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Do decorated classrooms distract young children?

Picture a kindergarten classroom. What do you see?

Chances are, your mental image doesn’t include blank walls. But a new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that kindergarten students in a visually stimulating classroom tended to be more distracted than those in a comparatively sterile environment.

As reported in a New York Times article, “Rethinking the Colorful Kindergarten Classroom,” this study suggests that elaborately decorated classrooms might distract from, rather than encourage, learning.

In the austere classroom in the study, the kindergartners — age-appropriately wriggly and restless — were inclined to be distracted by others or even themselves. In the decorated one, the visuals competed with the teacher for their attention. The children spent far more time off-task in the decorated classroom than in the plain one, and their test scores were also lower.

Teachers who agree with the study recommend starting the year with relatively blank walls and adding student work to decorate the room as the year goes on.

Yet teachers of primary grades often start the year with decorated classrooms to help create a cheerful and welcoming environment. And many teachers have had administrators who expect them to cover every inch of wall space with some kind of chart or poster.

Tell us: What’s your reaction to this new research? What works for you when decorating your own classrooms?



  • 1 Linda Butkowski
    · Jun 20, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    This is not new knowledge. Years ago they advised teachers that students with ADD would be distracted in a classroom that was “too busy” with information on the walls.

  • 2 John Clemente
    · Jun 25, 2014 at 10:54 am

    When I transferred to a new school, I already had 20 years under my belt. I’d say I know what works and what doesn’t. I was told to have posters and charts everywhere. NOT a good thing, especially for students who have focusing issues. Some posters? Yes. A room filled with them with print so small, an ant couldn’t make them out? NO!!