Sensory Perceptions in the Classroom:
Sound, Light and Colour

If we truly care about our students, we will ensure that their learning environments are acoustically effective, visually efficient, and filled with colours that enhance rather than detract from
their learning.

When asked what they like about an environment, most children mention colour, light and space.
— Stephen Heppell


1. Design for acoustical quality and noise control

  • ensure proper aural transmission
  • quiet the classroom, especially for intermediate (young adolescent) students
  • hard-surfaced walls (glass windows, marker boards) should not oppose each other; put them opposite open storage areas of differing heights and depths
  • mitigate any disturbing "echoes" or "flutters"
  • use acoustical ceiling material
  • install low frequency sound to mask hallway or exterior noises in classrooms where doors and windows are opened for ventilation
  • make the classroom more sound absorptive if group activities (versus single lecture or audiovisual source) are more prevalent
  • boys tend not to hear as well as girls; listening to instructions activates only one side of the male brain (eg, set up seating accordingly, wire for auditory enhancement technology)
  • aim for recommended ambient noise level in an unoccupied classroom of 30-35 decibels
  • design room size, shape and configuration to allow all learners to perceive all audio messages easily
  • create effective, non-echoing acoustics, including location-specific design for outside noises
  • use softening carpets and upholstery
  • ensure that movable furniture moves quiet

2. Light has been shown to affect blood pressure, pulse and respiration rates, brain activity, biorhythms, and the pineal gland's synthesis of melatonin and serotonin, therefore:

  • design for daylighting as much as possible
  • use a combination of overhead and natural light
  • use full-spectrum fluorescent lighting (research shows this leads to sustained attention and concentration, and improved moods, attendance and performance)
  • install appropriate candle power (lumens) (double the standard is suggested)
  • install focused task lighting to enable longer periods on task

Color is important and it can have benefits for the classroom. Studies show that color can affect a student's attention span, eye strain, work productivity and accuracy. Monotone environments may induce anxiety and lead to irritability and an inability to concentrate; color can help increase classroom success. Being sensitive to each age group's different responses to color is key in creating an environment stimulating to their educational experience.
— Kathie Engelbrecht

3. Use an aesthetically pleasing and psychologically effective colour palette:

  • choose a colour palette that matches the usual learning activities taking place in that classroom
  • a calming palette (also chosen to reduce cooling loads) = cool blues or pinks
  • a rousing palette (but with a slightly darker hue around the front boards to command attention) = warm earth tones/soft yellow (will increase respiration rate, heart action and brain activity)
  • bright, light colours advance; dim, dark colours recede
  • appearance of newness/cleanliness has been shown to affect attendance and test scores (make it easy to freshen up or repaint classroom regularly)

4. Views are important:

  • allow a view to the outdoors
  • views to adjacent spaces help students with orientation


This Loop.pH flocked wallpaper comes to life as it reacts to ambient noise levels — the louder the space, the brighter the wallpaper glows
  • Consider new wallpapers that brighten as the noise level in the classroom increases.
  • Use texture, as well as colour, to create a rich, stimulating environment in the classroom (note that this might be discipline specific, eg, chemistry and physics departments might prefer smooth, non-porous wall surfaces):
    • smooth surfaces appear harder than rough textures do
    • students participate in discussions twice as much in soft classrooms, with soft furniture, textured floor coverings, and warm colours

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