The space around us has a profound impact on our state of mind, wellbeing and personal development. Carefully and strategically designing the classroom environment can enhance the learning, behaviour and wellbeing of children too.
For some reason, it’s far easier to imagine dark, enclosed and uninspired rooms producing a negative learning experience for children; rather than to fathom all the ways children thrive in carefully designed and inspiring classrooms.
A 2015 Holistic Evidence and Design Project for ‘Clever Classrooms’, held that environmental factors including well-designed classrooms can boost learning progress in primary schools by 16%.
Researchers in the study came to conclude that a combination of several sensory design factors had a significant effect on students across 34 classrooms. These included air quality, colour and sound.
Each of these design factors are relatively easy to manipulate; leaving little reason to neglect the learning environment of young minds. The focus of interior design centres around manipulating the pace in which we learn, work and play. Colour, textures, air quality, natural light and movability within a space all play crucial roles in shaping our moods and productivity.
Much attention is paid to the interior design of office and workspaces to promote collaboration, productivity and growth. As adults, we seem to appreciate the need for warm, welcoming and inspirational spaces to evoke positive emotions and self-development.
Within a classroom, children are expected to learn, explore, play and be inspired. Through such sentiment, the learning experience is enhanced. Strategic design elements within the classroom all come together to allow for independent and collaborative learning.
21st Century Learning
At one point in the history of schooling, a teacher would remain at the front of a room lined with desks and project information onto children with no flexibility in their movement or involvement. Over time, studies have shown that effective learning involves student participation and interaction with each other and the wider space between them.
Today, the focus has shifted away from the teacher-dominated classroom towards a more pupil-focused one. This has put into place versatile seating arrangements, mobile and smart furniture, and the use of colourful, interactive and thought-provoking classroom displays.
Designing Smart Classrooms
The design of a classroom is incredibly reflective of the learning experience of the children within it. It has the capacity to affect mood, work, behaviour and imagination. Colour schemes and natural lighting are both important elements.
The psychology of colour proves that colour has a profound impact on our moods. There’s no denying that being in a dark colour room such as black or grey significantly reduces our ability to remain positive. Further, colours like yellow and green have been shown to promote feelings of calmness and happiness.
In the same vein, a decreased exposure to natural lighting has been associated with a resultant decrease in serotonin levels. Not only does a sufficient amount of natural light improve and sustain our mental wellbeing- but it also results in gains in productivity. Maximum exposure to sunlight in a classroom can contribute to well-focused students and improve the behaviour of young children.
Whilst colour and lighting naturally play important roles in the interior design of any space, the design of a classroom extends to three important design elements. These include the inclusion and arrangement of smart furniture, the availability of space, and the importance of sensory engagement.
Smart Furniture and Availability of Space
Today’s technological world is no place to neglect the importance of technology in the classroom. From interactive whiteboards and computers to digital tables and chairs, children that are exposed to the digital nature of our world are more likely to grow and develop within it.
We are only on the cusp of tech-enabled learning and like most industries, technology is forecast to significantly revolutionise the education sector. A more technologically supported learning space can help students solve problems by working together collaboratively.
For example, Smart furniture manufacturer, A&D’s Crossfit Flip Top Student Desks have been designed to support digital equipment and are built for mobility and reconfiguration of the space. The ability to reconfigure the room and change the layout of the classroom in accordance with changing technologies is important. Children can be sitting at desks learning grammar one hour and the next, all gathered in the centre of the room to participate in interactive historical role play.
Furniture should be smart enough to accommodate each student’s needs as well as to allow teachers to plan lessons and find new ways of learning.
Whilst technological advancements are changing the landscape of many practices, one thing will always remain the same- children need access to material, space and equipment that stimulates imagination, exploration and fascination.
Research shows that sensory play supports speech development, cognitive growth, problem-solving skills and social interaction. Sensory engagement builds nerve connections in the brain pathways that enable the child to tackle more complex learning tasks.
Making the classroom a sensory space can be achieved through texture, scent, and visuals and sound.
Stimulation that comes from the touch receptors in our skin reacts to pressure, heat, cold or vibration. As such, classrooms should incorporate different textures such as grass, sand, fur and sponge.
Certain smells have the ability to transport us to a specific place and time in our lives. They can remind us of people and places and can seriously affect how we feel. In a learning environment, smells can have the same profound effect. Pleasant and natural smells not only improve moods but will also cause students to establish a relationship between the positive smell and subsequent feeling- to the learning environment.
Light receptors in our eyes allow our brains to interpret visual images. Naturally, light is an important feature when it comes to optimising light and vision in the classroom. A well-lit classroom will help to enhance vision and reduce the need to strain. In addition, children are incredibly responsive to images and visuals. Often, a picture will make more sense relative to a passage of text. Colourful pictures, images and photographs can also promote critical thinking and encourage creativity.
Silence might occasionally be demanded by teachers but in fact, it’s never quite silent. From traffic outside to footsteps in the corridor, all noises should be accounted for and either enhanced or blocked completely. Equally to visuals stimulations, sounds can have similar effects on creativity, imaginative thought and productivity. Music- whilst not necessarily a design element, certainly helps to enhance the space we’re in. For example, soft music might be expected to calm, centre and focus young minds, whereas excitable and fast pace beats might energise children.