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Sitting Down to Work – Tips for Proper Set-up and Posture

By September 1, 2020NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

When working from home, it’s easy to ignore the important things that most people know about maintaining proper posture. The draw of a bed covered in pillows or a cozy nook on the couch can outweigh the rational knowledge that sitting with good posture will help us to stay focused, decrease back or joint pain, and help build a strong core. When it comes to children, they are often unaware of the ways that posture can affect their bodies and their work. They need cues, reminders and examples of the best way to sit to stay focused and be productive. In our last OT Tuesday blog, we discussed the importance of a child’s physical foundation, the core. When it comes to learning, a strong core helps with postural stability. As the start of a new school year draws near, let’s review some important things to consider about the environment and physical set-up for learning and the best positions for our students’ bodies.

Creating a space for learning helps to differentiate between school and home activities that, for many students, are currently happening in the same building. Here are some tips for setting up this space:

  • Find appropriately sized furniture. Children should have their feet on the ground when sitting at their desk! Tables should be at an appropriate height. Tables that are too tall tend to prompt children to hunch their shoulders or sit on their feet, while tables that are too small cause children to slouch and lean their heads on their hands.
  • Help them organize. Classrooms are built to help students grow their executive function skills, as teachers constantly help set up organizational systems and use tricks to keep students on track. Your child may benefit from color coded folders for each subject, a hard copy of their daily schedule (with pictures for younger kids!) or a visual timer.

There are also a few important things to remember to help with proper seated posture.

  • Use visual reminders. Your child may benefit from a picture of someone using proper seated position posted near their workspace. While they may still need a reminder every so often, having an image gives children a model to mimic.
  • The Rule of 90 Degrees. When sitting at a table, children’s hips, knees and ankles should all be positioned at 90 degrees. This helps to create a solid foundation. When children have a strong foundation and postural stability, they are set up to freely and accurately use their fine motor skills. Being grounded allows for easier writing, typing, cutting and manipulation of all the tools necessary for learning. Ideally, children’s elbows will also create a 90 degree angle.
  • Consider a slant board. Placing a computer or a paper on a slanted board can help students realize that they need to sit up straight, promote proper wrist placement and angle, and draw their eye gaze up from the desk. Writing on a vertical or slanted surface in general can help with the development of handwriting skills.
  • Stabilize that paper. Reminding students to use their non-dominant hand to hold their paper helps with precision and accuracy.
  • Allow them to switch it up! Some tasks really require a child to be sitting up straight, grounded and engaged. For example, a student who is hand-writing a final copy of their paragraph or using scissors for an art class will want to be cognizant of their bodies and how they are seated. In contrast, some activities provide opportunities to move around and change positions. If a student is reading a book for English Language Arts, they may want to lie on their belly or sit in a beanbag chair.
  • Take breaks. No matter how perfect a child’s seated posture is, they will benefit from movement and stretching breaks. Little bodies are built to move, bounce and wiggle!

Prioritizing posture as a child helps to build good habits, evenly distribute stress on the body’s muscle ligaments and joints, and create a strong, grounded foundation.


About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email or call 617-658-9800.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.