You’ve seen the colorful walls of kindergarten classrooms, adorned with crate paper, numbers, the alphabet, funny pictures, and charming animals. This has become the standard for kindergarten classrooms across the country, likely fueled by the rise of learning supply stores. But what type of impact does this have on children?

A new study from Carnegie Mellon University examined whether these cheery classrooms stimulate, or distract from, learning. This study, the first of its kind, found that children taught in a colorfully decorated classroom were generally more distracted and had lower test scores, when compared to the same statistics when they were taught in a relatively drab room.

During the study, 24 kindergartners were taught in two separate classrooms: one adorned with posters, maps, and artwork, while the other was comparatively plain. The kindergartners sat on the ground in semicircles facing the teacher, reading aloud from a picture book. This same experiment was attempted six times over two weeks using books on various topics. All of these lessons were videotaped, mostly to monitor the attention of the children.

However, these researchers did not conclude that kindergarten classrooms should be made simple and boring. “So many things affect academic outcomes that are not under our control,” said Anna V. Fisher, lead author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon. “But the classroom’s visual environment is under the control of the teachers. They’re trying their best in the absence of empirically validated guidelines.”

Some experts believe that this colorful décor does in fact impede the learning process for young students. Patricia Tarr, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who researches early childhood education and art education, is one of these skeptics.

“I want to throw myself over those scalloped borders and cute cartoon stuff and scream to teachers, ‘Don’t buy this, it’s visually damaging for children!’ “ Tarr said.

Tarr has been fighting against decorating classrooms for a long time. She published a paper in 2004 called Consider the Walls, where she argued that the cluttered walls posed problems for children with attention deficits.

One benefit that must also be considered is the comfort that colorful classrooms provide to kindergarten students. However, is this benefit worth the potential costs to our students’ education?

What do you think about the design of kindergarten classrooms?