Kid-friendly desks and equipment

When it comes to home desks and workstations, one size really doesn't fit all. Yet there are very few adjustable-height products on the market, and what exists tends to be expensive.

So what's a family to do when searching for a desk that can grow with its youngest members?

One simple way to customize is to construct desk legs from stacks of recycled phone books and place a sheet of plywood on top.

As primitive as this and other homemade solutions may sound, furniture designer Jack Kelley of Grand Haven, Mich., doesn't cringe. "It's all ergonomics," he says, referring to the science of adapting working conditions to suit the worker.

Drew Maple, another designer, says ergonomics are not just important to businesses concerned with worker injury claims, but increasingly to consumers as well.

The well-being of young people is of particular interest to Maureen Clancy, who has written a booklet, "Children and Safe Computing: Keep Your Child RSI-Free" , available from Upright Press, PO Box 1786, Southold NY 11971. (RSI stands for repetitive strain injury.)

Ms. Clancy says that parents on a tight budget, even if they can't find an affordable, 26-inch-high work surface, which is the ideal height for children, probably can find an inexpensive and adjustable desk chair. Simple models may cost $60 but will do the job nicely for children, she says.

In addition to adjustable height, other chair features she suggests are wheels and a swivel for mobility, important for getting in and out of the chair and encouraging breaks, plus armrests to reduce shoulder and arm fatigue.

No matter what kind of chair is selected, Clancy emphasizes making it child-friendly.

If the seat is too low, stick pillows against the back of the chair or on the seat to elevate the child. And if a youngster's legs dangle above the floor, create a footrest from even more pillows or taped-together phone books.

Here are other pointers Clancy shares for setting up a safe, comfortable, child-friendly computer workstation:

*Place the keyboard at a height that allows the arm to bend at a 90-degree angle (an under-desk keyboard tray or drawer that pops up to the right height can help achieve this).

*Place the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible.

*Place the monitor an arm's length from the eyes.

*Place the monitor at eye level or a little below.

*Use soft lighting and avoid glare. The monitor should not be the only light source.

Young children are often very adept at working with a computer mouse, but find standard keyboards unsuited to their small fingers.

To address this problem, Datadesk Technologies has introduced LittleFingers, which it says is the first keyboard specifically designed for children's smaller hands. It is 80 percent as big as adult-sized keyboards, with smaller keys and less space between them.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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