Over the past couple of weeks, we have learned about the effects of prolonged sitting on our health. While most of these examples and scenarios portray an image of an office worker sitting at their desk all day, are we forgetting an entire population?
I’m referring to those who are sitting six hours a day, five days a week?
Yep, you guessed it; I am talking about schoolchildren. While it seems unfitting to speak of sitting disease, and the increased risks of cancer, heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, etc. for such a young population, how does prolonged inactivity show up in kids? Might it be excessive fidgeting, the inability to concentrate, disruptiveness or a poor and slouched posture?
It has become accepted that in order to concentrate and use our brains we must be seated with pen and paper in hand. However, science has demonstrated the opposite. Movement and physical activity stimulates brain activity and increases concentration and creativity.
This led me to a discussion a few weeks ago with a patient who is a teacher in a grade six classroom. I was curious to have her views on prolonged sitting in youth. She surprised me by saying she doesn’t have traditional school desks in her classroom, she transitioned to what is known as “flexible seating” early last year. Her classroom contains a few stand-up stations, some mats on the floor, cushions for comfort and a few different types of chairs.
This led me to a variety of questions;
- How do you explain this type of seating plan to kids? “I use the analogy- you wouldn’t spend your whole day at home sitting at the kitchen table or just on the couch; throughout the day you tend to move around your home to different areas and in different positions.”
- How do you address conflict if two students want the same spot? What if a student needs the routine of having a specific spot? “I give a talk on respect at the beginning of the year, I explain that if you were to walk into a restaurant you wouldn’t sit at a table that already has customers, you would find an open spot. Kids also learn that if someone is always in the same spot, they might need the stability of that place and tend to respect that. As the year goes on, even kids with more “set spots” will move around the room.”
- Was the transition difficult? Are kids distracted? “The first week and a half everyone was quite excited, as I had transitioned in November rather than at the beginning of the year. However, it was soon back to routine. This year I started with the classroom already set up this way so it took no time for the kids to settle in.”
This all leads me to wonder does this type of environment help teach kids valuable social skills for later down the road? Are there proven benefits to their learning and concentration? As this is a newer movement in schools across North America, I would love to see long-term studies done on the subject.
For the time being, it’s some good food for thought. I invite you to engage in conversations with other parents, with teachers and with members of your school division on this topic!