The palette of classroom colors has ranged from one extreme to another since the mid-60s. Years ago, classroom walls were bland tan or stark white: purely utilitarian and institutional, and certainly not inspiring to young minds. More recently though, bright, primary colors reminiscent of a Crayola box, screamed from walls and hallways, intended to stimulate student senses – but often resulting in overstimulation. The answer, it seems, is balance.
“A well-planned palette offers a broad range of colors,” says Randy Fielding, chairman of Fielding Nair International, a Minneapolis planning and design firm specializing in education environments in “How Schools are Using Color to Create Ready-to-Learn Environments,” at Sherwin-Williams.com. That palette includes tranquil blue or green shades along with more dynamic colors such as reds, oranges or yellows. “Utilizing lighter tones in combination with deeper accent colors creates a dynamic sense of place.”
Color Psychology 101
According to the International Association of Color Consultants, a school’s physical environment can have a powerful impact on its students. Correct color can prevent eyestrain, create spaces that are conductive to learning, and support good emotional and mental health. Many cases of irritability, fatigue, ennui, and behavioral problems says the IACC, are related to poorly planned color and lighting.
A study conducted by the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth showed that color does indeed have an impact on student behavior, academic performance, and feelings of well-being. Two similar classrooms were used in the study: the control classroom was painted white while the test classroom was painted with a combination of three beige walls and blue-gray wall at the front of the class to reduce eye strain. One hundred college chemistry students were broken into two groups and studied during and after class. Students in the test classroom showed a decrease in off-task behavior and increase in a sense of well-being and performance.
Typically, warmer colors such as red, oranges, and yellows tend to be more stimulating and may be more appropriate for younger students, writes Saul Wagner in “Classroom Colors Make a Difference,” for HertzFurniture.com. Cooler colors, like blues and violet, promote calm and relaxation & are better for middle and high school classrooms, says educational consultant Karen Walstra. These serene shades are also good for students with special needs of any age. Pale or light green tends to encourage creative thinking, making it ideal for a library, art room, or reading nook.
Color in Your Classroom
You may not be able to decide the color or your classroom walls or even change the color – but you can provide balance with the use of colorful chairs, posters, or beanbags for your reading area. For example, if your room is painted soft blue, you can liven it up with brighter shades of blue, green and purples. If your room is painted in strong primary colors, you can soften it by covering some walls with student art, white craft paper, or fabric hung from a rod near the ceiling. The key is balance, and not letting one color dominate the space.
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