Most teachers I know who go with more barren or streamlined classrooms usually say they just don’t have time or money to go for elaborate themes. This is 110% legitimate. While there are a lot of time and money saving décor tips, it’s going to take some time and some money to give your classroom a theme. So I have to wonder if it is worth it. While I love the themes I wrote about in my last post, is there something to the other side? Is there something more to going less, something other than time or money?
There is some research out there about “calming” the classroom and promoting less in terms of decorations. For years, Montessori schools have been going with relatively understated décor sensibilities. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have gone even further, and have recently published a paper in Psychological Science called “Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children.” (Yes, I am the nerd who looks up scholarly articles to justify saving money and make myself feel guilty over my classroom decorations.) These researchers looked at two groups of kindergarteners, ones in a typically decorated room and one in a classroom with less. They found that students who were in the more decorated room were more distracted and off task. This makes sense if the teacher is competing with the room to gain the student’s attention.
An earlier article “Consider the Walls” published in Young Children by Dr. Patricia Tarr is even more scathing when it comes to what goes on the walls of a classroom. While at first blush, the article comes off as quite harsh (and how much teacher/student observation was happening as she was counting the number of decorations in the room?), it is a compelling read that forces you to reconsider what you do put on your walls.
Less vs. More?
Considering that in special education we work with some students who struggle to attend to information and can get overwhelmed with too much environmental stimulus, it is important that we put even more thought into our classrooms. We also have students who might need more visual stimuli and exposure to information to help retain information. We’ve also got to contend with making sure our classrooms are universally accessible to students who may have unique mobility needs. (Yes, I’ve had to completely rearrange the furniture when a student kept landing in a wheelchair due to his rambunctiousness outside of school.) If you’re anything like me, you’ve also got to consider having to move from classroom to classroom each year and dealing with having less and less space to work with.
So those are the ends of our spectrum, what’s the application? How can it be balanced out? Check out our next decor post for some ideas on putting these ideas into practice as well as some things to avoid!