Kindergarten classrooms are commonly noted for their colourful interiors, pattern clash and mix and match décor.

However, a new study has found that this conventional design, which features a highly visual environment, may actually be distracting for early learners.

A study by Anna V. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin and Howard Seltman of Carnegie Mellon University investigated whether the visual environment in classrooms impacted children’s attention allocation and – by extension – learning in kindergarten children.

Some kindergarten classrooms can be visually overwhelming with many design elements not necessarily relevant to the academic curriculum or instruction.

The study adds that kindergarteners will spend most of their learning day in the same classroom, unlike older students who move about for different subjects, making it even more important that the design of the space and its furniture supports learning.

The study environments used during the study

The study environments used during the study

“Maintaining focused attention in classroom environments that contain extraneous visual displays may be particularly challenging for young children because visual features in the classroom may tax their still-developing and fragile ability to actively maintain task goals and ignore distractions,” the study detailed.

The study saw the researchers place 24 kindergarten children in a highly decorated laboratory classroom for three weeks. The children then spent three weeks in a sparsely decorated classroom. The kindergarteners undertook an introductory science course where their engagement and academic scores were monitored based on their visual environment.

The results found that “children were more distracted by the visual environment, spending more time off task and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated.”

It showed that more than 85 per cent of children involved in the study fell victim to distraction, and that students fared better in the sparsely-decorated classroom.

The  researchers are not suggesting a “sterile” environment for students, or the removal of all decor, but they believe the visual concept in classrooms needs to be considered.

While only a small number of students were monitored in this study, there has been further research in the area supporting  this theory of academic performance and experience versus design.

Colour Psychology is age dependent

Colour Psychology is age dependent

An earlier study by Peter Barrett, Yufan Zhang, Joanne Moffat and Khairy Kobbacy explored the impact of classroom design on academic achievement and found that natural light and ventilation/air quality in classrooms contributed positively, while classroom colour ratings were negatively related.

“Specifically colourful visual displays may promote off-task behaviour in your children,” the study said.

Looking at colour psychology, colour expert Frank Mahnke told Colour Objects earlier this year that there are age guidelines to follow.

“Preschool and elementary school students prefer the warmer side of the palette (red/orange/yellow) while the high school and post secondary level students gravitate towards the cooler side of the colour wheel (blue/green/mauve),” he said.

While it has long been believed that a stimulating environment helps children learn, the new research suggests that overstimulation can have the exact opposite effect.