In most of the classrooms of primary schools run by creative and involved teachers, we see a riot of colourful things on the walls. Sharing and displaying the arts and crafts created in school helps children learn to take pride in their work, to understand that artistry is within us all, and that everyone’s output is unique and special. And alongside the many treasures destined for the special art wall at home in due course, many classrooms also display colourful teaching resources – posters, charts and exhibitions, provided by publishers and specialist education companies to illustrate key learning themes and ideas in a visual and engaging way.
This cheerful and colourful background to our children’s learning environment is pretty and exciting, but does it help them to learn? We know that colour can affect us physically, mentally and emotionally so what role does colour actually play in learning and remembering new things?
Studies have found that the colour of the environment you study in can indeed have an impact on how well you learn – however the connection is not obvious or straightforward!
The scientists (in Canada) were testing to see how people’s memories and cognitive performance varied, depending on whether they saw red and blue. What they concluded was, if your learning depends on recall and attention to detail, you should do it in a red-coloured room… However, if creativity and imagination is required, then a blue-coloured room is more productive.
In our children’s schools the learning styles vary, but we hope that encouraging creativity and getting them to develop and use their powers of imagination is of primary importance for professionals working with these developing minds. So, perhaps classrooms should think about getting the blue paint out for an art project early in the term, and decorating the walls that way?
However, a certain amount of primary learning does involve memory and detail – learning of times tables, spellings, singing songs and so on – these tasks might be best tackled in a red corner!
Whilst these studies are all very interesting I think it’s important to take the age of the child into consideration. Lighter colours are gentler for children aged 10 or younger. Tints of colour (primary colours with white added) are more suitable to their softer vibrations. So think pastels.
Yellow is a good colour for stimulating the intellect and aiding concentration but a very strong yellow can be too over-powering for a younger child and may even cause disruption in the classroom. Creamy yellow and paler soft tints of gold are a better option until they mature.
A quick focus-group involving the limited number of primary school children in our home this weekend also identified that surely preference matters… “I’d like to learn in a violet classroom – because that’s my favourite!” Who can argue with that, and perhaps that’s a big part of where the teachers are coming from, when they plan classroom wall displays that celebrate every colour of the rainbow? Everyone’s favourite shades hopefully get reflected somewhere!
We know from writing Colour In My World and holding children’s colour parties that children often have stronger opinions than adults about the colours they choose to wear or be around, and even though they may not know or be able to say why they are drawn to certain hues, they very often choose the ones they need at that time and that complement their own personal colouring to express themselves.
My 4 year old grand-daughters though sometimes choose “interesting” colour combinations. They are just experimenting as with all forms of play so a little gentle guidance in the right direction will help them to have a better understanding of not only the nature of colours but how it relates to them as individuals. Because their fresh young minds are not hung-up on our silly grown-up ideas about fashion, taste and convention, they can come up with some pretty wild combinations, to express their ideas and feelings… part of the joy of spending time with young children is helping them to channel and develop their choices and delights.