Design Considerations for Early Education Classrooms (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010


Like texture, color in the classroom can be used to create a differentiated space. Color can also be used to emphasize physical features of a room, to create an illusion of more or less space, and to make a room more attractive. Color affects the luminosity in the room by reflecting or absorbing light. There is also evidence that color evokes moods. However, it appears that this is culturally based rather than biologically based (Ceppi & Zini, 1998) and that it is not only the color but also the value and saturation that influence emotions (Manav, 2007). Perhaps this is why, after examining 200 studies of school environments, Higgens, Hall, Wall, Woolner, & McCaughey (2005), came to the conclusion that there “is conflicting evidence, but forceful opinions on the effects of colour” (p. 22) with studies producing inconsistent results.

In determining the best color to paint an environment, you should consider whether you want the space to look larger or smaller. Dark colors will make a space look smaller. If ceilings are high, you might want to paint them darker to make them appear lower. If the room is long and narrow, you can make the distant wall appear nearer by painting it a darker color.

Many design artists and early childhood specialists recommend using visually demanding bright colors only for accents (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Olds, 2001; Torelli & Durrett, 2000). Bright colors on shelves and furniture can cause overstimulation especially when we consider all the color that will be added to the environment by the toys, materials, items on the walls, and even the children’s clothing. Instead, experts recommend that neutral colors be used, with learning centers being painted different but harmonious colors to differentiate the space (Olds, 2001). The neutral background allows the emphasis to be placed upon the toys, materials, and inhabitants of the space. In Children, Spaces, and Relations, Ceppi & Zini (1998) emphasize that the walls should be a basic background allowing those using the space to exercise their own creativity in applying a “second skin” (p. 63). Varieties and ranges of colors in materials can then add needed complexity, variety, and richness to the environment. This gives children the opportunity to learn about, compare, contrast, and experiment with color. This philosophy is in opposition to the often-found practice of using bright primary color schemes or pastel nursery themes that are based upon a simplified viewpoint of children (Ceppi & Zini, 1998). However, all considerations of color should be thought about in relationship to contemporary and cultural beliefs, since the early childhood setting needs to reflect the society it resides within rather than be an isolated entity.


Lighting affects the aesthetics of the room as well as the visual acuity and mental health of the occupants. “Creating good lighting is not just a matter of having ‘enough’ lighting . . . . Good lighting is ultimately a matter of achieving a desired look and feel. Light can shape our moods. It can soothe the mind and invigorate the body. Light, in all its manifestations, has the power to not only illustrate what we see, but influence how we see it, even to make it beautiful” (Karre, 2003, p. 5).

Whenever possible, it is important to have natural light. As stated in the General Services Administration (GSA) handbook (2003), a set of regulations that govern all federal government childcare programs, “Natural lighting is essential in childcare centers. It is the hallmark of nurturing, quality environments” (p. 5–2). To help reduce glare, natural light should come from at least two directions (GSA, 2003; Olds, 2001).

Windows not only provide light but also allow access to the world outside, creating a “spirit of place” (Olds, 2001). Children can observe nature and the elements, and feel like they are part of the community surrounding the classroom. The room can feel larger when one can view the outside. If windows are strategically located, children can see what is occurring in the building before they enter, helping them to build anticipation and ease the transition (Moore, Lane, Hill, Cohen, & McGinty, 1994). Unlike artificial light, natural light from windows is dynamic, changing throughout the day.

Learning may also be enhanced with natural lighting. Researchers claim that natural lighting can improve achievement by 20% or more (Earthman, 2004; Heschong Mahone Group, 2003). Poor lighting, on the other hand, can cause “headaches, eye strain, and fatigue” (Higgens et al., 2005), negatively affecting learning.

Natural lighting also reduces energy costs, decreasing the needs for electric lights (Al- Mohaisen & Khattab, 2006). Electric lights consume energy and also produce waste heat energy. This is a problem in warm climates, causing an increase in the use of air conditioners (Al- Mohaisen & Khattab, 2006, p. 13).

However, it is typically not practical to rely totally on natural light. When natural light is not possible, full-spectrum lights are recommended (GSA, 2003; Olds, 2001). Some researchers indicate that full spectrum lights result in better physical health (Graves, 1985; Hathaway, Hargreaves, Thompson, & Novitsky, 1992; Graves, 1985). However, others claim that these benefits have not yet been proven (Gifford, 1994).

It is also recommended that classrooms have a variety of different types of lighting (track, pendant, recessed, dimmer controlled, lamps) to create “a distinctive atmosphere” in different areas of the room (Torelli, 2002). “A tapestry of light and dark areas in rooms and buildings adds to their comfort, interest, and spirit of place” (Olds, 2001, p. 192). “Pools of light facilitate special orientation, draw people together, and provide objects and people with definition and relationships. Pools of light affect people’s attention, behavior, and their impressions of spaciousness or enclosure” (Olds, 2001, p. 191).

Different types of lighting allow for different needs. For example, dimmer-controlled lighting for sleeping areas allows low light when children are napping while still allowing supervision. Different types of lighting also allow children to have some control over their environment. For example, a lamp with a three-way bulb in the reading area allows children to adjust the degree of lighting according to their needs.

To get the best advantage of your lighting, ceilings and walls should be painted with a high light reflectance value (LRV) paint. High LRV can lead to 25% reduction in needed lighting fixtures (Fielding, 2006). Mirrored ceiling tiles can also achieve this effect.

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