Making The Classroom Computer Center a Healthy Place for Young Children


by Amy Betz

Researchers at Cornell University recently conducted a study that found "striking misfits" between children and computer centers, whether in the classroom or in a lab setting (Mendels, 1999). The results of the study indicate that children are at risk for developing unhealthy postures and repetitive stress injuries. The study observed 95 school-aged children at 11 schools. Keyboards were set up higher than the recommended level at all locations and the most of the of monitors were also placed too high. This leads to improper neck positioning, shoulder hunching, and other unhealthy postures. Children were found to be at "moderate postural risk" due to the fact that time spent at the computer is limited. As schools across the country promote increasing technological use, the computer center set up becomes even more important. Unfortunately, some school officials overlook the design safety of the computer center in their rush to get technology into the schools (Mendels, 1999). Publication of the study is slated for the May issue of Computers in the Schools.

Take a look at your computer center. How can you make your computer center healthier for your children? Appropriate placements of the monitor, keyboard, and mouse are essential for healthy posture. Children will crane their necks if the monitor is above eye level, so position the top of the monitor screen at or below eye level. Computer filters reduce the amount of glare on the monitor. Chairs of varying height can also assist you in getting the monitor at the child's eye level. Provide a footstool for feet that canšt reach the floor. Remember that placing monitors on the floor is another way to provide an appropriate position for some children. If using a touch screen, make sure the child can reach the monitor.

The keyboard and mouse should be about 3-4 inches lower than a writing desk so shoulders are relaxed, not hunched or slouched (Posture, n.d.; R&D Ergonomics, n.d.). Encourage children to keep their wrists straight instead of bending them up, down or to the left or right. Adjustable workstations can be a great investment to meet the needs of many children, especially if children use the computer while in wheelchairs or standers. If the cost of adjustable workstations seems too prohibitive, consider using adjustable keyboard and mouse trays.

By using a little creativity and flexibility, you can easily make your computer center fit the individual needs of your children. Encourage healthy postures at an early age to prevent problems later in life.


References
Mendels, P. (1999, January 16). Children risk computer injuries, study warns. The New York Times.
Posture checklist for computer users. (n.d.). [Online]. Available Internet: www.rodaleonlinehealth.com/tour/newstand/safety/posture.htm
R&D Ergonomics. (n.d.). Workstation setup guidelines. [Online]. Available Internet: http://www.morencyrest.com/wsetup.htm




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