Taking On Chairs as a Public Health Crisis with Juliet Starrett (LBP 044)

Juliet Starrett, the other half of MobilityWOD, is talking with me today about StandUp Kids. She and her husband Kelly have created this non-profit to get chairs out of classrooms in order to create movement-rich environments instead.  No conversation on re-thinking classroom design and movement for children is complete with talking about the big undertaking Juliet and Kelly Starrett have kicked off. This is the most ambitious program to get rid of chairs happening in the United States. And as Juliet plainly puts it in our conversation, this is crucial because the amount of time spent sitting- of which classroom time accounts for a huge percentage- is a massive public health crisis. Now that we understand the implications of sitting it’s just nuts that we are forcing children into chairs. And Juliet is here to tell you all about that.

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  • StandUp Kids is in the process of converting a public school in California to the first completely chair-free public school in the US. They currently have 100 students at standing desks, with the goal of having all students in the school at standing desks when it reopens for the school year this August.
  • Juliet and Kelly spend much of their time working with top athletes all over the world and they always tell them to spend as little time sitting in a chair as possible.
  • Their a-ha moment came when they attended their child's school field day and they saw that many of the kids did not have the hip range of motion to get in and out of the sack or to jump effectively for sack races. They realized that in their professional lives they were telling people not to sit and then were sending their kids to school to sit all day.
  • Their concern was primarily orthopedic- for kids to move and perform optimally they were at a massively increased risk of injury from sitting all day and shortening their tissues.
  • There is a high intimidation factor about taking on the bureaucracy of public schools, but they were pleasantly surprised to meet with their school principal for coffee and have their first standing desk classroom set up 6 weeks later.
  • Imagine if all the parents pulling their kids out of public school instead invested the money they spend on a private school within that public school.
  • StandUp Kids has partnered with Donors Choose to fundraise for standing desks in classrooms.
  • Often the education piece for the public needs to happen about why this is a crucial and not a frivolous expense, especially when you consider how needy classrooms are these days for basic supplies.
  • Each class is 20 to 25 kids and in the elementary grades there are vast height ranges within any given classroom, yet they are all crammed into one-size-fits-all furniture.
  • You do not need an ergonomics expert to fit the desks to each child. Anyone can do it and it takes 2 minutes per child.
  • The classrooms are now set up with standing desks that each have a fidget bar at the foot which allows children to fidget out of distracting view from the teacher.
  • The classrooms also have 5 stools each- with the number of stools smaller than the number of desks intentionally. The goal is not to change sitting at a chair for sitting at a stool as they make the same c-curve shape in their spines.
  • People always ask "won't the kids get tired?" but the only people who stand like statues at standing desks are adults.
  • Kids are also encouraged to work on the floor as they wish.
  • Standing is not the answer to sitting- movement is the answer to sitting, but you cannot have a movement-rich environment with chairs. With standing desks it opens up so many opportunities to have a movement rich classroom environment.
  • The 4th graders had a harder time transitioning and wanted to use the stools more at the beginning. The first graders didn't use the stools much at all- presumably because of how their bodies have been trained for years to either move or not move.
  • Getting rid of chairs can be an equality issue- boys are failing in the current educational environment, and studies show that children with ADHD have to move to learn. Both boys and children with ADHD do so much better in a standing desk, movement rich classroom.
  • If standing desks reduce the number of kids medicated for ADHD that is a huge deal.
  • The current design of our schools comes from the industrial era when the goal of classrooms was to make compliant workers for factories- but that is not the world that awaits our children now.
  • The StandUp Kids website also has a curriculum section where teachers can either learn brief movement breaks to teach in their classroom, or they can simply push play and have the kids go through the video.
  • The data also shows that kids burn more calories at a standing desk- for obese children it amounts to 25-30% more calories per day.

Home play!

Let's train for more standing, shall we? Juliet talked about the need to train to stand more when you transition- even if you are athletic. So see what will bump the needle for you to get more standing in in your day. Can you set a timer for a certain amount of time and stand? Also remember to fidget and move! The goal is not to be a static robot. "The best position at your standing desk is your next position."

Resources

StandUp Kids- donate and/or learn how to get your own standing classroom project going.

Texas A&M standing desk research: The impact of stand-biased desks in classrooms on calorie expenditure in children

Texas A&M research on standing desks increasing attention in the classroom

Kids with ADHD Must Squirm to Learn in Science Daily

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boysby Michael Thompson

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