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Colourful Language

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HOW COLOUR CAN AFFECT LEARNING AND STIMULATION BY LIZ BROWN, M.D. AND SPECIALIST LIBRARY DESIGNER

"Colour does not add a pleasant quality to design - it reinforces it."   

Pierre Bonnard

If I asked teachers what influences learning, most responses would centre on teaching methods, curriculum and outside environmental factors. It would be unlikely they’d even consider colour in the mix. But while the impact of colour may be overlooked, colour is an integral part of our everyday lives, we are influenced by it constantly and there are many studies that indicate it plays a significant role in productivity, emotion, communication and learning.

Studies on colour and its influence show a direct link between colour and positive or negative emotions and stimulation or calmness. And therefore, so does the colour of a room and it’s fittings on its occupants. Interior designers leverage colour to help define a room’s purpose and mood. This useful tool is often overlooked in schools yet it is an important way to differentiate the functions within rooms and help to influence the correct behaviours in classrooms, libraries, shared spaces and other areas of a school environment.

Colour can be introduced in large areas like a room’s wall, in furniture which can be zoned or even in the learning resources and wall displays used. But what is the impact of the varying colours.

Sixth Form Common Room
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What Effect Does Colour Have?

Colour affects learning by the way the brain uses colour to develop pattern recognition, memory and absorb new information. It can also provide a visual guide to locate, compare, understand and recall information faster. In particular, colour affects children’s moods, their behaviour, and educational performance. Here is the current thinking on the various colour effects.

RED – Powerful and attention-grabbing, creates alertness, awareness and excitement.  It is a stimulating colour.

BLUE – Suggests peace, serenity, and security, therefore creates a sense of comfort and safety and is a calming colour.

YELLOW – Encourages creativity, clarity, and optimism, creating positive feelings and improves attention. It is a stimulating colour

GREEN – The colour green symbolises nature and the natural world. It represents balance, growth, tranquillity, cleanliness and calmness. It also can relieve stress and provide a sense of healing, especially in a natural setting. And although it is a very calming colour, it is also a good colour to stimulate creativity.

ORANGE – Considered an energetic colour and similar to red, it can increase alertness and is a stimulating colour. Orange creates passion, warmth, excitement and encourages communication.

PINK –   Associated with love, romance, nurture, warmth, and is a calming colour.

Manor Academy Cupboards
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So where and how should colour be employed in the learning environment?

THE CLASSROOM

Classrooms are used for a variety of purposes, but the main intent is active learning. For this reason, colour in a classroom environment should maximize information retention and stimulate participation.

The key to creating an environment that enhances learning in a classroom is to create the right balance of stimulation in learners. Overstimulation can be caused by large amounts of bright colours, especially reds and oranges while green and blue create the opposite feelings of calmness, relaxation, happiness and comfort. Educators need to use more attention-grabbing colours like red, orange and yellow, to encourage learning, focus, alertness, and awareness. Cooler colours, such as blue and green tones, can evoke calmness which will stimulate concentration, broader thinking, and conversation.

While it is best to have a calming and neutral colour on the walls, furniture can add a splash of colour to an otherwise dull classroom. Since colour is not used in large amounts on furniture, it does not have the same effect as bright colours on walls. As an example, select yellow furniture to elicit feelings of liveliness, energy, happiness and excitement. Red and orange in small quantities can attract learners’ attention to detail – a great way to lead students to a certain part of the room for an engaging activity or to have areas that are colour-zoned dependant on their purpose, (e.g. orange in a dressing-up corner or area that needs collaboration and blue or green in an area designed for reading or study.

The one exception to colour in the classroom is with younger children, who unlike older children, thrive in a brightly coloured environment. In this instance, bright colours can be used on the walls and in the furniture. It can also be a helpful memory cue to help children understand how certain areas of a room are used. For example, the blue chairs in the corner may be the quiet reading area, while the red table could indicate a free-play space.

When it comes to displays, colour can enhance the clarity in text by as much as 40%, so it’s important that colour is used effectively. Strong, bright and bold colours should be used sparingly or with a neutral background to avoid the eye fighting what to look at and risking the message becoming lost. Red and warm colours appear to advance or stand out to the eye while blues and greens tend to recede. This can help you create displays with hierarchies around the room or within the display itself. Colour can inform and, by improving readability, can help children understand the concept of the text they are reading more easily. Use lighter backgrounds where possible to contribute to legibility.

East Park Library Manor Academy Trust
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LIBRARIES

Libraries are similar to classrooms in many ways. They are multi-purpose, provide an extended learning environment and require careful attention to colour selection.

Colour in a library setting should be used to align emotions and behaviours with the purpose of the space. Since different areas of a library are intended for different activities, you can have fun experimenting with colour here. Take a reading area, for example. As an extension of the learning environment, reading areas are intended to be calming and relaxing allowing learners to reflect. Here, a blue and green colour palette used on walls and furniture –will maximize the effects of calming colour in this space.

In contrast, if an area is used for lounging and conversation, colour can be attractive and provide excitement. Consider using a more neutral wall colour and experimenting with coloured furniture, bright-coloured cushions, vibrant accents on tables or shelving and wall graphics. Colour selections might include deep reds, oranges and yellows, with some accents in contrasting colour.

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COMMON AREAS

Unlike classrooms and libraries, common areas, such as entrance ways and lunch rooms, are more informal and conversation, excitement, play and a welcoming atmosphere can be encouraged. The colour choices in a common area are limitless, but still should reflect the purpose of the area.

As a common gathering place for students before school, after school and between classes, hallways and entrances welcome fun and conversation. The furniture used in these spaces should reflect this excitement through bold, energetic colours. The front entrance/reception area is often a good place to incorporate school colours into the furniture to welcome visitors with the school’s spirit.

Lunch rooms are also an area that allow for free time, and should also be energetic and welcoming. Feel free to use school colours on the walls, but use furniture to compliment. If school colours are bright, use furniture in similar tones. If the wall colours are muted or neutral, use bursts of colourful furniture to add life to the space and again consider wall graphics to enhance the space.

There is so much you can do with colour to improve your learning environment and what your students get from it. So when you think about those areas in your school that need a refresh or classrooms that need reinventing, try to take a step away from the boring and practical to embrace colour’s transformational potential in all areas of your school.

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