The Power of Color in K12 Design

Color is an amazing tool in K12 school design that has the power to improve or impair learning outcomes. Many studies have shown that color has an impact on students’ attention spans and perception of time, and has even been shown to reduce absenteeism and vandalism!

While there is no single color or design scheme that is perfect, certain principles exist. This article will discuss the findings of extensive research and explore the role of the color palette in K12 schools.

The Data on the Impact of Color in School

There is plenty of research on design initiatives and their importance in the school environment. Many studies have concluded that there is in fact a very direct relationship between the physical design of school buildings and educational outcomes. Specifically, four studies that evaluated the relationship between school buildings and student achievement reported higher test scores for students learning in better buildings and lower scores for students learning in substandard buildings. One study even showed a difference in student test scores ranging from 5 to 17 percent!

Another report evaluating school facilities in Milwaukee, completed by the Council of Educational Facility Planners International, found that facility condition may have an even stronger effect on student performance than the combined influences of family background, socioeconomic status, school attendance, and behavior!

The visual environment is one of the most important factors in learning, as it impacts mental attitude and performance. Getting a quality education is so much more than just memorizing facts. It involves a positive social climate within the school and a sense of community. Both young children, who enter school for the first time and are away from home, and teenagers facing the pending responsibilities of adulthood, need the support that only a positive school environment provides.

Color can help to create a safe learning environment that enhances visual processing, decreases stress, and challenges brain development through visual stimulation and pattern seeking. According to a recent study, visual stimulation actually changes the brain, making stronger connections while fostering visual thinking, problem solving, and creativity. The choice of color in schools can have a critical impact, either favorably or unfavorably, on students.

Color in the Context of PreK and Elementary

Elementary students prefer a warm, bright color scheme. Younger children find high contrast and bright colors stimulating with a growing penchant for colors in graphics. Designed environments for elementary schools include spaces for privacy and active play, with open areas being the ideal place to run with abandon and expend physical energy.

The visual environment must include activities for children to develop their visual acuity during their early years. Art materials will encourage more thoughtful interactions with color and designs. Providing soft elements such as flowers will instill a sense of gentleness, while having heavy metal toys will encourage children to play forcefully.

Enhanced organization and minimization of clutter will support children as they focus. Designers should consider mild soothing colors such as warm, soft shades of whites, light creams as a base color, with stronger, brighter mid-tone colors and accents as a focal point. Children's artwork should be incorporated into the environment to provide color and inspiration.

Color in the Context of Middle School and High School

Middle school and high school teens have a growing appreciation of sophisticated color and tend to view primary colors as immature. Often influenced by prevailing fashion, young teens typically reject neutral colors in favor of blue, ultramarine, and their current favorite, orange. There may be more leeway when selecting a color scheme for middle schools and high schools. Subtle colors work well, such as light sage greens and refreshing blues and greens, with brighter, trendy, and more saturated hues used as accents.

Your Colors Matter

Studies have shown that color affects a student's attention span. Yet using more than six colors in a learning environment strains the mind's cognitive abilities – a conclusion that underscores the need for a careful approach to color and design in the educational environment.

While no one color scheme is right for all situations, designers have a powerful tool in applying color properly in school situations. That choice will be based not only on the intrinsic nature of the color itself, but by the age of the students as well as the location of the school, its community, and its culture. Ideally teachers and students will also have input. Designs that incorporate these factors as well as nature and the five senses will have a real impact on students' experience in school – and positively impact their morale, behavior, and ability to learn.

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