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3 Quick Tips for a Beautiful, Brain-Friendly Classroom

By Erin Klein on August 18, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Prior to going into teaching, I studied interior design at Michigan State University. However, after my daughter Riley was born, I knew my love for children was something I had to pursue full-time. So I changed directions and became a teacher. I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I feel so lucky to have a career that I enjoy. For me, teaching often isn’t a job, but rather a passion. I have even been able to use my knowledge of design to help influence the success my students have had throughout the years. 

Many years ago as a first-year teacher, my administrator required all new faculty members to participate in professional development to help familiarize us with the HET (Highly Effective Teaching) Model. We read articles, discussed the research, and worked with certified consultants to understand how to set up brain-friendly learning environments, and design our curriculum to create more meaning for each student. The focus of our training was to create a physical environment that would enhance academic standards and instructional delivery, along with infusing a sense of authenticity into our units of study. I’m excited to share a few tips we learned throughout the course of our training along with findings others have shared through their research:


1. De-clutter Your Physical Space

Research supports this tip, but it's really just common sense. We know the importance of capturing a student’s attention during lessons. It’s also imperative that our students are able to focus and work with the materials we are working with in class. When clutter gets in the way of being able to work in an organized manner, miscellaneous materials become a distraction. 

So this past summer, I took everything off of my shelves and got rid of anything I haven’t used within the past year or two. It felt great to clean up my space and begin to reorganize the classroom. 


2.  Remove Environmental Print and Limit Laminating

Carnegie Mellon University conducted extensive research and published a study: "Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children: When Too Much of a Good Thing May Be Bad." Their studies indicated that when too much environmental print is present, students can become more distracted during lessons.

This really made me think about the information I had displayed throughout the classroom, especially as the school year progressed. I always seemed to collect and plaster more and more student artifacts and anchor charts over the walls. Now, I display only the information for that lesson. When we are finished, if the information may be needed for future lessons, I snap photos of the charts for the students to place in their binders or notebooks.

Additionally, I stopped laminating materials because of the glare that can appear on the important information I put on display. I also do not hang artifacts and information above the children's eye level. The material must be accessible and presented in a developmentally-appropriate manner. 


3. Incandescent and Natural Lighting

Now that we are using more technology in our classroom, we tend to dim the lights more often. In doing so, I’ve noticed fewer children complaining of headaches throughout the day. I’ve also observed a calmer atmosphere. Naturally, I began to wonder if the lighting had something to do with what was happening. Research shows that children do learn better under natural lighting rather than light bulbs. Therefore, I try to use natural lighting as much as possible and cut down on the extreme florescence of overhead lighting.

Be sure to look for my next post where I’ll share additional tips regarding:

  • Minimizing patterns and thoughtfully selecting colors

  • Bringing in nature to create a comfortable space

  • Providing flexible seating arrangements 

Comments (2)

Bravo on cutting down all the colors and decorations! Last year I took an online course based on Reggio Emilia and Waldorf. I backed all my bulletin boards with brown paper and covered them with burlap, which seemed to fit with our second grade pirate theme somehow. I brought in plants and conch shells. On the sink counter that is by the hallway door, I put a blue tray with sand (and a little glitter), small seashells, and a palm tree. The children could rearrange the shells, or move the sand around as they walked by or waiting for a drink. I added a hanging leaf and a small green rug in the little library area, and a few pops of pirate red. There were lots of pillows for reading during Daily Five. I also angled some of the furniture, to break up the rectangular shapes. This year I've added a sweetgrass circular rug in front of the sink/drinking fountain. The result was calm and soothing. Even the custodian commented on the difference and actually went down the hall to get other teachers to come and look! (I wasn't there; I was told later).

One other comment: I had always read that you shouldn't put things above the student's sight level because they would not really pay attention to them. Well, about 10 years ago I decided to take all the picture book covers I'd collected over the years (I always take the dust jackets off because they just get torn up). I cut off the flaps and back covers and put them up above the blackboards, alphabet, and number lines. Every year or so I've added more. Every single year, as soon as I bring out one of the stories whose covers are up on the wall, several children will point to the cover and say, "Hey! It's up there!" They never miss a book. It makes me laugh every time. I've even forgotten what's up there, but they are completely aware of every title!

Hi Erin,
I have been reading your stuff and following along with webinars, etc. I was having trouble finding neutral colored pieces , especially nature inspired,to bring into the classroom. My classroom color scheme is turquoise with polka dot border. I do have lamps and flexible seating options and will bring in plants. The color scheme is what I'm having the hardest time with. Are polka dots as border around bulletin boards, closets, etc. a big no no? Enough to re-do a space? Thanks!

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