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Ergonomics and Kids

Why is it Important? 

By the time children reach about three years of age they suddenly reach the status of “little adults”.  They are forced to adapt to an adult environment where everything is either oversized or out of reach. With their underdeveloped motor skills they are confronted with having to mold themselves to a world that is unsuited to them. In this way children are essentially doubly handicapped.  

If we provide for their ergonomic needs we can increase children’s involvement in their environment and thereby cultivate mastery, productivity and independence. Since each room in the house serves a specific purpose we must decide which activities are appropriate for a particular age level in a given room. Just as they continually change clothes sizes with physical growth so must their physical environment evolve to accommodate physical and intellectual growth. 

A Place for Toys 

Children work at play and toys are their tools. They should have their toys and things stored in such a way that they are readily accessible. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” especially applies to young children. If their toys are organized in open shelves or in transparent bins children are visually reminded of what they have and as a result will stay involved and interact more with their physical surroundings.  

Cubicle shelving that is in reach provides an orderly environment and focuses children in their play. The area of play is close to the ground and it should be safe from hazards and easy to clean. Since young children spend most of their time close to the ground they should have their own throw rug to protect the knees and provide a cushion from falls. 

Children and Reading 

We all know how important it is to stimulate an interest in the child for books and reading. Just like adults children need a place to store and access books. Children should have bookcases that are close to the ground with shelves that are angled back so it is easy to find a particular book. The bookcase should be designed in such a way as to hold oversized as well as small books. Ideally, the bookcase and other children’s furniture should have rounded corners. Also, like adults children should have light for reading in bed. Appropriate for them are mounted lights that cannot be knocked over and have a focused beam spot that is adjustable.

Kids and Backpacks

Two recent European studies claim that up to 60 per cent of school children experience back pain by the ages of 15 or 16. A study that looked at 500 American teenagers found evidence of spinal degeneration on X-rays in 56 percent of the males and 30 percent of the females.

These findings are significant in view of the fact that school children are being burdened with heavier backpacks than ever before. Health care professionals are reporting increases in visits by children for various musculoskeletal complaints such as neck, back and shoulder pain, fatigue, muscle pain and numbness. Many school districts have begun to remove student lockers from the schools for security reasons and the students are forced to carry all their books and notebooks with them. A 1997 study of young teenagers found that some students were carrying up to 60 percent body weight in their backpacks and that 80 percent of the students were carrying the backpacks improperly. It has been suggested by experts that the ideal is up to 15 percent body weight and no student should carry more than 25 pounds.

The idea is to distribute the weight as evenly as possible. Saddlebag design is the best way to accomplish this unlike packs that sit solely on the back or one shoulder. Bags that are carried in one hand also put an uneven burden on the body. The pack should rest against the body naturally and the straps should be padded and as wide as possible.

Furniture for Children 

Children must have desks or tables and chairs for writing, drawing and reading. It is futile to have them attempt to adjust to adult sized furniture or to modify adult furniture in order to fit their size.  

Chairs and tables must be proportionate to their size and the feet should be firmly planted on the ground or at least on a footrest. Their feet should not be dangling over the edge of the chair. Each child should have his or her own worktable preferably one that has rounded edges, is easy to clean and is versatile for different tasks. It is most practical to have furniture that can grow with the child. These include tables that have adjustable legs and chairs that have adjustable seats and footrest height. 

Children in the Kitchen 

It is natural for children to want to be around adults especially mom when she is in the kitchen cooking. For this reason the kitchen and dining area should be set up where children have a space to play with their own chair that can be adjusted to the adult dining table.  

There should be a storage cabinet exclusively set up for children in the kitchen that is located near the floor so they will be encouraged to put things away. A good step stool is an essential tool for encouraging them to be less dependent on adults and will foster involvement in chores around the house and kitchen activities. The stool should be of industrial quality with a wide solid base that won’t slip or tip over.                                        

Safety and Children 

Safety should always be built into ergonomic design. Once you have accommodated the children with adjustable height showerheads, color coded faucets and step stools etc., you must “child proof” the house. Adjust the water temperature to prevent scalding, avoid buying stoves with front mounted burners or at least get one in which you have to inset the knob before it will turn. Also replace doorknobs with lever type handles. If you have stairs be sure to have handrails within the children’s reach.   s

“Child proof” bottle caps may effectively prevent access up to a certain extent but may lull parents into a false sense of security which may lead to carelessness with regard to the storage of medications. All medications should in fact be stored well out of reach of children and toxic chemicals should be labeled with a skull and cross bones. They should also be in a place where adults have to reach for them and not stored under the sink within easy reach of the child.                                                      

Children and Gardening

If space has been set aside in the yard for a garden then it is important for adults to foster an interest in their children for growing and cultivating various plants especially vegetables. Recent evidence indicates that children who become involved in cultivating a vegetable garden tend to develop a taste for vegetables in their diet. This is important in view of the fact that the average American child’s diet is sorely lacking in fruits and vegetables.  

Tools must be provided that are ergonomically suited to their size and are as durable as the tools of adults. In this way the children are more apt to take an interest in gardening.  

Children take pride in the accomplishment of nurturing the plants through the whole growing cycle and the interest in planting is likely to be carried into adulthood. 

Sources:
1) Inkeles, Gordon, and Iris Schencke. Ergonomic Living: How to Create a User- Friendly Home and Office. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1994
2) CUErgo (Cornell University Ergonomic Web), "http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/mbergo/schoolguide.html"