Ms. Acosta's classroom lightingI was walking down a hallway at North Elementary school in Lamesa, TX and glanced into a room that had pink and white cloth hanging from the lights. Finally, I get to SEE it in a classroom again! I’ve been telling audiences about this strategy – how to use colored lighting to enhance learning – for years; though usually by using blue fire retardant cloth.

I asked the teacher, Ms. Acosta, if I could take a photo and she agreed. Ms. Acosta explained that she’s been doing this for years and felt that it really helped her students. She also commented that her colleagues call her classroom “The Victoria’s Secret Room” because of the pink and white color of the drapes.

The fluorescent lighting used in most classrooms can lead to a host of difficulties for children (and adults), including migraines. By diffusing these harsh lights, and introducing more natural lighting into the classroom, we’re working with the body’s natural circadian rhythms to indicate to the brain that it’s time to be awake and alert.

I was working with a school in New Hampshire and discovered one particular classroom with an incredibly calming environment. I immediately noticed that the teacher had turned off the fluorescent lights. Instead, she had four floor lamps and a table lamp strategically placed around the room. There were no cords visible; she had the cords tucked away so that students would not trip on them. She also had calming classical music playing in the background. The difference between that classroom and the hall was striking. Students were on task and happily going about their work.

Ceiling light cover with fire retardant paintMuch of the current research centers around the use of blue lighting, but it doesn’t have to be just blue. I remember one classroom in Utah used blue drapes of different shades over the windows to diffuse the natural light, but another teacher used heat tolerant paints to transform the florescent fixture covers into the works of art you see pictured here.

It’s important to follow your school’s rules for such things, but there are a number of things that you can do to make the lighting in your classroom more conducive to learning:*

  • Replace fluorescent lighting bulbs with full-spectrum bulbs
  • Use lamps in the classroom with full-spectrum light bulbs
  • Cover fluorescents with curtains made from pajamas made from fire-retardant material
  • If your classroom has drop ceilings, cover the clear panels under the fluorescents with heat-resistant blue spray paint (Of course, you will need to discuss this with your school’s administration before painting school property!)
  • Put blue fluorescent light protectors over fluorescent bulbs

It’s wonderful to see strategies that I advocate in actual practice. One of the first dimensions of learning is “Attitude and Perception.” The classroom environment plays a key role in promoting positive attitudes and perceptions of learning. Studies have also theorized that natural lighting improves visibility, health, mood, and behavior. And students aren’t the only ones who benefit – adults in the classroom enjoy the benefits of natural lighting as well!

My Educational Resources page** has several good articles on the benefits of colored lighting, natural and full-spectrum lighting, and ways to soften and diffuse the harshness of fluorescent lighting, just like Ms. Acosta did in her classroom.

What is your experience? Have you tried any of these strategies in your classroom? Do you know a colleague who has? If so, please take a moment to share your experience with us, here.

*Excerpted from Paraprofessionals and Teachers Working Together by Susan Gingras Fitzell.
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