Picture yourself sitting on bleachers. How is your posture? Are you wishing this game was at a stadium equipped with seats with backs?
Picture yourself at a crowded café. The only stool left is missing the rungs. Are you having trouble trying to find a spot for your feet to rest? Are you struggling to keep your balance without spilling your coffee?
Picture yourself in a restaurant booth. The table is positioned an arm’s length away and the bench is anchored down. Do you see yourself perched on the edge of the bench to avoid wearing your lunch on your lap?
Picture yourself in another restaurant where the chair can move, but the table is chest height. Do you feel like your face is too close to your food? Are you having difficulty using your utensils as you raise your arms up to the table height?
Picture yourself needing to fill out some important documents. The only table available is a low coffee table. Are you hunched over in a chair leaning down to the table? Have you given up on the chair and moved to sit/kneel on the floor?
Throughout our lives many of us have been in situations where the furnishings do not meet our needs. In these types of situations, we often feel uncomfortable, out of our element, and may become frustrated or even angry. We may give up on the task at hand or refuse to revisit the establishment.
Now, picture your classroom and the children you serve. How well does the furniture you offer meet their individual needs? Do you find yourself frequently reminding children to sit on their bottom rather than their knees? Do you frequently see children standing at a table to complete work rather than sitting in the chair? Are you having trouble with excessive spills and messes during meals? These may all be signs that your furnishings are not meeting the needs of the children.
Maria Montessori, one of the pioneers in the development of early childhood education, recognized the frustrations a child can experience in an adult-sized world. She placed a great deal of emphasis on the child’s environment and was the first to have carpenters build child-sized tables and chairs. Later she designed entire schools and outdoor environments around the size of the children (Encyclopedia of Education
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To be sure your furniture is child-sized look at the chairs while the children are seated. The children should be able to sit back in the chair with their feet touching the floor. For highchairs, the children should be able to sit back in the chair and a foot rest should be provided to prevent their feet from dangling in the air. You may also want to consider chairs with sides to help younger toddlers feel more secure while seated. (It is hard to concentrate on developing skills when you are worried about falling off of your chair.) When the chairs for toddlers, preschool and school-age are appropriately sized for the children, they should be able to sit in the chairs without the need of assistance from the teachers.
Children should never sit for prolonged periods in the wrong size chair with their feet dangling. A chair should comfortably fit the child and allow the child to sit in a natural, relaxed, supported way while keeping his/her feet on the floor or a stable surface to improve postural stability.
– Professor Alan Hedge, Ph.D., CPE, Director Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory Cornell University
Tables should be positioned at a height that the children are able to fit their legs under the table while seated, as well as comfortably rest their elbows on the table.
Meeting the needs of all of the children in your group may be difficult, as not all 3 year olds are the same height. You may want to think about having a variety in the size of tables and chairs you offer (one set for the smaller children, one set for the taller children) or having furnishings that can be adjusted based on the needs of the children currently enrolled. The authors of the ERS scales understand these challenges and therefore, the expectation in the scales is for 75% of the furnishings to be child-sized. (Cryer, Harms, Riley 2003 – All About the ECERS-R page 12; Cryer, Harms, Riley 2004 – All About the ITERS-R page 26)
In addition to ensuring that the tables and chairs are child-sized, you may want to take a look at the storage for play materials, as well as the individual storage you provide for children’s personal belongings. As children begin to learn self-help skills and exhibit independence you want to offer them an environment in which they can succeed. How can children learn to hang up their coat if they cannot reach the hook? How can children learn take responsibility for their belongings if they cannot reach their cubby? How can children independently select materials if they cannot reach the shelf?
Child-sized furniture allows children to engage in their environment by accessing materials without the assistance of an adult. In order for materials to be considered “accessible” the children need to be able see, reach, and use the materials independent of an adult. For additional information on the term “accessible” refer to the “Explanation of Terms Used Throughout the Scales” on p. 7 of the ITERS-R (Harms, Cryer, Clifford 2006); p.6 of the ECERS-R (Harms, Cryer, Clifford 2005); p. 10 of the ECERS-3 (Harms, Cryer, Clifford 2015); p. 5 of the SACERS-U (Harms, Cryer, Clifford 2014); p. 9 of the FCCERS – R (Harms, Cryer, Clifford 2007).
For more detailed information on Child-sized furnishings, refer to the All About the ECERS – R p. 9, Chapter 2 “Furniture for care, play and learning” (Cryer, Harms, Riley 2003) and All About the ITERS – R p. 15, Chapter 2 “Furniture for routine care and play” (Cryer, Harms, Riley 2004).