Child sized chairs and tables are the norm in early childhood services because this is what is safest for children, according to Dr Sarah Alexander chief executive of ChildForum.
But she adds that this does not mean that teachers must compromise their health and safety and risk back injury for example. Employers have an obligation under health and safety legislation to provide appropriate adult-sized chairs and furniture for staff to use.
Adult-sized chairs and tables are a hazard for young children and should not be used for meal times, in play or during activities in a group early childhood centre setting, Dr Alexander says.
Furniture appropriate to children’s developmental age and capabilities is safest, not to mention more comfortable for children to use too.
Toddlers particularly are at risk of bumping their heads on the sharp corners of tables and falling from chairs that are too big for them to be on alone.
It only takes a moment's distraction for an adult not to realise that an infant on a couch with them may be about to roll off or fall to the ground.
Plunket does not have specific recommendations around the age when a child should or should not be placed on or use an adult chair in homes.
However, National Child Safety Advisor Sue Campbell says that as a general rule of thumb “floor is best”.
“We do talk about and stress the importance of a young child not being placed or left on a high surface such as an unharnessed high chair, stool or adult chair at home – anything they can fall from."
Dr Alexander says that in certain situations it may be acceptable for adult-sized chairs to be used for children, such as when an adult is with the child actively supervising and the child is able to climb onto and get off the chair safely. A young child sitting comfortably and securely in the adult’s lap on a couch or adult chair, for example for a cuddle or a story, is acceptable and encouraged.
“But what would be unsafe is having an adult table and chairs in an early childhood service for children to use, when any toddler or young child is present who is not able to independently get on and off the chair safely, and there is not a high level of supervision to reduce the risk of climbing and falls by the child."
A significant proportion of non-fatal fall injuries in children 0-4 years of age in NZ relate to a fall from a chair.
My ECE ran a poll on its Facebook page to gauge the extent of support for the use of adult-sized chairs for children in centres.
The question asked was:
“Should early childhood centres use an adult-sized chair to seat a toddler or young child (18 months - 4 years)?”
From more than 400 votes, 92% voted ‘NO’ and 8% voted ‘YES’.
Comments AGAINST included:
- ECE centres are for young children and the environment reflects that.
- Safety - chair would be too high if the child fell especially if they were younger or smaller. Best practice- child should be able to get on to and off furniture without being put there and removed by an adult.
- They don’t have adult sized chairs in early primary school as it ensures good posture whilst drawing and writing. So why make a child even younger use an adult chair. They are young children we need to let them be young children.
- At home sure, at a restaurant sure but let the kids have fit for purpose furniture in the early childhood centre.
Comments FOR included:
- Does your child use adult sized furniture at home? Kai table, arm chair, couch? Mine have because they wanted too. Feels more like home where adults and children can sit together and talk while eating or enjoying a book together.
- Adult sized couches should be a must in ECE where a child can climb up and relax, have a nap, read a book, have a cuddle with mum or dad before they go for the day; again a comfy adult sized couch is a staple at home, so I think it's a comforting thing to have in an early childhood environment.
At present under education regulations it is a permitted practice to have adult-sized chairs and furniture for children. The Ministry of Education can only advise services to consider the appropriateness of furniture size and dangers to children from falling and from hitting their head on table corners.
Active supervision by adults is important for children’s safety to reduce the risk of and prevent falls.
Adults caring for children in early childhood services are expected to know what children are doing at all times. If a child is laying on the ground crying beside an adult-sized table, chair or other furniture it is not good enough for people at the service to say they do not know what happened and not report to parents the possibility of a fall or bang to the head.
Service owners and employers must ensure that staff numbers and training is such that competent supervision is provided for children at all times.