A peak into many kindergarten classrooms across the country will reveal teachers trying to make classrooms feel warm and inviting by plastering the walls with colorful decorations and fun patterns. But could this effort to make school a welcoming place for its youngest students actually be hurting their ability to learn? In a New York Times article Jan Hoffman delves into new research showing how easily distracted kindergarteners are by their surroundings.

“A new study looked at whether such classrooms encourage, or actually distract from, learning. The study, one of the first to examine how the look of these walls affects young students, found that when kindergartners were taught in a highly decorated classroom, they were more distracted, their gazes more likely to wander off task, and their test scores lower than when they were taught in a room that was comparatively spartan. The researchers, from Carnegie Mellon University, did not conclude that kindergartners, who spend most of the day in one room, should be taught in an austere environment. But they urged educators to establish standards.”

  • Laurie Cornell

    Students shouldn’t look up from their work to see store-bought posters and cute patterned bulletin boards. They should see anchor charts, created during whole group lessons, by teachers AND students. These serve as reference during content work and as real world examples of the importance of the written word. Relevant “decorations” like this are not distractions. They are an important part of a balanced approach to literacy.

    • Kristie Elliott

      I totally agree…very well said!! I love engaging the students into the bulletin board or wall displays which helps fuels their intrinsic motivation.

    • jilliejillerjill

      You are so right! After the students and teacher have created something together in conjunction with a lesson/activity, it becomes a place (both on the wall and in their brain) to reflect and recheck. I don’t know anyone who does store bought cutsie stuff anymore. It’s too expensive anyway!

  • Kay

    There’s a limit to how much visual stimulation children need. Yes, they need to see their own work products and artwork along with a limited amount of charts, etc. Classroom decorations should enhance the classroom and the overall learning experience, not over stimulate and distract students.

  • Cheryl

    I’m sorry…you lost me at test scores. Test scores in Kindergarten?! Are you kidding me? This article focuses on distractions on the wall when the really worry should be why the heck are we looking at test scores in 5-6 year old children. They are CHILDREN. They need visual stimulation. They need to be able to actively investigate the classroom and explore. They need to look around and be distracted. The real problem here is expecting them to sit quietly and pass tests. It is bad enough that we test in grades 3-5, the last thing we should be worried about is scores in Kinder. How absurd.

    Children learn through exploration, investigation, and curiosity. When we squelch that natural instinct to learn to impose testing and mandatory learning, we strip children of the desire to learn anything at all. It then becomes harder throughout the years to re-light the fire of learning in them. The last thing we should be worried about in this article is the classroom decoration. We should be worried about why it is acceptable to even mention test scores in relation to children that young.

  • Carol Sheaff

    Many classrooms these days don’t have simple decorations…the walls have curriculum related references to help the students learn and remember. These resources can be made by students or teachers. Unfortunately, school districts are pushing for test scores and direct teachers to test, test, test! There is no time for fun anymore in the school day! Very unfortunate, since the ‘fun’ was many times the BEST teacher! In our district, the fire chief has limited wall coverage to a very small percent, so ‘pretty and cute’ wall décor does not exist. Our kindergarteners were tested 4 times this year. Sad.

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