classroomTissue paper flowers, banners, rainbow chalkboards, and loads of glitter adorn the walls of many elementary classrooms. While these classroom décor ideas provide hours of entertainment on Pinterest, they probably shouldn’t go any further than a wishful “Pinboard.”

A new study, published in Psychological Science, found that children in highly decorated classrooms are more distracted and make smaller learning gains compared to a minimally decorated classroom.

Children’s visual environments can affect how much they learn, researchers explain. Therefore, it’s important to maintain focused attention in the classroom since young children usually spend the entire day in that environment.

For the study, 24 kindergarten students were placed in classrooms for six introductory science lessons over the course of 2 weeks. Three lessons were taught in a heavily decorated classroom, and three lessons were taught in a sparse classroom.

The decorated classroom was furnished with décor commonly found in classroom such as science posters, maps, and children’s art works. In the sparse classroom condition, all materials irrelevant to the instruction were removed.

The researchers also measured off-task behavior, such as talking to their peers, in both conditions. They were interested in finding if children’s attention would shift to another distraction once the visual displays were removed.

The results showed that children learned in both classroom conditions; however, they learned more when the room was not heavily decorated. Children’s accuracy on the test questions was higher in the sparse classroom (55 percent correct) than the decorated classroom (42 percent).

Children also spend more time off-task in the decorated classroom (38.6 percent) compared to the sparse classroom (28.4 percent).

minimally decoratedThe researchers suggest instead of removing all classroom decorations, teachers should consider whether the visuals serve a purpose to learning and how distracting each display may be to young children.

Furthermore, visuals that also serve as interactive teaching tools may boost young children’s memory skills and learning (similar to the map in the picture above). Teachers – you may want to consider a minimalistic, yet relevant, classroom design for the next school year.

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Peer-reviewed journal reference:
Fisher, Anna V., Karrie E. Godwin, and Howard Seltman. 2014. “Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children When Too Much of a Good Thing May Be Bad.” Psychological Science.

Photo credit: Kathy Cassidy and  BES Photos via Flickr CC