Kya deLongchamps investigates the layout of children’s study space and says the positioning of, and type of desk furniture, is critical for optimum performance.
The school bell is about to trill again, and at home it’s time to give those older children and yet-to-launch third-level students a home study space of their own.
With some level of privacy and quiet, be it under a staircase, billeted to a dining room or in their own bedroom, there are easy to implement essentials to make their homework hours more productive.
The single crucial thing to get right is the composition and comfort of the chair and table and their relationship to each other.
All the ‘cool’ in the world won’t keep that solitary backside in the chair for 20 minutes intervals, if they are fiddling around on a concrete block, and shoved into the keyhole opening in a toddler’s play-desk.
I mention 20 minutes here, as sitting for longer was recently declared as dangerous to our bodies long-term, as smoking by James Levine, director of the world renowned Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, and inventor of the treadmill desk.
The effects of long-term sitting, according to Dr Levine are not reversible, and legions of health professionals and chiropractors agree. The sitting, standing habit is a lifetime gift to your child and will go down well as a short relief from nosing through their books.
A table height of 71cm is a decent size for an older child and 90cm to 150cm is ideal in width.
Don’t go for tiny, cheap 45cm to 60cm deep micro desks.
Sizing of 60cm to 75cm is about right for most children to spread their mighty secondary school tomes around.
Considering converting that adorable dressing table from the junk shop? Measure it across its width first.
Trestles for a DIY table from €12 each, Ikea. Pegboards from €17.61 at www.woodworkers.ie
Lofted beds with workstations below are a fantastic space- saver too, and a protective bolt for many students, but check table/chair height as your long-legged teen may have outgrown the area (even if they initially fight stubbornly against change).
A piece of inexpensive Plexiglas, clear or in a colour will protect the surface of a better desk, and will frame photographs, concert tickets and other ephemera.
If the student is using a laptop regularly, keep in mind, the screen should ideally be at eye level for the sake of their spine.
Consider a separate keyboard with more finger range and a mouse (ported through a USB), elevating the laptop itself by 20cm to 30cm to use as a screen.
This puts their elbows at 90 degrees and their wrists in what is termed a ‘neutral’ position.
An adjustable chair will carry them closer to the surface, and for petite children or those likely to spurt, a couple of heavy books, or a dedicated footrest will put them in position.
Storage, staging and concentration
For 20 minutes periods, your child will be reading text, writing and problem-solving and occasionally making something. The nearer to hand you can station everything they will need, the better their focus is likely to be.
Still, actually rising from the chair for occasionally used items, reference books or to drop their finished work into their bag, encourages precious physical movement — so deliberately site them beyond reach.
For principal texts and workbooks, a series of open-fronted, table-mounted cubbies (secured to the wall please), organised by academic subject is a good start, another argument for getting that desk just that bit deeper at 60cm to 75cm.
Failing that, a deep shelf of 25cm or more can sit 60cm or more off the table at the rear of the desk.
Banked box files from any office supply chain are self-supporting on end, and great for loose papers. Colour scheme them by spine design to suit.
Slim drawers in the top of desk to carry extra pens, pencils, art supplies and rulers are a classic office take, but introduce a fat, stable pot for writing instruments on the table, if that’s what they prefer.
The laptop is an inevitable ingredient for most children, so bank shelving left and right in a shallow desk to create an open proscenium for the screen.
A slender baton set under the rear of the desk surface will lift wires off the floor and carry a surge– protected extension lead (don’t neglect this cheap addition. They start at just €15.99 for a masterplug 4-gang at Woodies DIY).
Light on the subject
The more daylight you can bounce around the study area with pale, reflective colours and good desk placement, the better, but I take issue with the table in the window-at-all-times, argument.
If there’s a feast of distraction outside the window, send them back to the wall, but avoid putting a child’s back to the door.
Hormones make adolescents jumpy at the best of times, and being sneaked up on from behind — no thanks Mum!
A desk lamp gives some real room for expression, and prices are keen. My choice would be the Habitat Bobby from Argos. Hip, young and a steal at €37.
If you want to wall-mount the lamp, but keep the closed shade, Ikea does some great industrial styles spotlights from €15.
Harvey Norman revises the floor standing Anglepoise with their own Sven in a canary yellow, €94.90. Balance the task lighting, and the searing colour of the PC or laptop screen with soft, lighting to prevent eye-strain.
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