Decorating Your Classroom

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Summer weather may still be here, but for many teachers, it’s already time to start decorating their classrooms or to begin the new school year.

Last month I wrote about a Carnegie Mellon University study that suggests that kindergartners whose classrooms are highly decorated tend to get distracted, wander off task, and have lower test scores than when they’re taught in classrooms that are decorated more plainly. The study and others like it raise thought-provoking questions about visual stimulation and how it affects learning for kindergartners, older kids, and even adults.
Becky asked this question within our Facebook community: Is less more when it comes to decorating classrooms?

Tons of insightful comments from teachers, occupational therapists, parents, and others flowed in. Here are a few of their comments. I hope you find them helpful as you welcome your students to your classroom.
How the Classroom Feels
“When you walk into a room and it’s organized and clutter free—you feel so much more comfortable and relaxed. This is the same for a classroom.”
“I myself have a difficult time in a classroom that is what I consider ‘overdone.’ I find it very distracting and especially when there are lots of things hanging from the ceiling. Working in SPED I think that it can be overwhelming for them to be in a classroom that has too much ‘stuff’ in it. This year in our Life Skills room we had one area to hang paper, projects, etc. from the ceiling and it made all the difference in the world.”

“The mind's eye needs a place to rest at any age. I think there’s something between the ‘overly decorated’ and ‘four gray walls.’”

“For students with visual-motor integration or visual processing challenges, the ‘clutter’ makes it difficult for them to focus on the essentials. (PS. I don't think that just kindergarten students suffer from visual over-stimulation, as I have seen it take its toll on much older students.)”
“Kindergartners LOVE highly decorated classrooms. The scrooges that did ONE study have totally lost touch with their inner child.”

“I work in a school as an occupational therapist, and one of the things that I try to encourage is decreasing all of the ‘stuff’ on the walls and within the environment. It’s difficult for children to attend and focus when they are surrounded by a ton of visuals. It’s especially hard for those who already come into the classroom with ADD and other disabilities. Clean, organized spaces are much more conducive to learning and the development of skills.”

Making the Classroom a Part of the Curriculum
“I think that anything that is ‘up’/decorating the classroom should be things that the teacher(s) refer(s) to—alphabet cards, number line, the calendar, etc. I think that the room should be sparse at the beginning of the year and added to WITH the students as the year goes on. I also think that color coding words, concepts, etc. and pointing that out to students and then using your anchor charts and word walls as a reference is necessary. But at the same time—teachers need to be cognizant of each step and consciously make choices for what they are putting up.”
“As long as it’s organized, moderately done, and used as part of the curriculum.”

“The fewer ‘store bought’ things the better. I think all bulletin boards except the calendar should be empty on the first day of school. Colors should be primary and few; not more than three colors. The same goes for trim. If you buy fabric to cover your bulletin boards, they should also be solid colors. The more patterns (stripes, dots, paisley), the more difficult for all children to focus. They do not know what the teacher considers important if there is too much ‘fluff.’”
“Whatever gets put up in the room needs to have a purpose and the kids need to know what that purpose is! I have charts in the room that are used regularly to find synonyms for overused words. There is a bulletin board with calendar and math info, simple math info like a 100s chart. There is a birthday picture graph with student names and dates (they love this!) Finally, there is a board in the back of the room that gets decorated with student work seasonally. I totally agree, less is more with the little guys.”

What do you think? Do students learn better with fewer distractions in the classroom?
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“I believe that more often than many people think is possible, we can prevent problems from getting out of control. We can make each other safer.”