Experiential learning, trial and error, watching others working and imitating their work is how young children assimilate. Computers don't provide this!
13. Schools do not provide proper, adjustable furniture nor training for sitting at computers for any length of time!
14. Kids today wait for someone to tell them what to do, they have little ability in problem solving or divergent and rational thinking skills. A teacher friend says "Ask 3 before you ask me!"
7. WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Provide ongoing ASSISTANCE, TRAINING and ADVICE to your local school system.
2. Support teachers, take time to EDUCATE them. Phobic behavior is too often transmitted to our children (especially to the girls)!
3. Help remove FEAR- let teachers see what could go WRONG & then ways they can FIX problems!
4. Help schools to obtain ERGONOMICALLY correct furniture! Something to think about- My research shows that many of us discover our vocational interests by age eight. Our computer techies today took things apart and built with Erector sets, not played games on computers!!
5. Implement a "take apart & construction center" (a "SMATH" Fun-house!) in local Elementary schools! Penni Rubin, WONDERlab Enrichment Specialist
"The Torso, The Eyes, The Neck": 3 government training films by Viscum Publishing
Your Computer & Your Health: Video by Silicon Mountain Publishing PO Box 24865 Denver CO 80224-0865 1-800-723-AMES Zap!
How Your Computer Can Hurt Your Body, Don Sellers, Peachpit Press Inc 2414 6th St Berkeley CA 94710