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Is adult furniture child's play?

In parts of Finland, staff working in state-funded nursery settings have been told they must use adult-sized furniture.

According to one manager, working in an EYFS nursery in Helsinki, the reason is back problems brought on in staff by using tiny chairs and tables.

While measures to prevent back pain are a good thing, the manager says that this is causing problems for the children who have to climb or be lifted by the staff - which could in turn cause back strain - off the ground and into these chairs.

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Writing on the Nursery World forum, the manager said, ‘Once [they are] there it is almost impossible [for them to ] to get out without help due to the arms on the side of the chair. So the children are off the floor, their little feet resting on a foot bar similar to a baby high chair. These chairs are now in all state daycare in Helsinki and some suburbs.’

She added that she has been ‘battling’ to introduce free flow play into Finnish childcare for years, yet the practise ‘restricts the freedom to learn even more than before - the children cannot even see what’s on the tables’.

On a recent Nursery World trip to Finland, practitioners from the UK were shown a wooden step, which was used so that adults did not have to bend down when tieing children's shoelaces. The picture (below) prompted a mixed reaction on Twitter.

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Earlier this year, a Nursery World survey into musculoskeletal problems such as back pain in childcarers found that a huge 85 per cent of respondents suffer work related back pain, and a third believed that the physical symptoms they experienced at work had contributed to a long-term medical disorder. It's sobering to see childcare in the same bracket as other jobs which take a lasting toll on muscles and bones - mining and construction for example.

The survey also showed that nursery staff are generally terrible at reporting pain. Over 60 per cent of people answering our survey said experiencing pain at work was 'just part of the job' and 18 per cent said that reporting it was 'pointless.'

So one can understand the rationale for this position and why a 'ban', if that's what it is, might be in place.

But bans are blunt tools and come with their own problems as the above manager illustrates. Children's ability to move around freely and explore is essential to their development. Having rigid rules - or rigid furniture - does not help practitioners achieve this. An obvious solution would be adult-sized furniture for adults and child-sized furniture and objects for children to sit on, climb over and explore. If practitioners are jeopardising their health and thus threatening their ability to stay in the job, perhaps something radical does need to happen.

What do you think?  Respond to the discussion here

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