It’s easy to accept the idea that children who attend clean, well-maintained schools have an easier time succeeding than those who don’t. But do the environments you create in your clean classrooms have an impact on your students’ ability to learn?
The research says they can. According to Dr. Sheryl Reinisch, former Dean of the College of Education at Concordia University-Portland, studies indicate that high-quality classroom environments “help children feel safe, secure, and valued. As a result, self-esteem increases and students are motivated to engage in the learning process.”
What happens when you make a classroom feel more like home?
Reinisch, who has two decades of experience in early childhood education, cites a study of 25 first-graders whose classroom was revamped over a period of four months. It included appealing elements such as comfortable reading spaces, fish, plants, and displays of student artwork. The children’s reactions were recorded through interviews, student journals, and observations.
The first-graders expressed ownership and pride at their artwork being included in the classroom decor, and their journals, comments and drawings expressed appreciation for the aesthetic additions to their environment.
Students in the study said that being comfortable helped them feel at home in their classroom, which in turn helped them learn. Quotes included:
“I feel relaxed. When I’m relaxed I’m more ready to learn.”
“It’s like a little living room when the plants are here.”
“Up here [in the reading loft] makes me learn because I read and it’s comfortable reading here.”
Of the elements you might consider adding to your classroom, which ones are the most important to student success? Reinisch notes another study in which 775 students identified “comfort” as “most necessary” in their classroom. The students, who ranged from fourth to eighth grade, also correlated the following elements to a good learning environment:
Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.
Because children have an almost infinite capacity for making messes and spreading germs, it’s incumbent on you to tackle cleanliness issues head-on. A few things to keep in mind:
Decorating school walls with children’s artwork is great to give students the recognition they deserve, but there’s more you can do with your walls than just that. Suggestions for classroom art:
Hamsters, bunnies, and aquarium fish teach us so much about behavior, diet, and socialization. Pets also fuel children’s natural fascination with animals, so they naturally enhance the classroom environment. Of course, animals also can carry diseases and spread allergens, so you have to keep a few things in mind before bringing critters to class:
Note that pets should not be in the class for fun—they should be brought in only to advance the learning objectives of your class.
For young children, classroom and educational design needs to take into consideration the wide range of different home backgrounds and lifestyles while introducing them to the school environment for the first time. Edudemic has some tips on how to help young children feel safe and more at ease in the classroom:
Teachers aren’t the only ones who can improve the classroom environment. It takes a village to support your students and to make them feel comfortable. Administrators and school boards can do their part by investing in more aesthetically supportive schools.
Prakash Nair, author of The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools, has developed a host of ways that schools can make their classrooms more comfortable. The noted school designer and educational aesthetics expert suggests:
The evidence appears to show that even the smallest of changes can make a big difference in classroom environments. Teachers who include cleanup time in their classroom management or create something as simple as a space to display students’ art can help students feel empowered to learn.