Colorize Your School – and Their World
When It Comes to Teaching Children, Nothing is Ever Black and White
Brian D. Hadfield, Middle School Teacher, Chippewa Valley Public Schools, Michigan
From white weddings to black Fridays, seeing red to feeling blue, we’ve come to associate colors with events and feelings. Because color can influence our mood and attitude while causing both physiological and psychological reactions, it has become a very powerful communication tool. For example, blue is known as a color that elicits trust; next time you watch a political debate, note the color of the candidates’ coats. However, blue is also known to be the least appetizing color, and for this reason you’re unlikely to find blue plates at most restaurants.
While colors can be subjective, rooted in personal experiences or culture, there are general rules that most psychologists agree upon. As an educator, can possessing an understanding of the affect of color, and using it to your advantage, positively influence children’s behavior, moods and study habits? Most experts agree the answer is yes.
While people have known about the influence of color for a long time – think artists and interior designers – color in the classroom may sound like a fairly contemporary idea. However, a Google search reveals that the connection between color and student comfortability was being studied as far back as 1946. A TIME magazine article cites that pupils may be gloomy, nervous or inattentive just because of a classroom’s "schoolhouse-brown" paint.
Today, while most classrooms have evolved beyond browns, many may still not be using the principles of color dynamics to full affect. There has been a lot of focus on furniture functionality and safety in the classroom, and while this is of course important, studies show the color should also be a consideration. Choosing inappropriate colors can affect attention span, accuracy, focus and productivity. Colorless classrooms can also have a negative effect, creating an “institutionalized setting” that can cause a lack of concentration, stress and irritability.
Unless you’ve dabbled in interior or graphic design, a quick lesson in color theory might be in order to help you to better understand colors and our reaction to them. With some simple study and research, you can find an abundance of sources online that will outline the basics, including complementary colors, color harmony, tints, shades, hues and the warm/cool color spectrum.
It is important to note that as children get older, their attraction to color changes. It may not come as a surprise that younger children are stimulated by bright colors, such as red, orange and yellow, as most items geared toward youngsters are vibrant and vivid. Teenagers, however, may find these colors off-putting and stress-inducing; colors such as blue or green may be preferred. While trendy colors can be great in the short-term, budgeting issues could hinder frequent renovations; as such, simple colors that won’t go “out of style” may be the most practical. This is also important when considering furniture, as replacement of a particular piece may be more complicated if it is in an unusual color.
While the color of your walls and furniture is important, don’t forget that color-coding items can also be beneficial. Not only can it assist younger students in navigating the school more confidently on their own, studies have shown that it can also help students with special needs, such as children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These children are visual people, and a color-coded environment can have a positive effect on their participation, organization and recall.
Again, while there can be differences based on an individual’s personal experiences or preferences, most experts agree on the following:
RED makes things more exciting. It can raise not only the energy level of the room, but the blood pressure and heart rate of those that enter it. This would make an ideal color for gymnasiums and athletic facilities.
YELLOW is uplifting. It conveys warmth and happiness. However, yellow is the most fatiguing color to the human eyes, and as such it should be used sparingly or in areas in which students will not spend a great deal of time, such as hallways and cafeterias.
BLUE is calming and encourages relaxation. It is known to lower blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. Be warned, a light color of blue can come across as chilly while darker blues can be construed as depressing. Balance your blues with warm furnishings, and use it to evoke nature in biology, to represent corporate mentality in business, or logic in chemistry and mathematics.
GREEN combines the relaxing qualities of blue with the cheer of yellow. It is also the most restful color for the eye. For this reason, it can be soothing in study halls or counseling offices.
PURPLE is creative. It is dramatic, sophisticated and associated with royalty. While lighter colors can have a restful quality, a bold purple or violet is perfect for auditoriums, drama classes, choral, band and art.
ORANGE is closest to red for evoking excitement. It can be used in creative classrooms as well, because it is a social color and encourages participation. Try it in social studies.
NEUTRALS (black, gray, white and brown) are flexible, and work well for toning down a very colorful room.
With experts and educators reporting improved student behavior and grades, a classroom makeover may be just what you need to further your success. With a little research, a bit of creativity and the blessing of school administration, you can create a room that is not only functional, but also suited to your subject.