Virtual Learning: Ergonomic Workspaces for Kids
By: Asha Mabalay-Bynoe and Emily Rankin, McMaster University Occupational Therapy Students
Ergonomic means to design spaces to meet the needs of people. This can include:
Why is ergonomics important? Having access to an ergonomic workspace helps to reduce:
Image 1: Child sitting in a wheelchair using a tablet.
How To Make an Ergonomic Workspace for Your Kids
Tip 1: Find a Good Posture
The back of your child’s knees should comfortably fit against the front edge of the chair.
Both of their feet should be flat on the ground. The feet should not be dangling.
You should be able to draw an imaginary straight line from their ankle up to the knee in this position.
You should be able to draw an imaginary corner of a square (90 degrees) at your child’s knee and ankle joints
If you are using an adult-sized chair for your child, consider placing a stool or laundry basket underneath their feet
If your child is sitting at the kitchen table, consider letting your child sit on a pillow to raise their height
No leaning forward
No hunched shoulders
Arms should be bent at the elbows and forearms should be able to comfortably rest on the working surface without raising shoulders. can lay flat on table surface without raising shoulders
Arms should not be fully extended to access devices
If you are using an adult-sized chair for your child, consider placing a pillow or rolled-up towel behind their back to provide them with back support.
If your child experiences upper body fatigue consider enabling device voice commands
Image 2: Examples of poor sitting posture in children
Is your child sitting in a wheelchair?
The child can reach the device without leaning forward
The child can easily adjust the device for video meetings with their class
Image 3: A person sitting in a wheelchair while using a tablet with a tablet stand.
If your child has a tilt wheelchair, consider using a gooseneck tablet stand to accommodate the tilt (if using a tablet)
If your child has a tray on their wheelchair consider placing their device on their tray to give them better access to the device if you are unable to bring their chair close enough to a table
Placing the device on a preferable side to accommodate for reflexes, or if your child has a preference for one side
Image 4: Gooseneck tablet stand
Think Outside of the Box!
It can be hard for your child to sit at a desk all day!
If your child is having difficulty with sitting in a chair for long periods of time or does not sit at a desk, try these alternative positions
Kneeling on the floor at a coffee table
Standing at the kitchen counter or dining table
Sitting on an exercise ball
Sitting with their back against the wall with their legs straight out
Image 5: Child sitting on the floor with legs straight out, and a laptop placed on a stack of books.
Image 6: Various positions for children when sitting on the floor.
Tip 2: Adjust Device Placement
Is your child using a Computer or Laptop?
If your child uses a computer for learning considers the following for positioning your device:
The computer should be placed so that it is eye level. Your child should not have to bend, twist or strain their neck forward to use the screen.
If your child is looking down at a screen, you can place a book or similarly shaped box (e.g. board game box) underneath the laptop or computer screen.
The mouse and keyboard should be within reach and your child should not have to lean forward to use them.
A separate keyboard and mouse that attaches (using cord or Bluetooth) to a laptop can also be purchased to promote good posture.
Image 7: Child using books to raise the laptop to eye level, a stool to support feet and wireless keyboard to support upper body ergonomics in an adult-sized chair. (Link to picture source: https://ptandme.com/how-to-make-an-ergonomic-school-space-at-home/)
Is your child using a Tablet or Smartphone?
When using a tablet or smartphone the natural tendency is to look down at the device. This can cause pain or strain of the upper back.
Below are links that describe how to create device stands using cardboard, these will help prop up your child's device and reduce forward bending of the neck:
Simple device stand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFdJJmj_znA&feature=emb_title
Smartphone stand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pHo6I_Wk7A
If your child needs a more stable device stand consider this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2mSZa9OiZY
Try personalizing your homemade device stand with colour and stickers!
If your child is looking down at their screen with a device stand, place the stand on books or boxes.
The stand should be placed within reach and your child should not have to lean forward to use the device.
If looking to purchase a device stand, look for one which is height adjustable.
Tip 3: Reduce Eye Strain
Use the devices ‘display settings’ to dim the screen brightness to reduce eye strain.
Some devices, under ‘display settings’ have the ability to reduce blue light. This is called night mode/ dark mode on some devices. Reducing blue light helps with eye strain.
Work with your child on applying the 20-20-20 rule:
For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away from the screen at something close for 20 seconds and something far for another 20 seconds.
Set a reminder for 20 mins on the child’s device OR set a timer (egg timer, phone timer, stopwatch) that prompts them to look away from the screen.
Place an interesting picture of their favourite cartoon characters at a distance for them to look at during this quick break.
Tip 4: Take Movement Breaks!
Build mini-breaks into your child’s schedule for the day and use them as an opportunity to get moving. This can help your child focus during classes.
Ideally, moving once every twenty to thirty minutes is best; work with your child’s learning schedule.
Try some of the following ideas to keep it interesting:
Create movement cards by printing out pictures from the internet (or draw your own) that represent an activity. Step 1: Cut out the pictures and label them with the name of the activity and how long the activity is to be done for. Step 2: Shuffle and pick at random. Step 3: Some ideas could include 20 seconds of jumping jacks or bouncing, 30 seconds of large arm circles or 20 seconds of walking like a crab.
Download the ‘GoNoodle’ App on Apple or Android products: this app provides many activity videos for children including short (around 3-4minutes) dance videos to kidz bop songs for your child to follow along with.
For a visual summary of the suggestions provided in this tip sheet, view the following video:
Canadian Association of Optometrists. (n.d). Computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain). https://opto.ca/health-library/computer-vision-syndrome-digital-eye-strain
Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development. (2019). Computer ergonomics. https://www.ontario.ca/page/computer-ergonomics
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
The OT Toolbox. (2020). Brain breaks. https://www.theottoolbox.com/brain-breaks/