There is a divide in the homeschool world between parents who want their child to work at a desk and those whose kids work best when they can move around—laying on the floor, working on the couch, or sitting in bed.  Obviously, the right answer is to do whatever works best for your child! But what do I actually recommend as an occupational therapist?

Goldilocks Conditions

While reading should be done where ever a child is comfortable, writing and drawing are generally best done while sitting at an appropriately sized table and chair, or desk. This means that children of different ages and sizes may need different height tables. And you need to change their seating arrangement as they grow. When a table and chair set is too big or too small, the child can’t sit comfortably, and their work will suffer. It needs to fit “just right”.

The perfect chair will let a child sit with their knees and hips each at ninety-degree angles while their feet sit flat, parallel to the floor. Their elbows are able to bend at about ninety degrees as well and rest on the table while they write. The goal of having children sit like this is why the desks gradually get bigger in each grade in schools.

It also means that working at your kitchen table may not be ideal unless your child has a special chair to put them at the right height and you give them a footrest. My children had an adjustable chair, like this one pictured, that worked well. We could adjust it as they grew for working and eating at the table. And different children could use it at different times with minor adjusting.

Finding the Right Set-Up

You can also choose to use tiny chairs and tables for preschoolers, and get bigger sets as your children grow. You will know the set is outgrown when your child complains their knees are hitting the underside of the table, or they have to bend their back to lean over and write on the table.  A typical kindergarten height table will be about 20 inches tall. A table appropriate for a slightly older child needs to be a few inches taller. A 23-inch-tall table works well for ages 7-10. Each table will need to have chairs that go with it, and most children’s sets come with both. Those three inches really do matter. A lot.

If you have multiple children it is nice when they can work at the same size table, but as your older child grows, their table should too. If you have room, having a table for each size child in your home can work out wonderfully. It is sort of like having a desk for each of them. My children that are 5 years apart in age were not able to share a table due to size differences. My children that are 2 years apart in age shared a table at times. And when growth spurts made that unreasonable, they used different ones.

Desks that Grow With Your Child

Another great option for kids, which is newer to the market, is a desk and chair that will both grow with them. This option means a single desk can be adjusted with each growth spurt to make sure your child is sitting at that ideal poison of having their feet on the floor, and knees, hips, and elbows each at a right angle. I’ve spent many hours in classrooms adjusting desks to the right size for students. In a room full of children, this can be a bit like a game of musical chairs. But having the class size of one means that you can always be sure your child has the right-sized desk because they don’t have to worry about trading or seating arrangements.

As an occupational therapist, I find the ones that also have the option to work at an angle even more interesting. Many children who struggle with writing do much better with their work at an angle. Drafters and architects work at an angle like this because it makes it easier to be precise. The same applies to your child. Setting up the writing surface at an angle helps bring their paper closer to their face, and allows the arm to rest more comfortably on the desk surface and be supported better while they write. If you don’t want to go for an entire angled desk, there are slant boards that can be placed on top of any desk or table that you can try with your child.

Writing is hard enough. Make your child’s work one step easier by positioning them in a way that is sized for their body.

Did you find this helpful?  Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Here are the links to the tables and chairs I mentioned today.

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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2 thoughts on “Homeschooling: To desk or not to desk?”

  1. This probably won’t get the OT seal of approval for posture, but my favorite thing to do is swap out a chair at my desk with a bouncy ball. I have ADD, so it’s nice to wiggle in a ‘productive’ way. It’s enjoyable, improves my mood and productivity– and I like to think it burns some calories too!

    1. Laura Sowdon

      Actually, I totally recommend using a yoga ball instead of a chair for people who want to move! It takes a lot more core muscles, so not everyone is able to sit on one for their entire work time, but it is a great option to have on hand. Just be sure it is the right size for your desk and your body, so you can work with your feet flat on the floor and your knees are at a 90 degree angle.

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