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Fourth-grade teacher Amanda Grey used to have the hardest time getting her 27 students to focus in class.

They'd slump down in their chairs, tilt backward, and get distracted by any number of things.

While you might be thinking this sounds like your average fourth-grader, there was one common thread in their behavior that might've been the catalyst: sitting.


Image from iStock.

A student in the United States sits an average of 4.5 hours a day while in school. Add that to all the sitting they do at home, and they're spending approximately 85% of their day being sedentary.

Several studies have noted that prolonged sitting can be bad for your long-term health, even with regular exercise. But perhaps the most immediately harmful aspect of sitting for kids is how it can negatively affect attention spans.  

Thankfully, about three years ago, Crossfit studio owners Juliet and Kelly Starrett brought standing desks to Grey's school.

Student at a standing desk at Vallecito Elementary. Photo by Amanda Grey, used with permission.

Vallecito Elementary was also where the Starretts' daughter Georgia went to school, and the couple would often volunteer to run sack races during school field days. They noticed that while the students appeared healthy, they lacked range of motion in their hip extension when they jumped.

Thinking this was likely due to too much sitting, they approached the school about trying standing desks in a classroom. The school administration was receptive and agreed to replace their traditional desks with standing desks in one fourth-grade classroom in August 2014.

After a brief period of adjustment, the students were on board with the change to standing in class.

Teachers and parents alike were noticing they have more focused energy, which helped them perform better in school.

Vallecito student doing work at a standing desk. Photo by Amanda Grey, used with permission.

"I have found that my students' overall academic performance has improved simply because they are more attentive during lessons when they're standing," explains Grey. "I deal with far fewer behavior issues while I teach, less student distraction and overall more focus."

The rest of the teachers at Vallecito saw similar results and were thrilled when the Starretts decided to find a way to fund standing desks for the entire school. By that point, they had founded their nonprofit, Stand Up Kids, which is all about educating schools on the importance of fitness and mobility.

Thanks to a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, the Starretts raised $110,000 — enough to buy standing desks for all 450 Vallecito students.

The best part for Grey is seeing how standing desks have made school life so much better for her students, especially those with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD.

Photo by Amanda Grey, used with permission.

During Grey's second year with standing desks, she had a new student who had a history of "overactive behavior" that made it difficult for her to get her work done. At the end of the student's first day, Grey asked her what the best part of her day was.

"She told me that she loved not getting in trouble for needing to stand up throughout the day and being told to stay in her seat," recalls Grey. "It was so clear to me that this student needed to be active and have a variety of seating options during her school day to be successful. I was very glad to welcome her into a school community that offers that type of learning environment."

Since the Starretts started their initiative, over 27,000 kids nationwide have access to a standing desk. Grey hopes that's just the beginning.

While populating an entire classroom with standing desks is expensive, Grey encourages teachers to be creative in getting kids on their feet.

"Even if you're not able to get one desk per student, having five will make a difference," says Grey. "I would also explore ways to make sitting desks into standing desks as a way to experiment with the positive impact on students."

Schools and teachers can get a leg up on fundraising for standing desks or other active lifestyle plans for students, by visiting Stand Up Kids' fundraising page.

Remember, it's not just about standing — it's about encouraging a more active lifestyle in kids so it becomes an inherent part of their adult lives. Any way teachers can promote moving in the classroom is a step in the right direction.

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