Colours for the Classroom


If you ask a teacher what affects and influences how the learners in his / her class learn, you would get a range of different responses; such as teaching strategies, curriculum and teacher's personality and relationship with learners. It is unlikely that the teachers would speak about the possible affects the colours in the classroom would have on learners' learning. However using a variety of colours in a classroom reduces passivity and boredom. So your classroom should incorporate various colours to reduce monotony and visually invigorate learners. Consider the age and gender of your learners, as well as the subject and activity, when selecting the colours. Be aware that the colours for a school environment can enhance or impair learning, as well as affect behaviour and even the morale of the learners.

The Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, in North West England conducted a participatory project with school communities from April to June in 2005. The Knowlsey report concluded that learning facilities should be altered to support the learners' noted modes of learning, the report commented that the learners used: looking, concentrating, thinking ahead, matching / comparing, creativity, listening, searching, negotiating, teamwork and learning. (School Works, 2005) Colour is one way to positively enhance and change the learning space for a minimal cost.

Schools have a many types of venues where learning takes place. Simmons (1995) stated that colour in the learning environment improves visual processing, reduces stress, and challenges brain development. Visual stimulation rewires the brain, making stronger connections while nurturing visual thinking, problem solving, and creativity. Therefore the colours we use in a learning environment should maximize information retention and stimulate learner participation.

Colour is all around us, where we live, what we wear and the beautiful natural environment around us. We regularly refer to colour in our daily lives, for example we refer to someone who is embarrassed and blushes by saying they're as 'red as a beetroot', while someone who lacks knowledge we may say they're 'green behind the ears', or when someone is shocked or afraid we may say they are as 'white as a sheet'. Every colour has a unique effect on us as individuals and stimulates various reactions. The fast food companies use this effect by including red, yellow and orange colours in their packaging and restaurants, as these colours are said to stimulate our appetite.

The purpose of a learning environment can be defined by the use of colour in the space. Colour can be used to create an atmosphere, such as a quiet, relaxing space or a collaborative and interactive space. Research about colours and emotions shows a direct correlation between negative and positive feelings and the venue's colour.

Schools generally choose practical colours, such as dark desks so dirt cannot be seen easily, and all walls painted the same colour to reduce paint costs. These practical colours are often boring and do not stimulate learning. Elizabeth Stout, an Ohio-based interior designer, expressed the idea that school furniture is usually chosen based on functionality, ergonomics and durability, rather than on its colour. The learning space is influenced by the various design aspects, including the choice of colour, such as the furniture (design, arrangement, grouping of), lighting (type, brightness, colour of light) both natural and artificial, flooring (concrete, tiled, wood, bamboo, carpeting) and the ceiling. When planning a learning space we should consider the colour scheme to be used on all the items; the main colours on the walls, floor and ceiling as well as the accent colours of the classroom furnishings and fittings.

Affect Colour Has On Us

When selecting colours for a learning environment, we need to be aware of the effect of the different colours. Reds, yellows and orange colours are considered warm, stimulating and lively colours. Cool, calming colours

are blues and greens. Faily (1979) reported findings that visual stimulation by the use of warm colours and bright lighting may cause increasing muscular tension, respiration rate, heart action, blood pressure and even brain activity. Cool colours and dim lighting bring about relaxation and could even result in sleep. Warm and cool colours make people perceive different temperatures, such as warmth or cool, depending on the colour. Therefore colour should be incorporated into the learning space to promote brain activity and a comfortable learning environment. Brain research shows that more than six colours could distract learners and may even negatively impact a learner's cognitive ability.

Warm colours - Reds, Yellows and Oranges

These warm and bright colours are interpreted as happy, inviting colours. Red and orange are seen as stimulating. Yellow is interpreted as bright and cheery. Large amounts of these bright colours, such as reds, yellows and oranges, may cause overstimulation in a learning environment.

Red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing, and is seen as an emotionally intense colour, the colour of love. Red is the most vibrant of all the colours. It stimulates the adrenal gland and the neurons. Red is an extreme colour and could become overpowering, therefore red should be used rather as an accent colour, instead of covering all the walls in a room. The accent areas in a classroom could be some table tops or notice boards. The red will draw the learner's attention, however not as much as yellow. Introducing red brings warmth and balance to cooler room where blue or green is painted on the walls. Note that red should be used very sparingly in areas where autistic learners are taught. As red may not help in confrontational situations, it should not be used in spaces were conflict may need to be resolved, for example a school leader's or deputy's office.

Yellow attracts attention faster than any other colour. The reason is that yellow helps to release a chemical in the brain called Serotonin, essential for causing a happy mood.

De Bono in his Six Hat Theory chose yellow as the colour of "positive thinking" and identifying benefits. Yellow stimulates the brain into rapid thinking and is said to generate quick and rapid thinking, brainstorming and could stimulate discussions within the learning area. Yellow, particularly yellow-orange or bright yellow, will allow for stimulating discussions, but will also in all likelihood increase the noise level, this may be distracting when used for large learning areas.

Light yellow instils or encourages feelings of happiness and comfort; it is seen as warm, summery and lively. Light yellow combined with green are the preferred colours for large areas used by high school learners.

Cool Colours - Blues, Greens and Purples

Cool colours produce feelings of calmness, relaxation, happiness and comfort. It is best to have a calming and / or neutral colour on the walls, but it may be a dull room, so the furnishings would be used to add colour to the space. If the idea is to match the colour of all the aspects of the room, use the calming greens and blues on the walls, and make the furniture in similar shades.

Blue, especially lighter blues, are said to have a soothing effect on our minds as these blues help to produce some calming chemicals in the brain. De Bono chose blue as the hat for promoting and focusing on problem solving, to look for new ideas and leadership, as well as to represent metacognition (thinking about thinking).

Darker blues are often associated with dignity and loyalty. When having to work individually or participate in tasks that require deep thinking, people seem to be more productive when the room is painted blue.

Lighter blues are seen as peaceful and tranquil colours, promoting feelings of calm. Using light blue on learning space walls seems to encourage learners in these spaces to concentrate and attend better; the colour also seems to assist learners in keeping them on task. Light blue and natural light seems to promote concentration, while lowering blood pressure.

Green is described as a calming, refreshing colour, it assists in relaxing the body and alleviates stress. Green is the easiest colour on the human eye, (this may be why classroom boards where green). Research has shown that green may improve vision and focuses attention on other areas, e.g. red or yellow notice boards or interest corners.

Green has been used successfully in areas where autistic learners are being taught, especially where the floors and walls are duller shades of green.

Neutral colours

In art black and white are described as neutrals, while designers regularly include shades of ivory and tans as neutrals.