Colour me Beautiful

by Barbara Prashnig



The importance of colours in learning environments

In my nearly twenty years of involvement with style diversity, I have often been asked about the importance of colours in classrooms and learning environments. The more I hear and read about the successes educators have with implementing learning styles in their classrooms, the more I have become aware how important the ‘right’ colours are for enhancing students’ learning. 

The way how people react to colours seems to be much more universal than their need for light (more about that in my next blog) and is based on the strong emotional qualities of different colours. 

Colours have an impact on human emotions, trigger feelings and undoubtedly have spatial effects in rooms. When colours are not conducive for learning, students can lose concentration, become tired or agitated, often disruptive and neither teachers nor parents suspect that the culprit might be ‘wrong’ colour schemes in their learning environments. 

You can imagine how this could come about: children have to spend many hours in standard classrooms painted with colours that are generally not enhancing their learning AND on top of that the colours in their learning environment at home might have been recommended by interior designers or chosen by the children themselves but might not support brain activities during learning sessions.

So, pay attention to colours - they could be ‘learning killers’!     

Although it is not possible to go into great depths in these areas within the confines of this blog, the main aspects are described here. For further reading please visit the websites below where much of the information was derived from.  

Colours in science

Regarding colours, there are some basic guidelines and insights and most of them go back to the 1960's when the Swiss Professor Dr. Max Lüscher created his colour test which is still being used as a psychological assessment tool today.

Here are the basics, applicable not only to classroom environments:

BLUE: feels tranquil, cool, serene; certain shades of blue cause the brain to secrete tranquilising chemicals; can be perceived as 'cold'.

GREEN: makes people feel secure and "tended", persistent and self-centred; can be perceived as dull.

TURQUOISE: is a tranquilising, creates a sense of relaxed enjoyment.

RED: increases respiratory rates, stimulates eating, can increase blood pressure; feels exciting and invites impulsiveness; over-exposure can result in agitation.

YELLOW: is recognised by humans faster than any other colour; evokes spontaneity, is joyful, optimistic; is truly virtuous and joyous in its purest form. It exudes warmth, inspiration and vitality, and is the happiest of all colours, signifying communication, enlightenment, sunlight and spirituality.

ORANGE: dominant, lively; peachy orange is warm; bright orange is non-relaxing

TERRACOTTA/BROWN: evokes "back-to-earth" feeling; inspires ‘grounded-ness’

VIOLET: can be overpowering; pastels are better for background.

GREY/SMOKE: has a calming effect, helps to focus, good for older students when the workload becomes more demanding.  

BLACK: can cause depressive, pessimistic thoughts and mood swings, can create a negative environment. Don't use it!

Jessica Padykula claims in her blog that these 10 colours can make you smarter: 

For more information about colour psychology in all walks of life see:


How does colour impact children - and teachers - in the classroom?

  • Young children experience space as an emotion, and colour can have a big impact on how the child consciously or unconsciously behaves, socializes and learns in space.
  • Colours can encourage introversion or extroversion, cause anger or peacefulness and influence our physiological functioning.
  • In early childhood settings, there is often an overabundance of colour. Children's clothes provide colour in motion in addition to the bright colours of toys, artwork, furniture, etc. Designers, teachers and parents often use too much colour on the walls and the end result is a kaleidoscope atmosphere that cheers for a short time and wears on the children much of the time.
  • Mood can affect behaviour as well as attitude and the colours in a room can directly affect teachers’ and students’ moods. Specific colours encourage certain emotions and brightly coloured walls are not appropriate for classrooms

Practical tips:

Deep "warm" colours give classrooms an intimate, cosy feeling (red-violet, red, red-orange, orange, terracotta, yellow-orange) 

Light "cool" colours make a classroom seem more spacious, have a calming effect (green, blue-green, blue-violet; white also has this effect) 

Wall colours can be warm or cool tones, but keep the colours fairly light and not greyed. All colours will have to be chosen carefully and with consideration of the classroom layout, window and sun exposure, etc. A mistake is to go overboard with lots of bright, primary colours, particularly in primary schools. This is just as bad as an all black-and-white room.

A pale blue or green shade would have to be chosen carefully, just as any other colour in consideration. Clean, clear, light colours are usually best for a learning atmosphere, but can be varied depending on classroom usage and light. The same colour could be used in all classrooms on the same floor. In future there might be a new role of a colour designer in schools whose task it will be to create colour harmony conducive to learning and improve visual ergonomics.

Most often classrooms are either too cluttered or walls are stark and monotonous. The best would be a comfortable middle ground. In combination with colour, lighting is of utmost importance and natural light and full-spectrum lighting is the best.

The "blackboards" ideally should be green and not black, but are mostly white these days, although green is easier to look at over longer periods of time. Walls behind whiteboards should be of the same or slightly lighter reflectance value but don't match the wall colour to the whiteboard. Do not use white or off-white because of too little contrast, which is fatiguing to the eyes.

Desks and worktables should not be white or very pale. Again, watch out for the glare factor and keep surfaces matte and mid-toned. Wood and wood-like surfaces are excellent as long as they are not glossy.

For special needs children (and adults), stay away from large patterns; especially busy floor coverings, wall graphics and tile patterns. They can be visually ambiguous and confusing. The use of mirrors or glass partitions can also be a problem. Objects reflected in them can be disturbing and even frightening. If you are using so-called "Time-out" rooms for discipline purposes, remember, they should be friendly and home-like.

Informal breakout area in the Learning-to-Learn Centre at Cramlington High, UK, painted in soothing blue-tone colours.
Informal breakout area in the Learning-to-Learn Centre at Cramlington High, UK, painted in soothing blue-tone colours.

Classroom at Forbury Primary School in Dunedin, NZ, created with soothing blue-green-tone colours, especially helpful for calming hyperactive students.
Classroom at Forbury Primary School in Dunedin, NZ, created with soothing blue-green-tone colours, especially helpful for calming hyperactive students.

In conclusion we can say: too much colour, or colours that are too bright, can lead to overstimulation. Therefore it is vital to find a balance that enhances well-being, learning and concentration. 

On one of my many seminar tours through England I saw a very successful colour design in a primary school in Brighton, UK where I had conducted professional Learning Styles development training for teachers. During the holidays they had transformed an old and ugly brick stone building into a cheerful learning space: each of the three floors had a different yet related colour scheme – brighter colours in the corridors and paler colours in the classrooms, allowing for dim and bright light areas. I heard that it was so beautiful kids would drag their parents in after the first few days of the school year exclaiming, "Look mum, look how cool my school is!" 

In my next blog you can read about the importance of lighting in classrooms and learning environments in general.

Until then - colour your world beautiful!


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About Barbara Prashnig

Professor Barbara Prashnig, a pioneer und visionary in the field of style diversity in leaning and working as well as professional development. Her passion is to help people in difficult situations succeeding through better self knowledge. She is the Founding Director and CEO of Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, New Zealand.