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Find a desk that will grow with your child

| Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008

There are lessons to be learned when buying a desk for a young student.

Don't be cheap, think of the future, realize that placement is more that simply finding a spot that fits, and know that book-learning is only part of the course of study.

A desk can provide a productive work site for students heading to school -- or back to it -- in these coming days. But a wise choice can eliminate spending in years to come if size, comfort and design are considered.

"I almost urge customers to over-buy," says Mike Taylor from All About Kids Youth Furniture in Peters, Washington County.

Gary Rodgers, owner of Cribs to Teens in Monroeville, says it is important to realize a desk is not specifically for a first-grader.

"A 6-year-old only is that young for a limited time," Rodgers says with a chuckle.

The furniture elements of a desk are only part of the story, though.

Educator Jeryl Benson and professional organizer Leslie McKee of Mt. Lebanon, for instance, think placement is important to potential success in the use of a desk.

Benson is an instructor of occupational therapy at Duquesne University Rangos School of Health Science. She says students need to be given a place to study, but care has to be taken as to where that is.

"Younger students might want to be placed in a family area where they can be monitored," she says.

McKee agrees.

"Often, parents buy a desk ... with the hope that children will go there and shut the door and do schoolwork," she says. "Many students are just not there developmentally."

Benson also warns size is a matter or vital importance, too.

"A child sitting in an adult desk creates a potential problem," she says.

More than simply a table

Use is the basis of any purchase, a fact that emerges in marketing and design.

Adam Cannon, manager at the BabyLand and Kidsroom store in East Liberty, can see the attraction in buying a study table for a young elementary student.

"It is basically little more than a table with maybe a drawer," he says. "You can't do much on it but write, maybe a little arts and crafts."

From there, he and other retailers agree, it is easier and better to move to the bigger study desk or even what he calls a "computer desk."

That is, basically, the same type of work surface, but has a false-front drawer that can be used as a keyboard tray. It also has holes in it for wiring.

Taylor and the other desk retailers tout a 48- or 52-inch width and a 24-inch depth. That, they say, will provide a work space that might be large for a young student but one that can grow into college use.

McKee, from McKee Organizing Services in Mt. Lebanon, says size is vital in making a choice, but she also recommends close examination of the amount of drawer space.

"Consider how you want textbooks and active papers to be kept." she says. "Visualize a simple, one-step system for putting things away."

But computer and electronic design are ever-more important elements, because use of digital equipment is being encountered quickly.

"Not every first-grader has a computer, but you need to provide for it to make a desk that will be kept a long time," says Glenn Prillaman, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Young America line made by Stanley Furniture from Virginia.

He says his firm operates under a "Built to Grow" mantra in desk design. That aims at items that will be durable, attractive, functional and lacking a youthful look that becomes dated quickly.

A fairly basic look

Stuart Lebovitz, owner of Child Space and USA Baby in Ross, says even when desks are computer-friendly, they remain basically the collections of drawers and surfaces they always have been.

Cannon agrees, saying the biggest element in any desk is style --and that differs little. Most desks are made in either the familiar traditional look or a modern, minimalistic one.

One desk addition that has grown in great popularity is a hutch that can sit on top, providing storage space or even display areas such as pegboards.

Rodgers suggests a child's bedroom often is one of the smaller rooms in the house and often has little space for storage items. A hutch over a desk provides that by using the vertical space over the spot where the desk is standing.

Stanley's Prillaman says the company makes hutches for every desk it produces.

Moving to one of these more adaptable desks will boost prices over the cost of a study table, they all admit. But it is a move few customers eventually argue with, Cannon says.

He says most parents are willing to consider the wisdom on moving up above the $200 a study table might cost and go to the $300 or $1,000 for a desk that might last through college.

The retailers agree that is a common price range and also suggest a hutch could add to the price by another 75 percent,

When the costs go up, the decision often is made through foresight rather than frugality.

"Most people reach the stage where they see they can buy a small desk and then have to replace it once -- or twice," Lebovitz says. "Or, they can buy something that lasts and be done with it."

Taylor agrees.

"You may buy it for a young student, but it is something you are going to have," he says.

The next set of lessons

To be effective, though, a work space has to be more than simply a piece of furniture, Parents have to realize how students will use the space, physically and mentally.

For instance, occupational-therapy instructor Benson warns of the importance of a proper-size chair. If a student is perched on a chair and his or her feet aren't touching the ground, it creates bad posture and lack of concentration.

Dangling feet cause the person to lean forward and slouch, she adds, advising something as simple as phone books to act as a support. She also says a stepstool can be a better seat.

She calls attention to a "90-90-90 Rule," which suggests the best work position is when the hips, knees and ankles all are at 90-degree angles.

Prillaman says his firm makes every chair adjustable and follows guidelines set by the Michigan-based Business and Industrial Furniture Manufacturers Organization.

Ways of using a desk go far beyond ways of sitting at it, however.

Donna Rossa, a professional organizer from Brookline who taught for 25 years in Pittsburgh schools, says it is vital to teach students to store material efficiently and logically.

"When I was teaching, I used to have students organize their desks once a week," she says. "There were many times when students didn't have their homework just because it was lost in their desks."

Like McKee, Rossa sees the amount of paper in this society as the biggest drawback to neatness. McKee says a Boston consulting firm suggests 30 percent of all employees' time is spent trying to find lost documents,

Rossa says parents will find "if their kids are more organized, their grades will improve."'

But one idea that needs to go with a desk is how to get away from it, Benson adds.

To create better work, think more clearly and have more energy, she suggests, a two-minute break every 30 minutes.

"Everyone needs a little stretch break," she says.

Additional Information:

Getting organized

Organizer Donna Rossa, of Brookline, takes neatness beyond having a tidy desk.

She is the author of a pamphlet 'Clutter Buster for Kids,' and will be presenting a workshop Sept. 21 called 'Organization for Students and Parents.'

It will be from 2 to 4 p.m. at Discover Organizing, 672 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon. Cost is $30 for a child and parent duo.

Details: 412-344-3450.

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