User-friendly Settings For Computer-age Kids

October 09, 1994|By Ro Logrippo

No ifs, ands or bytes about it.

Kids clamoring for computer time at home need an environment every bit as friendly as their hardware and software. And they need it whether using personal gear in their bedroom or family equipment elsewhere.

Before kids log on to do homework or fire up to play a game, the position of their monitor, the height of their chair, the light cast on their work surface and other aesthetic concerns should be addressed. Like rules of the road, they must be observed when charging down any highway, even if it's paved with a gold mine of information.

Just as grown-up output relies on more than the machines being used, kids perform best when their overall comfort and access to learning tools factor into the equation.

Location! Location! Location!

Whether upgrading your children's old system or buying their first one, where you put it should be a primary concern. If the set-up is going to be in their room, zero in on the surroundings just as you would at a computer station for a grown-up. On your checklist:

* Electricity: Adequate electricity is integral to an area for a computer, which needs an outlet for a three-pronged plug. It's also crucial to plug equipment into a surge protector strip that prevents wipe-out from a power surge.

* Ventilation: A computer needs breathing room because it's sensitive to heat build-up. Don't push equipment up against a wall or put it in a confined area such as a bookcase.

* Lighting: Natural light aids vision, so try to locate a study area near a window that takes advantage of daylight. But components can't be in direct sun or circuits could overheat. To be safe, hang blinds or window coverings that can close to block intense rays. Besides natural light, a child needs artificial illumination for doing work when it's dark or dreary outside. An adjustable task lamp solves this problem by channeling light where directed.

Hold everything right there

Once the ideal area for a computer is identified in your kid's quarters, concentrate on the workstation that will fit there. A student needs room for more than monitor, keyboard and other gear.

"Ideally, equipment space shouldn't compete with study space," says children's designer Linda Runion, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers. "If homework demands computer time, it's important for kids to be able to spread out, whether doing special projects or everyday assignments."

The mother of two young computer users with personal set-ups, Ms. Runion uses vertical space to handle the crunch technology imposes. If there's no room on your child's desktop for disks, manuals and other essentials, she suggests adjacent shelves or a bookcase to accommodate them. Another option: a wall grid with accessories that can handle supplies. But be sure study aids such as dictionaries are within easy reach. Otherwise, you thwart the learning process.

If your child's existing workstation is too small to handle a computer system, you'll need to invest in furniture that will work there. Measure the electronic gear, however, before hunting for furniture.

Armed with the dimensions of the computer and peripherals, you're equipped to shop intelligently. Questions to ponder:

1) Work space: Will the worktop allow for homework sprawl? If not, would space open up sufficiently if a keyboard were placed under the worktop on an accessory pull-out tray? A tray that "articulates" (i.e. moves) right and left allows for two kids computing together -- or a parent and child -- to share the keyboard more easily.

2) Storage: Is there room for software, manuals, printer paper, software caddies?

3) Durability: Is the piece sturdy enough to hold all your child's equipment along with reference materials? Is it a surface like laminate that is easily cleanable? If not, can a piece of acrylic top it to protect the surface?

4) Safety: Are corners rounded? Is hardware not only easy for small hands to manipulate but also devoid of sharp edges? Is there a hole for cable and cord management so kids don't get caught up in them?

Working from the premise that kids have the same physical needs as adults, Dan Heller of LARS Design in Denver created colorful down-sized wood computer furniture. Its reversible V-top gives right- and left-handers an armrest while working. Because it's not as much of a stretch for kids up to 12 years old to reach a keyboard and see a monitor on his 20-by-40-inch desk, Mr. Heller reasons "it reduces fatigue, increases comfort and enables a kid to spend more productive computer time."

Sit yourself down

Equally as important as the study station your child uses is the chair. It may be tempting because of budget constraints to assign any seating available, but resist the urge if the chair not adjustable. For the same reason you wouldn't dream of pulling up a kitchen stool, a folding chair or a straight-back seat to your office computer, you shouldn't let a child do so at home. After all, a hard edge hinders circulation and puts lower extremities to sleep.

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