Most teachers know the health benefits of providing sit-stand desks in K-12 classrooms. Foremost, students have more energy to learn. But there’s another benefit that’s elbowing its way to the front of the line.
For newcomers, sit-stand desks are just as they sound. The desktop is on a column that each individual student can easily and quickly adjust to the desired height. These ergonomically smart “floating” desks let students walk into class, instantly adjust their desk to their seating choice (or just stand), and get to work.
Some students may choose a low height and pair their desk with a standard chair. Some may raise it and sit on an exercise ball or stackable oodle stool. Others may choose the full height and stand or lean on the surface, with one foot casually propped on the desk’s base. Regardless, materials and digital devices are always at eye level.
The most important aspect is that the student, not the teacher, can intuitively personalize the desk on demand. Ideally, that happens with the quick tap of a hand lever to reach the perfect height.
Sit-stand desks are part of the growing flexible-seating movement. Its premise is allowing students to choose where they work, their bodily position (sit, kneel, stand, lean, etc.), and degree of movement (still, rocking, fidgeting) that helps them learn best. Teachers/schools simply provide the options and guidance to make it work.
The goal is to create the ultimate flexible learning classroom by giving students some degree of choice and control over their environment; students are in charge of how they learn on any day. The benefit is the holy grail of educators: empowered students who, in turn, become engaged, productive students.
Case in point: Research done with adults by Craig Knight, a British organizational psychologist, concluded that “empowered offices” – in which workers can choose their conditions – can increase productivity by 25 percent.
What Science Says
The notion that sit-stand desks are good for us physically began in the workplace. Today, health experts widely agree that most of us should sit less, especially at work, which explains why sit-stand desks are no longer an anomaly in that adult setting.
While there hasn’t been a ton of research on the effectiveness of standing desks on children, early studies are promising, experts say.
In one study of nearly 300 children in second through fourth grade, over the course of a school year, researchers found a 12 percent greater “on-task” engagement, or an extra seven minutes per hour of engaged instruction, in classrooms with standing desks. Engagement was measured by activities such as whether students were focused on their teacher when the teacher was speaking, raising their hands and participating in class discussions.
This can be especially true for the estimated 6.4 million American children who have an ADHD diagnosis that makes concentrating in class a challenge. In an effort to effectively educate these students, sit-stand desks have become important tools, using movement as a natural way to manage fidgeting and other ADHD symptoms.
How to Select Sit-Stand Desks
There are key considerations when shopping for sit-stand desks for your school or district. First, select a manufacturer like Smith System who specializes in pre- K-12 classroom furniture. There are many manufacturers who simply shrink their adult office furniture lines down to student sizes.
Here are some other important features to consider:
• Generous Height Range. Look for a height range that can adapt to any learning situation throughout your school.
Many student sit-stand desks only float from about 29 inches up to 45 inches. This means the desk works as a sit-stand desk for grades 7 to adult when used with seating, but it works only as a standing desk for ages 6 and above (unless paired with a stool).
Smith’s UXL Sit Stand Student Desk is unique in that it has an adjustable column that floats as low as 26 inches with the press of a lever. At 26 inches, it can pair with a 16-inch chair, which allows younger students to experience sit-stand benefits, too. (Note: Smith also offers a UXL Sit Stand Teacher Lecture that floats from 30 to 45 inches.)
• Desktop Size and Shape Options. Don’t limit yourself to one-size-fits-all desktops. Smith offers three desktop options: a small rectangle top (20 inches deep x 23.5 inches wide) for younger students or tighter spaces, a larger rectangular top (20 inches deep x 27 inches wide), and a collaborative top (21 inches deep x 30 inches wide). It’s a welcome addition to any collaborative learning environment.
• Mobility. For greater versatility in the classroom, choose sit-stand desks on wheels – preferably dual-wheel casters. Two-wheels enable the caster to swivel easier than a single caster and have the same footprint. Students, teachers and staff can quickly move the desks over thresholds and area rugs.
• Durability. Make sure the adjustable column mechanism is smooth and durable. Students shouldn’t need teachers, staff or any tools to adjust the desk height. Smith’s sit-stand desks adjust via a small, hand-operated unit mounted on the side of the desk. Also look for a highly durable overall design, especially for areas that will experience the most wear, like the desktop surface and column mounts.
• Accessories. Smith offers two optional accessories. For smart storage, there’s a low-profile wire basket that fits under the desktop to hold laptops, tablets, books or papers, and a semi-transparent privacy screen can be flipped up or down to the user’s preference.
• Color Choices. Choose a manufacturer who can color-customize your sit-stand desks. Smith offers 13 laminate surface options and 20 edge colors.
Ready to Take a Stand (or Sit)?
Typically, budgets will affect when and how you introduce sit-stand desks. Initially supplementing a classroom with sit-stand desks or setting up a designated learning zone may make best sense. But some schools are ready to outfit entire rooms.
Either way, we’re here to help make your classrooms be more functional, flexible, comfortable, colorful – and empowering.
FYI: Learn how to introduce flexible seating into your classroom at our 5 Steps to a Flexible Seating Classroom blog.