Learning environment research has revealed a close connection between the environment one learns in and one’s ability to learn. According to the Statutory Framework for the EYFS, “A rich and varied environment supports children’s learning and development. It gives them the confidence to explore and learn in secure and safe, yet challenging, indoor and outdoor spaces” (New EYFS Framework, 2008). Just what factors are involved in this ‘rich and varied environment’ is the focus of the current investigation.
One of the first considerations that must be investigated is the use of space. The learning environment has had a traditional format for more than a century, but may actually be restricting the ability of learners to learn effectively and efficiently. Upon their first entrance in a classroom, even very young children gain a sense of what sorts of behaviors and interactions will be available to them. “What we are talking about here fundamentally shifts our traditional thinking in terms of how and why we present certain resources, furnish and layout our space. It may be that a rethink is in order … This may be quite a challenge as it could conflict with … current knowledge and thinking” (Tyce cited in Jarman, 2007). While it is important that the learning space be well-ordered and easily understandable, it is also important to realize that the learning space must be conducive to the sharing and use of available resources in appropriate ways. Sally Jaeckle advises, “make sure that children have access to interesting resources, so that they can make choices about how they wish to represent their ideas, but select these resources carefully and think about how best to present them, as clutter and poorly presented materials can be confusing, can deflect concentration and lack any sort of appeal” (cited in Jarman, 2007).
Another significant factor involved in creating a ‘rich and varied environment’ has to do with the properties of light. Research has demonstrated that children learn best when they are given adequate amounts of natural sunlight or its close artificial alternative. By increasing the levels of natural light in the classroom during the course of a day, a study in Texas discovered a 65 percent improvement in vision, a 47.8 percent decrease in nutritional issues, a 43.3 percent reduction in chronic illness and a 55.6 percent improvement in chronic fatigue while similar improvements were seen in their academic performance (Mattoon, 2007). “Light levels stimulate brain activity in different ways and often generate physical reactions, whereas colors impact on human emotions and undoubtedly have spatial effects in rooms. When light levels and colors are wrong for students, they will switch off and lose concentration” (Prashnig, 2008). Color is mentioned because it is a property of light and has weight of its own in determining light levels.
It may be somewhat surprising to see color mentioned as a significant element of light properties, but colors within the classroom can be as influential upon learning as light levels. The colors used in a given space, taking into consideration the anticipated use for the space, the layout of the room, the position of the windows and the degree of sun exposure possible in this area can help or hinder the planned activities for the space. This is because colors help to set the psychological temperature of a space. Numerous studies have been conducted to discover the psychological temperature of the basic colors. One compilation of such lists indicates the moods created by each color correspond to these ideas: red is considered arousing, warm, threatening, passionate and dangerous; orange is associated with excitement, cheerfulness, energy, sunsets and caution; yellow is also associated with cheerfulness but also evokes feelings of happiness, optimism, spiritual enlightenment and can be overwhelming; green is relaxing, tranquil, growth, hope and natural; blue is also relaxing, calm, comforting, spiritual and wise (Shultz, 2002). These colors can be used in a variety of ways to encourage energy and creativity in a learning center or relaxed and spiritual intellectual pursuits in a study center.
Another element that contributes or detracts from the learning environment is the element of noise. Excessive, uncontrolled noise such as that experienced in classrooms placed directly under the flight path of a nearby airport has been found to be detrimental to the students within that classroom. One study discovered that for every five decibel increase in noise level in the classroom, children were potentially as much as two months behind their reading age. “Exposure to aircraft noise was associated with impaired reading comprehension, even after factors such as socio-economic differences between schools were taken into account” (Aircraft Noise, 2005). At the same time, a whisper quiet classroom can be inhibiting in class activities such as discussion sessions or group projects.
To provide a ‘rich and varied environment’, one must therefore take all these elements of space, light, color and sound into consideration. As the cited studies have shown, these elements, when used correctly, can encourage learning and student involvement through a variety of learning styles. When improperly used or perhaps not even considered, they can be a negative force upon children’s learning, contributing to physical as well as mental handicaps as compared to students with an appropriate learning environment.
“Aircraft Noise ‘Affects Learning’.” (2005). BBC News. 2008. Web.
Jarman, Elizabeth. (2007). “Communication Friendly Spaces – Early Years.” Teaching Expertise. 2008. Web.
Mattoon, Rick. (2007). “Exposed: The Benefits of Sunlight Revealed.” Sun Wellness. 2008. Web.
“The New EYFS Framework.” (2008). Web.
Prashing, Barbara. (2008). The Practical Guide to Learning Styles. Continuum Books.
Schultz, Amy. (2002). “Color Psychology: The Psychological and Physiological Affects of Color.” Color Psychology. Web.