Strategic Use of Color and Lighting Influences Children’s Ability to Learn


What we once referred to as “school libraries,” media centers are moving from spaces filled with large, heavy tables and walls lined with bookshelves to flexible spaces that capitalize on color and lighting. At Clear Creek Amana’s Tiffin Elementary school, the media room walls and furnishings are neutral-colored, but an accent lime green wall (one of the school’s colors). The room is one of the students’ favorite places to visit. As an activity/learning center, the bright color accent gets them engaged and excited; pairing it with the neutral walls keeps them from being overly excited.

The goal of all schools is to help their students learn by creating an environment in which they can thrive. Color and lighting can help support that mission.

The colors and lighting in classrooms have been shown to affect children’s mental health and ability to learn:

  • Certain colors can impact creativity, concentration and social interaction.
  • Natural lighting can improve students’ focus and health.
  • Bonus: Effective use of daylighting can also reduce energy costs.

When renovating your school, there are some things to consider when choosing colors and lighting:

  • Function of the room – Rooms such as the gym or cafeteria can be more colorful and bright as these areas promote social interaction and a break from the “work” spaces.
  • Ages of the students – Bright and warm colors can be overstimulating to small children, but have less effect on high school-age students.
  • Designing for all abilities – With the integration of special needs students, be mindful of colors that are too stimulating and could affect students’ ability to focus and thrive.
  • Daylighting do’s and don’ts – Including natural lighting involves more thoughtful consideration than simply adding many large windows; too much light will result in shades being closed.

Read more in the Strategic Use of Color and Lighting Influences Children’s Ability to Learn newsletter:

  • Positively impact student learning and mental health through color and light
  • Use color to promote behavior
  • Select the right light source for you

"What happens to the kid who grows up with a bunch of engineers and a science teacher determined to save the environment? She becomes an artist and a problem solver.  That’s what I get to do as an architect. There’s a sense of fulfillment when I work on schools because I have an opportunity to make a positive impact on future generations. When I can help schools incorporate sustainability into schools, it becomes the best of both worlds.  I can help schools connect with all students by providing a building that engages students, students can learn from, and curriculum can be built around. My goal is to help teachers use their building as a learning tool for curriculum.  Together, we can help students thrive."

Kari Uhlenkamp

Licensed Architect