Ergonomics for kids during virtual learning

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many students remain in a distance learning arrangement or hybrid model with at least some schooling taking place from home. An ergonomically correct remote learning setup is important because it can help prevent long-term problems with posture and help avoid discomfort.

To help parents ensure their children and teens have the proper setup – and that their growing bodies don’t suffer unintended consequences of an at-home workstation – we spoke to two CHOC pediatric physical therapists, Ruchi Bagrodia and Adam Shilling.

What are the basic things parents should ensure are incorporated into their child’s virtual learning setup?

Sit in a chair with back support at the dining table or a desk instead of your couch, in bed or on the floor which promotes poor posture.

Place your computer or tablet on a table in front of your child, instead of letting them hold the screen in their lap. The top of the screen should be just below eye level.

Frequent changes in body position is the most effective way to manage back pain. Seta timer for 30-50 minutes depending on class duration and break times. When the timer goes off, encourage your child to stand up and stretch their arms up, walk a lap around the house, and do 10 squats or jumping jacks.

Changing position every 20 minutes is preferred, if that fits your child’s school commitments — even if it means standing up for 10 seconds at a time!

Encourage your child to sit with proper posture. Keep your feet on the floor, with your thighs fully supported on the chair. Knees, hips and elbows should be at 90 to 100-degree angles.

What could happen to children’s bodies if they don’t have a proper ergonomic setup for virtual learning?

Rounded posture, forward head, muscle tightness and weak back muscles are all possible physical side effects from a poor setup.

Long-term back and neck pain could result if poor posture from a young age is not corrected.

Poor attention or participation, becoming easily distracted, headaches or body aches are also potential side effects.

What warning signs or symptoms should parents look out for that may indicate the setup is not right?

Child complaining of pain or achiness in their back, neck or shoulders during or after screen time.
Rounded upper back posture
Shoulders shrugged up too high

What are some ways that parents can help ensure children stay active during this time when they are at home more often than ever?

Make a goal to do a family activity every day, such as a neighborhood walk, kicking a soccer ball around or going on a bike ride. Try to do at least 30 minutes of some kind of physical activity every day.

Activity trackers for the family can be motivational in terms of tracking goals and sparking a friendly challenge between family members. Each person’s goal can be slightly different, and everyone must strive to meet their goal each week!

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