By Laura Donatello, Physical Therapist and Positioning & Mobility Clinic Coordinator
As school districts return to remote instruction (many for the rest of the school year), the learning environment at home should be revisited. As an observer of your child’s school day you may notice when he/she needs a break or help focusing. Their seating position has a large impact on their ability to focus! You may have to experiment with seating positions to find the best productive space for their child.
Ideally, you want to help create a workspace conducive to good posture and free of distractions. The pictures below demonstrates what good posture looks like in an at-home learning environment. As you can see, there are multiple ways to position an at-home learning environment!
1. Laying in prone on your stomach is a great way stretch your trunk and hips after sitting in a chair. You can put a small pillow or rolled up towel under your feet to relax your back.
2. Sitting on a peanut ball is another great alternative to sitting in a chair. The ball will provide proprioceptive feedback to assist with increasing arousal levels. Be sure your child’s feet are flat on the floor. It might be easier for your child’s feet to touch the floor with a peanut ball versus a round exercise ball because of the shape. Put something under the computer to be at eye level. A physical therapist can help identify the right size ball for your child. Also, a general tip is to measure the distance from the child’s armpit to the middle finger tip. This measurement will give you a decent estimate of what the diameter of your ball should be.
3. Tall kneel and half kneel are different floor positions which can be balance challengers. Encourage your child to keep their stomach away from the support surface. You could use a small towel or move the desk slightly away from their trunk to strengthen their core!
4. Using the wall is an easy tactile cue to encourage your child to sit with a flat back. If you do not have a small bench you can use a box. Your child can sit in pretzel style sitting while using the wall as support.
5. If you have an adult size desk chair, position blankets to make it child size! Watch for a couple minutes to see if your child is comfortable. If you notice your child leaning to the side, you can also put a rolled-up towel or blanket by their hip. Make sure their feet are supported with hips and knees at a 90 degree angle. If you notice your child leaning back, you might need another blanket behind their back. If you notice their trunk starts to come past their hips, you might need to take a blanket away. If their knees are higher than their hips, the support surface under their feet might be too big. If their knees are lower than their hips, you might need a higher footrest.
In this picture the height of the desk is set as if Henry were talking to his teacher and looking at the camera. If your child is watching something on the screen, you would need something else under the computer such as a thin box to keep their eyes level.
6. Another example of what a blanket can do for posture! In this example the blanket is rolled long ways and wrapped around Henry’s back to provide total trunk support.
Foam Roller Stretch
This exercise is one of the best activities you and your child can do after a long day at the computer! Grab a foam roller or roll up 1-2 towels. Lay on your back with your arms stretched out, your palms facing up, and your feet flat on the ground. Keeping your arms on the ground, bring your hands in line with your shoulders. If you notice your back start to arch bring your hands down. Stay here for the length of 1 song per day to stretch your pectoralis muscles!
A special thank you to Henry for being our model!
Alternate Seating Options & Focus Ideas
Occupational Therapist, Laura Harmasch, OTR/L, shares some additional strategies to help children who need extra help focusing! Headphones help and our recent blog post, covers how to help children with hearing aids use headphones and hear the best during remote learning sessions. Also creating a space with a trifold display board around the computer can help some children if they are easily distracted, have siblings playing or learning nearby to tune out all the other “noise” or activity around them.
Wobble stools may provide a good option for children who like to move around some when learning or working on assignments. I only recommend wobble stools or balls for kids with good trunk strength. Children with low muscle tone will fatigue too quickly using them, which may further limit their attention. A sit and move cushion is also a good option for children who need movement and have good trunk strength.
Caring for a child during this pandemic is difficult, and it can be hard to know the proper supports for child development. Read our resources, find support and more here: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/explore-resources/for-caregivers/covid-19.html.
Also if you need assistance documenting your child’s learning progress or needs, Matt Cohen and Associates, a law firm specializing in special education, disability rights, and school-related issues, provided a number of resources on our blog here.