Created in 1992 for the Highly Effective Teaching Model
The space we create controls us, and the way we
arrange our physical space affects people and
performance. Nowhere is this arrangement of our
space more important than in the school. Those of us
who are involved in education are aware of the
importance of the richness of the environment in
aiding the educational process. By richness, I don’t
mean the luxuriousness of the surroundings but the
variety of the stimulating elements in the classroom.
In a classroom the teacher’s desire is to have a space
that will stimulate the students to learn. As in any
interior design project we choose objects and
materials that will make the room aesthetically
beautiful as well as functional. However, teachers
often go overboard with their enriching elements,
and we spaces that are cluttered with so many
“things” that the student goes into overload and
shuts off.
The overload condition occurs because the human
sense organs operate not by monitoring constant
input but by detecting and responding to changes in
stimulation. We require environmental change to
function. The ideal room design would balance the
changes in situation and for this we look to nature.
In nature these changes occur when we are exposed
to constant variations in light, air movement, colors,
smells, and textures. These variations are usually
gradual. Extreme changes like electrical storms are
very dramatic, and while adults may find this drama
very exciting, for children these extreme changes
can be frightening.
In the same way, for young children too much
stimulation in their environment may be disorienting.
Children need spaces where they can focus their
attention. Too few materials make an area seem
drab and uninteresting. But too many materials, a
cluttered environment, make it confusing. The
stimuli become overwhelming. It becomes “visual
noise” and just as a loud environment makes it too
noisy to learn; a cluttered environment makes it too
confusing to think.
Human beings function with two mental states which
may be called stimulation/activity and
rest/rejuvenation. There needs to be a balance
between these two conditions in order for people to
perform at their optimal level. Research indicates
that the attention span of an adult is approximately
40 minutes, after which the level of performance
drops. For children the time would be less depending
upon the age but the theory is the same. A rest
period, a natural occurrence that happens when
people look off into the distance or daydream, serves
to rejuvenate the human system, and motivates
people to be productive once again.
An interesting approach to this would be to consider
the display tactics used in store design.
For a classroom to serve these two mental states it
should provide areas that are stimulating and areas
that are restful. An interesting approach to this
would be to consider the display tactics used in store
design; which are also appropriate for classroom
An interesting approach to this would be to consider
the display tactics used in store design. Create a
fresh vantage point by moving the location of
materials and changing displays often. Stores and
classrooms have items that are repetitious to the
eye. It is not necessary to display all of them.
Removing materials and relocating them at a later
time can create a feeling of discovery. Leaving a wall
blank can create a feeling of expectancy. We create
interest by using fewer items, and arranging them I
cluster or groupings to focus attention
The Japanese are masters at focusing. Most
Japanese rooms are very under furnished to our
Western eyes. There is always one beautiful image
as the focal point in a room. It is usually an alcove
with a hanging scroll on the wall and an ikebana, a
quite stylized floral arrangement in the front of the
scroll. The rest of the room is very simple so there
is space for thought and reflection.
Good design recognizes that we need interesting
things to look at which may be called “visual touch”,
interesting things to touch for the pleasure and
tactile stimulation they provide, and interesting
spaces to be in. We need these things in proper
proportions to provide a balance between stimulation
and relaxation. Remember that the space we create
controls us. If we change the space, we can advance
the program. A good place to start is to remove the
clutter and let the space in.