Colour and clutter can dim minds of pupils

Academic warns that complicated displays of artwork may hamper children's progress

FIREWORK-THEMED artwork, the Chinese dragon model and the crepe-paper Santa Clauses may have to go - cluttered classrooms that dazzle children with a riot of bright colours could impede their learning, new research suggests.

A calmer, more sober atmosphere is a better environment for communicating with young children, according to education consultant Elizabeth Jarman's report, commissioned by the Basic Skills Agency. Her study on the early years and foundation stage deals with the detrimental effects of "cluttering" upon youngsters' speaking and listening skills.

The idea that children need to be able to hear themselves think challenges the received wisdom that playgroups, nurseries and classrooms should be vivid, vibrant places festooned with children's work, and will have implications for infant classes.

The agency hopes the principles, which encompass the building layout, use of natural light and the colour of the walls, will be taken on board by schools.

Ms Jarman said: "Over-stimulating environments are not always the best.

That has implications for the use of displays. Sometimes it is a visual overload for children. It can make it very difficult for them to concentrate."

Jenny Cobley, the agency's senior assistant director for early years and primary, said the popularity of television shows involving de-cluttering showed what an effect on people's lives the principles espoused in the report could have.

"We hope we've put it tactfully enough for practitioners to realise that there may be something in it," she said. "There's a lot more work to be done in developing an appropriate toolkit and support for them. Our aim was to see how speaking and listening might improve."

But bright displays will not become a thing of the past at Mount Pleasant primary in Dudley, West Midlands. Jo Hartill, the head, said they were important to pupils, as a showcase of their best work and as a well-used aid to learning.

"The children see displays as a real showcase for themselves," said Ms Hartill. "They really have ownership and they liked their work up there.

And they referred to lots of things up in their rooms, like number lines and history timelines. One child said that without displays, they wouldn't be able to learn very much."

Ms Jarman's study recommends making quiet spaces where children can communicate calmly and organising resources so that they are tidily stored and easy for children to handle.

Ms Jarman's report, Communication Friendly Spaces, be released in January.

Teachers' TV will screen a series based upon the results.

Five points to remember

There is not just one single solution to the problem of clutter: space comes in all shapes and sizes.

Improvements don't have to break the bank. The Basic Skills Agency has challenged six schools to make positive changes using only pound;100.

Children are naturally sociable, but also like to have space to withdraw and work in small groups, or alone.

Staff should remember they are responsible for the layout of their school, nursery or playgroup, and that they can change it.

A cluttered environment clutters learning: a communication-friendly environment is the key to improving speaking and listening skills.

Keep your classroom clear

Create small, cosy areas where pupils feel safe and can chat in privacy.

Present resources nicely in an uncluttered manner so that children can handle them neatly.

Get staff to view the space from a child's perspective so they can suggest changes.

Use colours, light, acoustics and different materials and fabrics to make a space inviting, which will encourage children to use it.

Use all available space to create positive learning environments: this includes space outdoors.

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