Following is a rant about a topic about which I have strong views: chairs and tables. Please understand that it’s a ‘for-what-it’s-worth’ rant that I hope will provoke discussion and debate.
I don’t care if they do it at Reggio Emilia and in some of our most impressively furnished early education and care services. It doesn’t matter that educators’ intentions are to show respect, approximate how things are at home or support children’s sense of agency. Good intentions do not necessarily result in good practice.
Early in my work in infant-toddler education and care I learned about the importance of child-sized and child-appropriate furniture. In those ancient times there wasn’t much furniture available that took into account the height, body proportions and skills of very young children. It was common to see babies and toddlers trying to eat independently at tables where the food was at their eye level (or close to it) and sitting in chairs with their feet and legs dangling in midair.
Furniture and equipment manufacturers eventually started catering for very young children, making it possible to provide environments fit for them instead of environments that were better suited to older children.
In some places ground has been lost in creating the best environments to support babies’ and toddlers’ learning. Educators’ reasoning may be different, but the impact is same.
Some important requirements for tables and seating for very young children are that
- feet can touch the floor or rest on a rung or crosspiece.
- children can seat themselves (although I realise that’s not possible with high chairs, which I’m not opposed to, depending on their placement).
- if children are under two years (or maybe even a bit older), the chair encompasses them – in other words, they don’t have to worry about falling off (and are not likely to do so).
- there is a back to lean on.
- the table surface is slightly above waist height.
Feeling physically uncomfortable and insecure interferes with learning. If you doubt that, try sitting with your legs dangling in midair for a long time. Try eating at a table that puts food close to eye level.
I don’t feel respected when I go into a café and have to sit on seats with no backs. I don’t think ‘Oh, that’s good, they’re treating me like a young person’. I enjoy my time much more when there’s something to lean against.
This seating phenomenon may be well intended but I think it’s misguided. Educators enact respect through catering for individual strengths, needs and interests and providing the most inclusive environment possible for each child, one that enables pleasurable learning opportunities in a relaxed setting. Feet dangling in midair, needing to concentrate on not falling out of the chair and food placed at eye level (or close to it) work against that kind of environment and interfere with agency.
What are the positives in using ‘real’ furniture and equipment with children? Are they justified?