Effect of Classroom Design on a Child’s Ability to Learn: What You Need to Know

The classroom is more than just a room—it’s where children build their communication skills, lay the foundations for the rest of their education, and form their first friendships. Classroom design influences everything from children’s moods to paying attention in class.

Here’s your laminated-poster primer on everything you need to know about the elements of classroom design and children’s ability to learn.

Color and complexity


Color has several effects on how children learn. For one, color can affect mood. Anyone who’s worked in an office knows that a lack of color can make for a dull work environment.

Similarly, flat and simplistic classroom design leads to under-stimulated (ready: rowdy and distracted) children. Adults can cope with learning in white-walled rooms, but children need more visual stimulation to stay engaged.

Children gravitate towards bright colors and interesting shapes, especially at elementary school ages, so a lack of stimulation can make children bored, restless, and uninterested in their subjects.

Well-designed classrooms feature dynamic and visually exciting decorations, like the educational decorations sold by providers like Sproutbrite. These educational materials catch students’ attention with fun designs while helping young minds master important concepts.

Thoughtful placement of decorations can also prevent overstimulation. Disorganized classrooms with a high visual density of colors and shapes may overwhelm some children and make paying attention difficult. Experiment with a balance of educational and eye-catching material for a learning environment that engages students.

Collaboration and space


Since children spend much of their formative childhood years in classrooms, the design of these spaces influences how children develop social skills and relationships with each other.

For example, cramped rooms with forward-facing desks can make children feel isolated and uncomfortable.

By contrast, spaces that utilize an open floor plan allow students to move around, socialize, and work together on projects. This social opportunity lets children build experience in problem-solving, both in terms of their schoolwork and interpersonal relationships.

Collaboration helps students of all ages engage more deeply with the material and lets them share their ideas. A classroom built around collaboration might group students’ desks in inward-facing squares or orient the whole class in a semicircle.

Crucially, open and collaborative classrooms foster friendships between children. Besides teaching children how to interact with each other, this also prevents children from feeling lonely and isolated at school.

Individuality and control


While students may sit at identical desks, each child is unique. Allowing children to customize their desks, cubbies, and other areas will enable them to express their individuality. This self-expression helps them build confidence in themselves and their identities and makes for a fun project.

In particular, decorating the classroom with students’ artwork can boost their self-esteem and give them a sense of ownership over their learning environment. Like decorating a bedroom, giving children creative control can make them feel more relaxed and ready to learn.

A sense of control over their space can also help children feel more confident in voicing their opinions and any discomfort. For example, asking students if they would like the blinds closed or the window opened can show them they control their bodies and environment.

Physical conditions and connection to nature


Though light, temperature, sound levels, and air quality may seem like minor background conditions, they can seriously interfere with students’ attention spans.

A 2015 study published in the journal Building and Environment found that all of these qualities hold significant sway over how students perform in class. The study also called out a connection to nature as a design element that may improve students’ ability to focus.

In general, reducing or avoiding physical discomfort due to eye strain, overheating, or stuffy air lets children focus on their studies instead of their bodies. But changes to physical conditions can also improve children’s attitudes at school.

Natural light

Natural light from windows or skylights provides plenty of light for reading and writing. This light source lowers students’ chances of headaches from eye strain and makes classrooms more energy efficient.

It also creates a connection to nature that fluorescent lighting can’t replicate. Large windows allow teachers to integrate real-world examples into their lessons more efficiently, and the view of nature can inspire children’s imaginations.

However, classroom windows also need to be fitted with appropriate blinds or shades to prevent glare on desks and prevent students seated by windows from overheating.


If the classroom temperature strays too far in either direction, students may struggle to focus. Too warm classrooms lead to restlessness, and cold rooms make children sluggish. A consistent thermostat level adjusted as necessary avoids any temperature issues.

Sound level


While all classrooms have to deal with rowdy children now and then, the average sound level needs to remain low so students can focus. Regular interruptions from the sounds of traffic, construction, or other classes of students passing by can negatively affect children’s ability to pay attention.

For that reason, the calmest classrooms are well-insulated against sounds from the outside world. But teachers should be aware that sound levels inside the room can also interrupt students’ focus.

Notably, the dimensions of the classroom compared to the number of children can lead to acoustic problems. Large rooms may produce a distracting echo, and too-small spaces may become painfully loud with dozens of students talking and moving around.

Air quality

Another seemingly minor aspect of classroom design, the air quality, can seriously affect students’ learning ability.

Over a day, the air in a room can become stuffy and warm as upwards of twenty or thirty children move around the space. Poor air quality can cause discomfort in students and has especially adverse effects on children with asthma or other breathing conditions.

Good ventilation, air filtration, and periodical opening of classroom windows maintain a high level of air quality so students can breathe easily.


Even adults regularly struggle with maintaining focus while studying. Effectively designed classrooms help children focus and foster active engagement by stimulating their senses, encouraging collaboration and student input, and cutting down on physical discomfort.

About Carolyn Lang