School Day Functions – Positioning in the classroom

Positioning in the classroom is a HUGE part of student success.  In fact, “properly fitted furniture is essential if children are to learn handwriting efficiently” (Henderson &  Pehoski, 1995).

One of my biggest pet peeves about working in the school system is the gosh darn furniture.   Children are often seated in furniture that is just not the right size for them, and it totally stinks.

On top of that, many teachers have never been trained to check if a child’s desk or chair is the right size.   For the ones who do check, what are the chances that the school has other furniture available?   Sigh.  Rant Over.

The point is – what adult would tolerate working all day at a desk that was way too high? Companies spend a fortune supplying their workers with wrist supports to avoid carpal tunnel injuries and screen guards to protect employees vision.  Shouldn’t we make sure our students are in the proper position, too?

FunctionalSkillsforKids (1)

This post is part of a 12-month series called Functional Skills for Kids written by pediatric OTs and PTs to post on different developmental topics that impact functional skills for kids.

This month’s topic in the  “Functional Skills for Kids” blog hop is the School Day Functions, so check out the landing page for the rest of our posts and information on all things related!

Sidenote- this is NOT the teacher’s fault. Educational programs don’t even bother to teach about handwriting, why would they mention positioning?  A survey conducted by Handwriting Without Tears found that 85 percent of teachers had not received any training to teach handwriting as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate degree coursework (Stepping Into Handwriting 2011).


Positioning in the Classroom:  

Here are the most important things every teacher needs to know.

  1. The furniture needs to be the correct size. Please make sure your students are sitting at a desk or table that is properly sized for them (AOTA, 2011).   Handwriting expert Katherine Collmer reports that the majority of children are positioned in an ergonomically incorrect manner at school (2016).  This impacts their attention, postural control, and stability for fine motor and graphomotor (handwriting & drawing) activities.

    positioning in the classroom


2) A child may need their positioning checked if they

a) stand up when working

b) they swing and kick their feet all the time

c) the desk rest on their thighs

d) they wrap their ankles around the legs of the chair

e) the top of the table or desk comes up to their armpits

f) the child can’t sit with their back against the back of the chair and their feet on the floor at the same time.

3. It is the teacher’s responsibility to do their very best to put children in furniture that fits them.   It’s perfectly understandable if the furniture isn’t available, but before accepting that situation, ask these questions.

a) Is the furniture adjustable? If yes, it’s the custodian’s duty to adjust the furniture.  But first, the teacher must ask them to.

b) Is another chair or desk available in the building?  Ask the principal, custodian or other teachers who may want to swap.

c) Can I find a way to adjust this furniture to make it work?  Adding a block of books or some “bouncy bands” may do the trick of getting a child’s feet supported.  There are also many other ways to adjust furniture so that a child can work comfortably throughout the day.

positioning in the classroom

How to adjust furniture when you’re stuck

There are many different options for helping a child get comfortable when the furniture just doesn’t work.  Here are just a few ideas:


When Feet Aren’t on the Floor/Chair is too high

positioning in the classroom

1. Bouncy Bands – although Bouncy Bands are marketed for kids who “need to move”and are fidgety, they are also great for giving support to children’s feet.  When a chair is too big, a child tends to kick and swing their feet. This can make a child look fidgety when it’s really a case of poor positioning.
2.  A Pool Noodle and a Bungee Cord – this is a quick fix.  Although not ideal, it can give the feet some support and give resistance or “heavy work” to kicking feet.
3.  The Jett Step – This handy tool was designed by a Physical Therapist to provide appropriate support to a small child whose feet didn’t reach the floor.  It’s available in different sizes, too!
4.   The “Old Book Trick” – Use old textbooks, stacked up, and taped together under a child’s feet. A few inches can make a big difference in helping a child get comfortable.

Positioning IN the classroom:

When the table or desk is too high

Copy of seating alternatives (1)


1.  A Foam Boogie Board and Pool Noodle- this is a creative OT hack that costs $2 with materials from the Dollar Store.  Cut the Pool Noodle to the height of the backing, then use packing tape to secure the two Pool Noodle “posts”  Put your foam boogie board in front of the noodles and BAM  – you just made that chair about 4 inches smaller.  This will provide better back support for a small child.
 2. A Cushion Seat  is a classic OT trick that is often used for kids who are “sensory seeking”, but it can also be helpful when a chair  is a bit too big. It can support a child as they sit, allowing their arms to reach the desk comfortably.

 positioning in the classroom

The most serious mistake to avoid when setting up your classroom


I mentioned in my post 10 Pet Peeves of a School-Based OT that it’s important not to label the children’s desks with names until you meet them.  The lure of name tags and packing tape is powerful, BUT – you need to see how big the child is before you assign them a desk.

AND – please don’t be upset if this is you- but if your desks are all the same size, you are not setting up your classroom for optimal success.  Avoid the temptation to have everything the same size, lined up perfectly.  Your kids won’t all be the same size- their desks shouldn’t be either.

References For Positioning in the classroom

AOTA. (2011). Is Your Child Positioned for Success? [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from

Collmer, K. J. (2016). Posture, seating, and movement: Links to Learning. In Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists (pp. 142-143). Waymart, PA: Universal Publishing.

Henderson, A., & Pehoski, C. (1995). Hand function in the child: Foundations for remediation. St. Louis, MS: Mosby.

Stepping Into Handwriting. 2011. Cabin John, MD: Handwriting Without Tears.

This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids series.  Check out all of the bloggers who are participating and learn more about the series by clicking on the link above.

To read all of Miss Jaime, O.T.’s posts in this series, check out my Functional Skills for Kids landing page.

For more information on the components and considerations related to School Day Functions, stop by and see what the other Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists on the Functional Skills for Kids team have to say:

How Do Gross Motor Skills Affect Academics?  | Your Therapy Source

Brain Breaks to Help Concentration in the Classroom | Your Kids OT

Things You can do at Home to Help Your Child in School | Therapy Fun Zone

Tips for Following Directions in the Classroom and Home  | Growing Hands-On Kids



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