Teachers to Students: Stand Up and Fidget

Were you told to sit down and stay still in school?  If you were scolded for moving around, you might wish you were a student today.

Standing at School

6th grade students at Marine Elementary School, MN. Photo: Ben Garvin for The New York Times

Good for Learning

Schools in at least 19 states are trying standing desks. Teachers are finding that children stay more engaged and alert if they have the option to stand during class. (Add swinging foot rests and kids have an outlet for all their restless leg energy, too.) Teachers are certain that standing desks work. They say the desks allow children to burn up their extra energy so they can focus on their schoolwork.

Marine Elementary School outside of Minneapolis was one of the first schools to use standing desks. The principal, Lynn Bormann, is convinced that by encouraging movement the desks are good for children. She says fewer referrals to the office and fewer sick days show that the desks are making a difference. 1

Good for Health

If high-powered researchers are right, standing and moving around are also good for your health.  Their research shows that small movements throughout the day have major health benefits—benefits that go beyond gym workouts.  Dr, James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic put it bluntly: “Excessive sitting is a lethal activity.” From his “activity studies” Dr Levine has discovered that inactivity increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. 2 Dr. Alpa Patel of the American Cancer Society agrees with Dr. Levine, saying that people who sit too much take years off their lives.3

Furniture manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon, producing junior versions of the standing desks that are now popular in offices and call centers. One manufacturer boasts that its student desk “promotes classroom focus, helps ADHD in classroom settings, improves handwriting, expels excess energy, and . . . kids love it!”4

Concern about the effect of standing for long periods of time have some educators worried about the standing desks. Standing desks give kids the option to sit or stand. Plus, they allow users to make more small movements than they can readily do while seated.  It’s the flexibility and adaptability that give value to the standing desks.

More Ways to Move

Standing desks are not the only way teachers are changing their classrooms to encourage their students to move more.  In one first grade classroom, children crawl over mats that have vocabulary words written on them. Another elementary teacher has her students reciting math problems as they jump between platforms. 5

Dr. Levine took the idea of standing desks to the next level by designing a treadmill desk. With the treadmill desk you walk slowly while working at a desk built around a treadmill. 6

Changing School Environment

Kids like to move; they need to move. Scientists and educators have gotten the message: Instead of trying to change the very nature of children to fit a fixed school environment, they are changing the environment to fit the children.

Fidget away, kids.



  1. Saulny, Susan. “Students Stand When Called Upon, and When Not.”. The New York Times. February 24, 2009.
  2. Vlahos, James. “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?”. The New York Times. April 14, 2011.
  3. Vlahos. op. cit.
  4. ABC World News. “Sunway Inc’s Stand up School Desks.”. February 22, 2009.
  5. Vlahos. op. cit.
  6. “Treadmill Desk Lose 57 lbs in One Year…Really!”.

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