Ergonomic school furniture

The classroom as “the third teacher”

What contribution do architecture and innovative spatial ideas make to the new learning culture? Integrated into new didactic schemes are school architecture, spatial design and furniture. These provide the necessary framework for the greatest possible amount of flexibility – an orderliness that allows freedom. The environment (according to Loris Malaguzzi’s Reggio Emilia approach) thus becomes “the third teacher” – along with pupils and adults – and has a beneficial effect on children’s learning outcomes, their willingness to perform and their wellbeing.

New Learning Environment

Classrooms are no longer organized for mono-functional use; they provide space for differentiation of learning. Spaces are alterable and can be quickly adapted for use by different groups with the aid of functional and easy-to-manage furniture. The classroom loses its teacher-oriented, one-point perspective and takes on the characteristics of a workshop.

New, variable spatial ideas

It is not just the new didactic ideas for the 21st century school that demand spatial solutions. In traditional education as well the spectrum of educational activities has increased, these multifaceted forms of learning must be allowed their space. So the most important requirement is variability – the environment is to be multi-functional.

Complementary to schoolbook and blackboard

For a long time now an office without computers has been unthinkable – in the 21st century school no less so. The use of PCs in school is firmly established, interactive whiteboards with computer-aided teaching programs stand alongside the traditional blackboard.

Acoustics are not just for concert halls

If the learning area is increasingly to be used as an open learning space, it is important to bear in mind the acoustics. Non-sound absorbing areas with a long reverberation time lower speech intelligibility. Noise reduction materials and acoustically effective furniture surfaces improve acoustics.

Freeing teachers from their desks

Many classrooms are still arranged with the teacher the focus up front. In the modern school environment, attention is given to the pupils as learners – they are the focus. If teachers can free themselves from their desks, suddenly opportunities for different forms of teaching and learning are increased.

Schoolrooms become spaces that can be rearranged

A modern-day learning routine includes differentiation of learning and diversified rhythmization between working as a whole class, in a group or individually and between learning and recreation. The environment must be modifiable in the short-term and each time it needs to be fit for purpose – from large circle of chairs to small-group work, from teacher-centered talk to concentrated quiet work. For this purpose the learning environment is customized through the flexible arrangement of tables and chairs.

Alterability without too much effort

Classrooms that can be easily altered and rearranged provide diversity of didactic opportunities. Prerequisite: Pupils and teacher need to be able to carry out the adaptations and new configurations within minutes – without the aid of the school janitor.

Furniture – basic requirements

If adaptability is the central criterion for spatial quality, this is especially applicable to the furniture: It must be flexible, mobile and easy to reconfigure. Chairs and tables should fit the size of the pupils; ideally they are easily height adjustable.

Classrooms with workshop character

Flexibility in the Learning Studio – simple rearrangement by pupils themselves.

More spatial options through mobile elements

Chairs and tables must be easily rearranged and multi-combinable: Foldable and mobile privacy screens provide a flexible sub-division of the space; cupboards, materials boxes are mobile and can be integrated into the spatial structure. More mobility provides more diversity in the learning day.

New school: from classroom to learning landscape

In all-day learning provision especially, the school’s learning and living environment needs to be very variable – with many different learning areas. Such functional learning landscapes offer diversity of learning and recreation opportunities, individually as well as in small and larger groups. School architecture and spatial configuration is included in this differentiation, and also functional spatial design and furniture. They contribute to rhythmization of the school day by meeting the demands of the various phases of learning. Specific educational requirements define the learning environment, not the other way round.

Input area: topic enthusiasm

This teacher-centered area provides the best framework for explaining new subject matter, for giving pupils information and for getting them enthusiastic about new topics. The interactive whiteboard is perfect for presenting results of work and making talks lively and exciting.

Learning Studio: teacher-centered learning in a large group

Learning landscape as an input area: The pupils learn by watching, listening, following, comprehending and practicing. Specific procedures and knowledge bases are passed on and secured so that they are retrievable at any time. This is best done in a plenary session, with a teacher-centered table and chair arrangement.

Learning Studio: protected areas for concentrated work in small groups

Mobile screens provide division between different activity areas for parallel work in small groups. With acoustically optimized surfaces, screens contribute to concentration.

Learning Studio: freely organized pupil work

Learning and autonomous discovery: purposeful reading, studying, researching, preparing a talk or flexible use of different media through individual or pair work.

Media library: learning areas for project and team work in small groups

Project-oriented pupil work in small groups: productive, autonomous learning through dialogue and working it out together. Media are used for independent research. Discussion and team work are paramount.

Pupils’ lounge: communication and discussion

This is the place for reading, researching, meeting and communication, for exchange of ideas and discussions in a group. Such informal learning situations are indispensable in all-day learning provision. They allow new and spontaneous learning.

Learning workshop: learning through creative project work

Experimenting, constructing, demonstrating, designing: Learning in project teams has workshop characteristics here. Autonomous working out of ideas and creativity in the development of solutions are practiced and promoted here.

Relaxing: areas for retreat and relaxation

Leisure and quiet areas also need to be integrated into all-day learning provision. Ideally the landscape is a defined area offering a refuge for quiet periods of relaxation and regeneration.

One space – many possibilities

The modern school is highly flexible, the school day is structured and rhythmized through changing phases. Learning in large or small groups, project and team work, practice and repetition – didactic scenarios alternate and create a suitable learning environment depending on the phase of learning. Flexibility means having a choice of learning area possibilities depending on the learning scenario or converting a space to the appropriate learning environment without too much effort; preferably the space should be capable of ad hoc configuration.

Teaching from the front

Teacher-centered arrangement of furniture: Flexible furniture is kept in a back area.

Group learning

Mobile screens provide separation and space division for learning groups, round-table discussion or group work.

Quiet working

Furniture for e.g. homework support, workshop, individual support.

Integrating more movement into school routines

In order to learn the brain needs the whole body. For successful learning and general health (above all in all-day provision) certain physiological requirements must be fulfilled. Children can only develop in a healthy and performance-effective way if they get enough exercise. This is why schools today are schools in motion: Work and recreation sessions alternate, movement is integrated into learning in a variety of ways to keep attention and concentration levels up. Dynamic and ergonomic pupil furniture makes a fundamental contribution here.

Movement and development

“Movement and exercise are essential fundamental requirements. Children especially need plenty of exercise for the harmonious development of body and mind. Constant rhythmic alternation between the static and the dynamic, between pressure and relief of pressure, between tension and relaxation can provide the conditions for balanced physical and mental wellbeing.”

Dr. Dieter Breithecker
Federal Institute for the Development of Posture and Exercise, Wiesbaden.

From child who plays to child who sits

Nowadays children spend significantly more time sitting than they did in the past. In school, doing homework, at the computer or in front of the TV – they sit for up to nine hours of the day and over the day as a whole take less and less exercise.

The period of time in which pupils can actually sit still

Age 6-10 years: average 5 minutes Age 11-15 years: average 15 minutes Age 16-20 years: average 25 minutes

“When you observe children, you notice very clearly that their mental development emanates from physical exercise.”

Maria Montessori, Founder of Montessori progressive education

The consequences of lack of exercise in childhood

  • Backache
  • Motor deficits
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of ability to concentrate

Sitting and movement

A certain amount of movement must be integrated into long sitting periods. This is why it’s important to encourage dynamic and not statically rigid sitting in school. That way you encourage activation of different muscle groups on an alternating basis – attention and concentration levels are kept up.

Ideas for more movement in a school’s learning and living spaces

  • Ergonomics in the classroom: putting in place health-promoting working conditions for pupils and teaching staff (height-adjustable chairs, tables, standing desks)
  • Regard spaces as a secret teacher and make sure there is an appropriate temperature, light, good acoustics and colorful design
  • Use alcoves, learning islands, in-between spaces and corners in interior areas for individual learning, as a place to retreat to and take exercise
  • Set out exterior school rooms for games with movement, for recreation, quiet times, communication and fashionable kinds of sport
  • Motivate children to exercise, play and do sports with exercise breaks with attractive games, toy/games boxes for the recess, games pitches

Hermann Städtler, head teacher of Fridtjof-Nansen School in Hannover and project leader for a Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs project “Bewegte Schule”[school in motion] in Lower Saxony.

Dynamic furniture supports changes in sitting posture

When sitting on traditional school furniture no movement is possible. With a dynamic pupil chair such as PantoMove by VS on the other hand, the seat surface inclination changes in all directions depending on the shift in body weight. This means that resting and working positions are equally well supported and freedom of movement is not impeded. Pupils are more able to follow their natural need to not keep still – a very important condition for productive physical and intellectual development.

Active sitting posture: working at a table

Forwards orientation is supported by an inclining, dynamic seat surface. This means the back is able to straighten up more easily and the pelvis stabilized; the pupil is sitting so far forward that the back rest is not used.

Passive sitting posture: relaxed listening position

The dynamic seat surface adapts automatically in response to a backwards weight shift. The strain is taken off the back, thus resting the intervertebral discs, muscles and ligaments.

The best working posture: constant change

Apart from continual sitting posture changes sustainably supported by chairs with dynamic seat surfaces, it has also become increasingly clear that there is a significant ergonomic benefit for pupils in school to be changing between sitting and standing.

Pupil chairs adapted to size

Within a class there are distinct differences in pupil size and also differences in body proportions. The lower leg is the decisive element for optimizing the seat height. The best way to adapt the seat height is to focus on the functional length of the lower leg: Select the height where the seat front edge corresponds to the height of the lower kneecap point (= functional lower leg length). VS provides a special measuring tape that makes the job of proper assignment of chair size significantly easier.

Even the pupil table should be at the right height

This is how to adjust the table height: Sitting upright facing forward, bend the arms 90°. The index fingers are straightened horizontally and if the table height is correct they will be directly on the table top (if using a laptop on the keyboard).

Better oxygen supply

In the experiment it is seen that when sitting on a dynamic seat surface the temperature in the chest muscles is raised over a period of three lessons. The muscles groups are receiving a greater supply of blood; the supply of oxygen in the body is improved. (Source: Posture & Movement, 3/2008)

Recommendation for the school day:

  • 50% sitting (dynamic sitting)
  • 30% standing (standing desks)
  • 20% movement (learning in motion)

(Dr. D. Breithecker, Federal Institute for the Development of Posture and Exercise, Wiesbaden)

School as work place – What does the classroom of the future look like?

Only a constant rhythmic alternation between the static and the dynamic, between pressure and relief of pressure, between tension and relaxation can provide the conditions for balanced physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. This is why alongside organizational forms and teaching methods that prioritize motion, “motion ergonomic” conditions that promote active -dynamic sitting represent an important component in the healthy school.

Dr. Dieter Breithecker Federal Institute for the Development of Posture and Exercise, Wiesbaden.

A Healthy School: Buckingham County School, VA

“The three key traits that make a flexible environment possible are mobility, agility and adaptability. Responsive settings are easy to alter as emergent learning opportunities arise,” says Ms. Sorensen. “The VS furniture fulfills all those basic needs while also providing critically important health co-benefits, and therefore better learning outcomes, by promoting less sedentary behavior through more active, movement-rich environments.

“It’s important,” she adds, “for teachers and students to have postural choice throughout the day and to have flexible furniture options to support unique, personalized learning styles and teaching platforms.”

From the new school: experiences, statements, solutions

It is not just that many of our school buildings are from the late 19th or early 20th centuries and have been obsolete for some long time now; many of our traditional pedagogic-didactic concepts do not fit with what happens today in the new school. The school has evolved into a diverse living and learning area. Learning is more active and interactive, more emotional and socially embedded process; it requires many different perspectives and approaches.

Responsibility for learning objectives –
The Berlin Zentrum Evangelical School, an example of the new learning culture

The teacher-pupil relationship here can be characterized as “I can” and not “you should”. Children and young people learn in heterogeneous learning groups and according to their own individual pace and performance potential. Forms of learning such as the learning office, project work and workshops, interdisciplinary lessons, mixed-age learning groups and learning in life by challenging tasks encourage autonomy, team and problem-oriented learning as well as social learning. Teachers see themselves as coaches who support pupils in their development and help them recognize their potential.

For more information please go to

Margret Rasfeld is the head of the Berlin Zentrum Evangelical School. She works as a core expert in the Federal Chancellor’s Dialogue for the Future, “How we want to learn”.

Green makes a school Sustainability and ecology in school construction

The Klein Flottbeker Weg Elementary School is the first CO²-neutral elementary school in Hamburg. The basic idea is that on balance when the school is operating it does not produce any CO² emissions for heating. The basic essentials are an energy-optimized structure with a building shell designed on passive-house principles, an eco-friendly energy supply based on wood, optimized use of daylight and no mechanical aeration or ventilation. For conscious handling of energy resources on a daily basis, there is a traffic light CO² sensor in the classrooms that shows the ambient air quality and thus also the fresh air requirement.

For more information please go to

A modern school needs modern furniture

An enormous amount of time is invested in planning a new, modern school. The result at St Mary’s Primary School was excellent, innovative in design and construction. This should hold good for the furniture as well. The focus in England in recent years has been increasingly on flexible learning, and classroom furniture must have a part in this. My advice to decision-makers: Look for real solutions and not individual products that together won’t offer the necessary flexibility for modern classroom practice.

Ian Tucker
Head teacher, St Mary’s Primary School, Purton, Swindon, South West England

Attitudes really do need to change

Throughout hundreds of secondary schools in the UK, students go to the same rooms every day to learn, sit in the same place, often next to the same people. Even when changing subject lessons, different classrooms are often identical in style and layout. To compound the monotony further, students are often expected to sit still during lessons, face forward, not fidget or move unnecessarily. Over their primary and secondary school years, this accounts for many thousands of hours of studying in discomfort, resulting in poor, under-developed posture. This is why good, ergonomic educational furniture is absolutely essential – to create at long last a more agile and flexible learning environment.

Gareth Long
Director, the-learning-crowd ltd

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