60-Second Science

Classroom Decorations Can Distract Young Students

Five-year-olds in highly decorated classrooms were less able to hold their focus, spent more time off-task and had smaller learning gains than kids in bare rooms. Erika Beras reports


Remember your kindergarten classroom? The maps on the wall, the charts of the seasons on bulletin boards, the alphabet over the blackboard? I know I spent hours staring at the brightly colored decorations—and not listening to what my teacher was saying. Maybe you did, too. And it looks like we’re not alone.

The more decorations in a classroom, the more distracted students may be. So finds a study in the journal Psychological Science. [Anna K. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin and Howard Seltman, Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children: When Too Much of a Good Thing May Be Bad]

Researchers observed five-year-olds in highly decorated classrooms and in classrooms that were relatively bare. And the kids were less able to hold their focus, spent more time off-task and had smaller learning gains in the busy rooms than in the bare rooms.

At that young age, attention regulation skills aren’t fully formed. And yet it’s at that stage of development that children find themselves surrounded by decorations irrelevant to what they’re learning at any given time.

The researchers are not prescribing a change from busy to bare rooms. They say there is more research to be done. But this study, along with previous work, suggests that the visual environment can affect how young children learn their reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

—Erika Beras

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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