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Health warning

Why sitting still for long periods can lead to poor posture in children.

Literacy and numeracy hours may damage children's posture. A small study has found that children are spending long periods sitting in one place, particularly on the carpet - even though research has shown strong links between physical movement and cognitive learning.

Student teachers given a basic course in Alexander Technique (which re-educates people to use their bodies correctly) were asked to observe primary pupils' postural behaviour for a week. They noted that children spent the majority of their day sitting down and that literacy hour was a particularly uncomfortable time.

Most pupils were suffering from poor posture because of inadequate space and poorly designed furniture. The carpet area where children sat for long periods during literacy hour was often far too small to accommdate the class. Teachers told the children to sit with legs crossed and arms folded in order to maximise space, causing them to sit with collapsed backs and heads thrown back as they looked up at the book.

Sitting at tables brought no relief, either: children sat hunched over their work because the height of the tables and chairs was wrong. There was also restless sitting on chairs because of the time spent in one position.

An Alexander teacher who also observed the children concluded that they were too young to sit still for such long periods and that the bad postural habits they were acquiring could lead to back problems as they got older.

The Effects of Posture on Learning: Insights from the Alexander Technique by Wendy Nuttall, Assistant Dean and Head of School, Teaching and Education Studies, Leeds Metropolitan University. Tel: 0113 283 2600

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