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Date: August 14, 2023

The Classroom Environment – Riot of colour vs Peace and Neutrality

Just before you reach for yet another brightly coloured roll of paper or border to cover your classroom walls and display boards, stop. Let’s just pause and think for a minute. By beginning displays in this way, what is it that we are adding, what’s the purpose behind our choices? Somewhere along the line, we’ve slipped in to assuming that brightly coloured paper should be used in early years settings because it’s eye catching, cheery and fun and this is what young children need. Like brightly coloured sweets, party balloons and games apps, it’s what children are used to and we have to compete for our children’s attention in a race to be bigger, brighter and more colourful.

A large body of research suggests that too much colour can provide a sensory overload for our children, creating an environment where they are less likely to be highly involved and more likely to be distracted. In the worst cases, an overstimulating brightly coloured classroom can lead to unsettled children and issues around behaviour.

So, what’s the answer? Well, if you really want to show that you value and celebrate what the children in your setting do then think about using natural, muted colours and materials as part of the environment and displays. Use neutrally coloured backing paper or fabric. Exploring the use of neutral colours and natural materials as part of storage for resources can have a similarly powerful impact. Resources such as construction materials can often seem lost amongst a mix of brightly coloured, gleaming plastic storage. It may be that you use coloured containers to support the maintaining of the environment for younger children; blue plastic trays in the water area, for example. If so, aim for a single colour in a given area and be consistent. Neutral, pale coloured containers alongside wood or woven baskets mean that the resources become the most eye catching and, therefore, seem more valued. Alongside this, the different shades, shapes, sizes, textures and patterns provided by basket storage create a depth of learning opportunities that uniformly sized coloured boxes can’t compete with.

Think about the sources of light within your setting too. How much variety and interest do the light sources in your setting provide? I’m constantly amazed by the lack of natural light let in to our learning environments. I’ve seen blinds that are constantly closed and even windows that have been painted over by practitioners. It’s very difficult to ignite fascination and curiosity under a strip light! Ever changing natural light, casting shadows and creating shimmering reflections on the wall near the water tray is very difficult to beat. Alongside this, consider how the use of light sources such as light trays, lamps and overhead projectors can add value, enhance experiences and offer new perspectives.

In order for all of this to work, you’ll need a consistent approach across your classroom or setting: one neutral area amidst the bright colours will just seem plain. You’ll have to trust me, as, at first, it might look plain and drab compared to the riot of colour that’s previously been in place. Stick with it though, and you’ll find that the children’s drawings, paintings and experiences will seem more full of life and vibrant than ever. What better way to celebrate what the children in your class do.

Related Articles/Research:

A Classroom Without Colour?

Heavily Decorated Classrooms Disrupt Attention and Learning In Young Children

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