Eight Reasons Why Kids Should Stand At School
It’s not about standing, it’s about reducing sedentary behavior by creating more opportunities for movement during the school day
My 10-year old daughter Caroline and her 80 other 5th grade classmates have never sat at a desk at school. In 2013 when the kids were in first grade, our foundation, StandUpKids.org, converted the entire school from sitting to standing desks to become the first all-standing school in the world. Since first grade, Caroline and the 450 other kids at her school have perched on stools, leaned on desks, swung their feet on “fidget bars,” sat on the floor, and moved around all they want.
Four years ago when standing desks were first becoming popular with adults, our experiment was considered bold. But it was a bold experiment that worked so well, it just seems normal now. And guess what? The kids and their parents and teachers love it. Standing desks in schools should become the norm everywhere. Here’s why:
- Kids today spend the vast majority of their free time staring at screens, sitting
A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Study reported that 8–18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media a day (more than 53 hours a week) regardless of socioeconomic class. A 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics’ study found that average 8 year-olds use electronic media for 8 eight hours a day. For teens, it’s a whopping 11 hours. You can bet that all that screen time is done while sitting. Sound grim? It is. Here are just some of the impacts of all that sitting in front of a screen:
- Kids with nighttime access to electronic devices (smartphones, tablets, etc) AND kids with TVs in their rooms are more likely to be obese.
- Kids who use electronic devices after school are more likely to stay up late and sleep poorly.
- Between driving to school, sitting at meals, doing homework, sitting at school, and sitting in front of screens, kids are spending 85% of their waking hours sitting.
- AND goes without saying that kids who are in front of a screen 8–11 hours a day aren’t moving, playing, exercising, or interacting face-to-face with their friends and parents.
2. They spend their remaining time both sitting at school and being driven to and from school and activities, many of which still involve more sitting (like piano lessons)
Most kids no longer walk or bike to school, to play dates, or to activities. Their parents drive them. In 1969, 48 percent of kids ages 5–14 walked or biked to school and by 2016, that number decreased to 17%. Instead, cars pileup around the block with parents waiting in line to drop kids in a specially created drop-off lane. Even parents who want their kids to walk to school don’t let them, because their kid will be the only one in the neighborhood walking. In addition to the fact that kids are, of course, adding to their total sitting time while being driven everywhere, it is well documented that undirected exploration of space, particularly of a kid’s own neighborhood, is an important part of childhood development and gives them the chance to test themselves socially, mentally and physically in small real-life situations and prepare them to be independent adults.
3. The majority of kids today are predicted to be obese by age 35
A Harvard Study conducted in 2017 predicts that, given the current level of childhood obesity, 57% of today’s children ages 2–18 will be obese by the time they are 35. As of 2018, 18.5 percent of children were obese. That means that 39 percent of today’s children will join the ranks of the obese.
In addition to the well-known and life-long health issues related to obesity, the sheer numbers of obese adults will have even more significant economic consequences in the future than we see today. Currently, healthcare estimates for obese Americans range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year. When the number of obese adults rises to nearly 60%, those numbers may double.
4. Standing desks are an effective way to reduce sedentary time AND offer a host of other amazing benefits for kids
There is ample research showing that sedentary behavior and obesity are connected. The more a child sits, the more likely he or she is to be or become obese. The obvious goal then is to reduce kids’ total sedentary time. Standing desks are a simple and elegant way to do just that. A recent study confirmed that standing desks in classrooms reduce the total sedentary time of kids.
Of the myriad of other benefits, one stands out: Kids with access to standing desks learn better. “Research around the world has shown that standing desks are positive for the teachers in terms of classroom management and student engagement, as well as positive for the children for their health, cognitive functioning and academic achievement,” said Mark Benden, Ph.D. According to James Levine, an obesity researcher from the Mayo clinic “The data consistently demonstrate that when children are allowed to move during their school day, they learn better.”
There is also promising research that standing at school could have a real impact on childhood obesity. In a landmark study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016, students who used standing desks showed a three-percent decrease in Body Mass Index (“BMI”) over time while those in sitting desks showed the typical two-percent BMI increase. That’s a delta of nearly 6 percentage points between those who sit and those who stand!
5. Teachers, principals, and kids love standing desks
Teachers are the ones on the ground dealing every day with kids who are too sedentary. They know the impact of limited movement on kids and are open to creating a learning environment where children can move more throughout the school day.
Maureen Zink, a veteran teacher of 35 years at Vallecito Elementary School in San Rafael says, “I taught at sitting desks for 30 years and now standing desks for 5 years, and I’ll never go back. To me, this is the wave of the future. You can roll your eyes all you want, but you need to come to see it.” Tracy Smith, the principal at Vallecito says, students are “more focused, confident and productive” when they stand.
Kids say things like “When I’m standing at school, I just feel happy,” “I feel more awake and alert at a standing desk,” “I can get my wiggles out at a standing desk,” and “my standing desk makes me more excited about school!”
6. Standing desks are not about standing, they are about creating a movement-rich environment
The goal of any standing desk — for both adults and children — is to create a movement-rich environment. The goal is not to stand still like a statue for eight continuous hours. Of course not. Standing desks are simple and effective because they give the user endless possibilities to move and change position throughout the day from perching to leaning to fidgeting to sitting on the floor. Movements that are simply not possible at a sitting desk.
My husband and I like to say that standing desks are a gateway to movement. Once you bear witness to an all-standing classroom, you will see that the kids are in near constant motion fidgeting and changing positions. They are no longer sedentary. And, that’s good for their minds and bodies.
7. Kids don’t get too tired
Nope. They don’t. There is an adjustment period for kids when they transition from sitting to standing, one that is more pronounced the older the kids get. But, within 2 to 4 weeks, kids fully adjust and most chose to stand during the school versus sitting on an available stool.
I’ve also heard parents say, “Wow, you let kids stand for 8 hours?” Uh, no. The typical American school day is six hours long with only about 4 to 4.5 hours of instructional time. And, most instructional blocks are only 15 minutes long so kids are rarely standing for more than 15 minutes at a time. While they are working, they can sit and work on the floor, pull up a stool, fidget or lean.
8. Standing desks should be one piece in the puzzle of combating childhood obesity
Standing desks are just one part of fixing a complex problem. Childhood obesity is caused by a myriad of factors including poor diet, lack of exercise, insufficient movement, family and social stress and other factors. The solutions to childhood obesity are equally challenging and will involve putting together the puzzle pieces of better nutrition, better access to nutrition, more exercise, less sitting, and more opportunity for kids to move. Standing desks provide an important piece of this puzzle by creating a movement-rich environment for kids at school.
Standing desks are a simple way to improve the classroom environment. Kids and teachers alike intuitively understand how to use them. Little to no education is necessary. And, with a life-span of at least 20 years/desk, it’s a great long-term investment for schools that want to create opportunities for kids to be active at school.
Sitting still has always been the primary environmental model for learning in schools. For decades, the educational and scientific communities seemed to believe that thinking and moving are totally separate activities. We’ve moved far beyond that thinking. Happily, we now know that the mind-body connection is real, that movement is essential, and that we will all be healthier and even smarter if we climb out of our chairs and stand up.