Students Focus Better When They’re Standing

iStock / iStock

Standing desks may be coming to an elementary school near you. Students may pay better attention in class if they’re given the option to stand at their desks, according to a new study of 282 students in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades published in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education

Students were given tall desks with stools, a design that encouraged standing but allowed them to sit down if they needed to. The kids’ engagement with the lecture was rated through behavior like participating in active class discussions, answering a question, or raising a hand, versus off-task behavior like talking out of turn.

Study author Mark Benden, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Texas A&M University, began studying standing desks for their potential to curb childhood obesity, which has more than doubled in the past three decades. While this latest study did find that students expended more energy while at these sit-stand desks, they also paid more attention. The students who had the option of standing during class showed 12 percent greater engagement than students who sat at traditional classroom desks. That’s about 7 minutes more engagement per hour of instruction time. 

"Standing workstations reduce disruptive behavior problems and increase students' attention or academic behavioral engagement by providing students with a different method for completing academic tasks (like standing) that breaks up the monotony of seated work," Benden said in a press statement

Science has shown that walking helps us think and spawns creativity. Exercise in general improves our memory. And when it comes to schools, recess has been shown to have a major impact on whether or not kids pay attention. On days when they have recess, children work more and fidget less.

However, the modern school day often doesn’t give kids much chance to move. Chicago Public Schools implemented a recess program in 2012 after three decades without one. Earlier this year, parents in Florida rebelled against local schools ditching recess in favor of more instruction, in part due to new pressures from the Common Core curriculum.

Letting kids stand up in class may allow kids just a little bit more freedom of movement throughout their day. (But really, bring back recess, guys.)