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Everyday Ergonomics

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The Family Workstation
Sharing a computer with kids? Here's what you need to make your workspace work better for everyone.

  1. A monitor positioned so the user's eyes are near the top of the screen, looking slightly down at it.
  2. A glare guard to ward off reflections.
  3. A mouse set next to the keyboard. If your keyboard tray won't fit both, set a mouse bridge over the number pad, which kids rarely use. You can buy one or make your own by cutting down a sturdy photo box (the bridge should rest just above the keys, without touching). Or consider switching to a trackball, which is easier on little hands.
  4. A document holder to keep papers at the correct angle, reducing eyestrain and neck and shoulder fatigue.
  5. A kitchen timer to remind users to take a break every 20 to 30 minutes. Or get free reminder software at paratec.com/sbform/kidsform.htm.
  6. A footrest or stool that supports your child's legs at roughly a 90-degree angle to her body.
  7. A chair that tips backward and forward for good lumbar (lower back) support and has adjustable arms, height, and seat depth.
  8. A light source located above -- not behind or in front of -- the monitor.

Video-Gaming Safety
If your kids are avid video gamers, they could be at risk for strains and injuries (including "Nintendo thumb"). To help keep pain out of the game:

  • Make sure your child's line of vision is near the top of the screen, so she's looking slightly down.
  • Remind kids to hold the controller lightly and use programmable features whenever possible to help reduce strain on hands and fingers.
  • Place handheld games on a table or slightly uptilted surface to minimize neck and shoulder strain.
  • Set a timer to remind kids to take a short break every 20 to 30 minutes. (Bonus: Once your child is up and moving, she may just move on to another activity!)

Get in Gear: Best Backpacks
When shopping for a backpack, says pediatric orthopedist Dr. Eric Wall, try to find one with at least some of these features:

  • Wide, padded adjustable straps that sit comfortably on the shoulders. The pack should rest against the top of the hips, so loosen the straps for bulky winter coats.
  • A padded waistband to transfer weight off the shoulders and back, and onto the hips.
  • A layer of stiff plastic built into the lining of the pack. The extra support helps distribute the pack's weight evenly.
  • Side cinch straps to keep the pack close to the back and prevent sudden weight shifts.

What About Wheels?
Wheeled backpacks sound like a great alternative to the shoulder-slung variety, but Dr. Wall cautions against them. "Because kids need to lift them by their handles when they go up and down stairs and get on and off the school bus, they can actually cause more strain than traditional backpacks," he says.

Revolutionary idea: With its air-filled lumbar cushion, the AirPack is engineered to redistribute weight to the hips and legs, effectively reducing stress, increasing comfort, and -- parents take note! -- encouraging kids to stand up straight. Three sizes available, from $50; coreproducts.com.


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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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