When conjuring up an image of a preschool classroom, a space with bright, primary colors on every surface come to mind. But should this be the case? Studies have shown that a connection to nature through the use of natural materials, calming colors and a view to the outside prove better for an early childhood classroom environment.
The Barrington Early Learning Center provides an interesting case study. In this project, we experimented with lighting, views, color and material to provide a better environment for our smallest learners.
The school has a high population of special needs students, many of whom have autism. Autistic children can be especially sensitive to lighting. The staff at Barrington tested several fixtures in situ and chose a pendant light fixture for its minimal downlighting and overall soft light quality. In addition, the lights are on daylight sensors and are frequently turned off.
Research has indicated that contact with nature and views provides a calming effect, reducing blood pressure, cortisol and hyperactivity. This is especially important for those with attention difficulties or hyperactivity.
In this project, windows are low so a child can see directly outside.
This inverted bay window (below) in each classroom provides a cozy corner where children can connect with nature.
Students can see this wetland right outside their classroom windows, where many native species thrive, from plants to amphibians to birds.
Children are more likely to remember color than form. Primary colors in the classroom can be related to hyperactivity, agitation, and exhaustion, especially when paired with fluorescent lighting. Because so many of the items used to teach early childhood are brightly colored, the classrooms at the BELC intentionally use natural colors and materials, leaving brighter colors to the corridors to provide identity and energy.
Perkins+Will had the chance to specify the furniture in the project. For the classrooms, we chose objects made of natural wood with neutral colors whenever possible.
On the other hand, public corridors define each ‘learning village’ with a color and season theme (yellow – summer, green – spring, orange – fall, purple – winter).
On my last visit, I was able to see the in-progress mural being painted (by local Barrington resident and artist, Susan Johanson Palumbo) at the front entry of the school. The mural expresses the four seasons and native species to Illinois, with animal parents attending to their young offspring – a fitting symbol for parents wishing the best for their children at Barrington Early Learning Center.