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  • Writer's pictureJill Pilaroscia, IACC - NA, ISCC

School Colors That Make a Difference

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

De Anza High School - Richmond, CA

Most people agree that color can trigger a response – you love it or hate it. Color response is based on both positive and negative stored memories each of us have had during our lives. Those color preferences are useful for designing our personal environments. But what approach to color selection is best for public spaces, such as schools?

Research studies have shown a direct relationship between the physical environment and educational outcomes, with color recommendations broken down by age groups.

Young, pre-K age children, many of whom are away from home for the first time, need supportive and nurturing classroom environments. Active warm and bright colors like reds and yellows pair well with their energetic natures.

By the time elementary school starts, students benefit from environments that boost their ability to focus and concentrate. Placing an accent color on the front wall where white boards and chalk boards are typically positioned helps keep attention on the teacher and the lesson. Pairing these accent colors with neutral perimeter walls in soft tones help reduce eye strain.

High school students are gearing up to enter the adult world, and are expected to focus on their lessons and conduct themselves with kindness, reverence, and respect. Colors promoting calmness and maturity, like blues and greens, are recommended for high-school classrooms and pair successfully with neutrals like beige, sand, and taupe. The palette for this age group is broader and more diverse as students typically move from one classroom to another for their studies and activities.

Here are some specific examples of how this research and science informed our color strategy for a high school environment.

Corridors are action areas that benefit from bright colors which promote communication amongst students, teachers, and peers.

Spatial geometry and soft wall tones allow for the use of the dynamic school colors and emblem to create a sense of place.

The vibrant gymnasium color contrasts support physical activities and reinforce school identity.

A balance of warm and cool colors enhance the auditorium as a space supporting both live performance and passive viewing.

Classrooms benefit from cooler colors, especially in science labs, while yellows in libraries can stimulate mental clarity.

In closing, there is not one single color prescription for all schools as geographic location and cultural influences will play a role in how successful the school environment is perceived. It is well worth the effort to review the research that is available on the benefits of color for each academic project. Education plays an important role in shaping our communities. Any tools we can utilize to enhance the learning environment will be of benefit to all.

Photo credit: Tim Maloney

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