Recently I met with the class and head teacher of a little boy that I treat. He is a dear little man, but he seriously struggles with staying still, especially when he is sat on a chair at a desk in the classroom. He has low underlying postural muscle tone, which means he constantly needs to move the larger moving muscles in his arms and legs just to maintain an upright posture. This, combined with a diagnosis of mild ADHD, makes sitting still at a desk for hours each day, awful for him.
I convinced his teacher to allow frequent movement breaks and asked her to try and give him jobs such as handing out worksheets or running small errands for her. I could see her visibly recoil with this advice, as those tasks are usually reserved for the ‘good’ kids. Six weeks later, after some intensive core strengthening, daily jumping on his new trampoline and the teacher following my advice, he is now able to concentrate on a task for around four times longer than before.
Having better upright posture also means that he is now better at shifting his line of sight to and from the board. Shifting your eye gaze to and from the board when you are constantly fidgeting on your chair is very difficult.
I am constantly surprised by the number of children, whom I assess at my Physiotherapy clinic who, like the little boy, have extremely weak gluteal (buttock) muscles. This usually results in the child having poor underlying postural muscle strength and as a result poor posture, balance and coordination. These children are often clumsy and below average in their athletic and sporting ability, have poor endurance and can complain of lower back pain. There can be a number of reasons for this weakness, but I think the largest cause of this by far is the long hours that children spend at their desks, from a very young age within the UK.
When sitting on a chair, the gluteal (buttock) muscles are inactive, with the hip flexor muscles activated to maintain the seated position.
The gluteal muscles, of which the largest of the three is the gluteus maximus, are responsible for keeping the legs extended and laterally rotated, therefore maintaining the leg alignment and helping to stabilise the pelvis and the spine. Standing up activates the gluteal muscles.
I think that given the option, children would rather have the option to move a little rather than remain seated all day, and I agree with them. The rising levels of obesity in children within the UK are thought to have strong links to the amount of time spent sitting down. In an effort to try to combat this, researchers at the University of Loughborough are doing a study where children are given the option to sit or stand during classes, in an effort for them to burn more calories whilst at school.
I think the additional benefits of this, besides weight management, could be enormous. I recently read an interesting article, that incorporated the views of Professor Mark Rapport, who is a Psychology Professor from the University of Central Florida. Rapport said that it makes sense that all children when requested to perform a task that involved recalling and manipulating memory in a study, were more physically active. Children with ADHD, moved twice as much. When the children were performing tasks that didn’t require working memory, such as watching a film, they were still.
It would be an interesting study to see whether the children’s ability to access their working memory was improved by giving them the option to stand or sit whilst at their desks.
Rapport goes on to say "You obviously can't have them running around the classroom. But some kids do better kneeling on a chair, standing up, or sitting in a rocking chair. There's nothing the matter with that."
I know the little boy that I mentioned earlier in the article, would love to have the option of kneeling or standing!
I am delighted that this research is being done in the UK, and I eagerly anticipate the published study, as I believe that there are so many children who could benefit greatly from having the option to stand in the classroom.
Until then, perhaps you could trial this with your child whilst they do their homework?
Author of Berry Diaries, Wellness Blog
Lulu is a, Physiotherapist for Women and Children, Yoga teacher and the writer behind Berry Diaries, a Wellness Blog. Originally from South Africa, she runs her own Physiotherapy Practice, LuluJay Physiotherapy, in London where she lives with her husband.