There is quite a healthy debate raging around colour in learning spaces.
Many modern office spaces have chosen bold palettes and motifs hoping to embolden a sense of creativity or whimsy in their staff. Restaurant and watering holes have long played with colour and theme to varying degrees of success. The key to these endeavors has always been in understanding the clientele.
So who are the clientele in your learning space? Is it you? Admin? Parents? Let’s hope you think its the students – but if we were to ask students about colour do you think we’d like what we’d hear? Does a 7 year know what is best when it comes to colour choice? I think we can all agree that kids don’t always pick hues and shades that would be considered ‘inviting’. Hence why most parents lay out little Sally’s clothes before school each day. Yet it is important to think about what a child wants and needs in childhood.
The Reggio Emilia approach, which has a fascinating understanding of learning spaces, has long believed the importance of natural colours in the classroom. The model suggests that by choosing warm neutral earth tones we invite the exterior into the interior. This line of thinking is directly related to the approach in its entirety with nature and natural curiosity at the forefront of the theory.
This classroom vision is completely at odds with what many teacher supply stores sell today; with pre-cut display board trims and posters blasting the room with visual noise of all different fonts and colours. Each poster or sign vies for your optical attention leaving most viewers disinterested in the whole.
So where’s the medium?
I have no real issue with the whole Reggio approach to colour. However, it is not the easiest thing to implement unless your space already is set with wood tones. I do think beechwood tones can make for a relaxing warm learning environment. I also think the world is a colourful space which should be celebrated. I think childhood is playful and colour, to my mind suggests playfulness. I think the key is find a range of colours which excite but don’t overwhelm. Choosing a neutral base color (light beige, light grey, white) and augmenting it with one of two more bold alternatives can create nice harmony.
In a recent study about learning spaces, the first of its kind for elementary schools, auditors found colour to be one of the most significant factors in student achievement. Of the various factors tested, colour change in a learning space had the second largest impact, creating a modification of 18 percent.
Over stimulation is an issue we often lose sight of in our classrooms. I often walk into classroom spaces and feel confined by the posters, the fonts, the colours. It becomes visual pandemonium and the messages, good messages, get lost.
In a corporate office in the United States a large company recently tried to ensure the messages didn’t get lost. The company streamlined the signage, used the same font and colour scheme and found that the messages reached their employees and productivity was increased.
Its important for us to again think who this room is for and whether our decisions with colour are about personal choice or optimum learning.
Looking at colours? There so much choice! Quite a bit of research has been done on the suggestive quality of colours. Read about each colour here.