Classroom Decorations: Is Less More?

Wednesday 13 Feb 2019

Sometimes our best intentions lead us to do more, when what’s actually needed is less.

Our teachers went in search of studies that examine the relationship between the classroom environment and children’s executive function, which includes such things as working memory, focus, managing emotions and self-regulation. And what did our teachers discover?

Less is more.

Our teachers explored the optimal conditions for learning environments with regard to temperature, light, air quality and visual stimulation. Conclusions made about temperature, light and air quality were perhaps not surprising, but the verdict in relation to visual stimulation or classroom decorations was almost confronting. Highly decorated classrooms, despite their energy and appeal, are more of a hinderance to learning than an aid. The more visual stimulation in a physical environment, the more competition for attention from the part of a student’s brain needed to focus.

Studies suggest that, while adults may have little difficulty operating within a bright and busy classroom, children may find themselves unable to filter irrelevant visual stimulation due to the fact that their cognitive capacities are still developing. Further, children who have had adverse or traumatic experiences, and those with particular learning difficulties, are at greater risk of deficits in their executive functioning, meaning that over-decorated classrooms may be poorly impacting the students who need the most help.

In response to the research, when you entered our classrooms at the beginning of this year you will have noticed a level of sparsity not previously seen in our school. This is the beginning of a journey and, while it does require a change of mindset, our teachers are enjoying the minimalist challenge. Things you can expect to increasingly see in our classrooms over time include:

  • Cooler temperatures, reflecting the research that suggests between 18 and 21 degrees is ideal for learning;
  • Windows free from obstruction, resulting in greater natural light and, where possible, scenic views of nature which have shown to increase health and mood;
  • Plants to increase oxygen and improve air quality;
  • More blues and greens, which studies suggest are calming, less stressful and distracting, and are less likely to result in irritability and fatigue;
  • General de-cluttering to reduce over-stimulation and distraction;
  • Up to 50% of clear wall space, and remaining wall space filled with student work and learning aids specific to current learning; and
  • Flexible seating choices to allow for movement, collaboration, agency and creativity.

Dive into the studies for yourself:

… or engage in some lighter reading through articles that reference the studies:

Jane Mueller, Principal