This year, I’ve had the opportunity to spend lots of time in classrooms as an instructional coach. Some teachers avoid overhead lights entirely, many others will turn on half of their fluorescents, and some use fabric over their lights to dim the harshness of the bulbs.
The strongest teachers in our building use lighting to set the right mood for different learning tasks, making adjustments throughout their blocks. These classroom lighting ideas should help you begin to improve your learning environment.
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Does classroom lighting affect learning?
Classroom lighting absolutely affects learning. Many teachers will get headaches from spending entire days in high stimulation environments under fluorescent bulbs. Some of the teachers in our building will immediately turn out the lights in their rooms during planning periods just to rest their eyes. When teachers feel stressed, so do students.
Bright overhead lighting seems to encourage high activity levels that works well for games, competition, and movement around the room. I like to see lights on bright for group work and collaboration and brain breaks that involve exercise.
Similarly, classrooms that are too dim cause eye strain, encourage napping, and can be used to to calm kids down as they transition from PE or recess back into good thinking.
My favorite way to light a classroom is with a combination of lamps, natural light from windows (if possible), mood lighting, and reduced overhead lighting. Ideally, the lighting combinations would change as students switch tasks.
What are the best classroom lighting ideas?
Below are some ideas to consider as you make a lighting plan for your classroom.
1. Natural Light
Natural light helps kids regulate their sleep/wake cycles, and it makes me feel more alert, too. It would be very hard for me to relocate to an interior part of our building where there are no windows.
In an ideal world, everyone would have huge picture windows in their classroom, and also easy ability to pull the blinds in an active shooter situation or drills.
I like to keep the blinds pulled almost to the top, but others will keep them half drawn. I make sure that I can reach all the cords easily and quickly manipulate the blinds.
My former classroom overlooked the courtyard, and when I first started in that classroom, it drove me crazy when kids would stare out the window at the rain or the squirrels in the trees. And then I realized that many of my kids had very limited experience with nature. We know for a fact that our kids aren’t getting enough outside time, so I decided it was healthy for them to be so interested.
If I just ignored the daydreaming, the child would almost always “return to Earth” within 5 minutes or so. And if the entire class erupted into chaos because of some rain (we’re in West Texas), that’s probably a sign that my lesson plan was lacking. Then again, rain is pretty exciting around here.
2. Reducing the Impact of Fluorescent Bulbs
Fluorescent bulbs cause headaches, eye strain, and even migraines for some people. They are not great, but they’re cheap and easy to for school districts to maintain.
Overhead lighting keeps kids awake and alert for learning, but it also can be overstimulating to kids who struggle with impulsivity, aggressiveness, and hyperactivity.
One idea is to put fabric covers over your fluorescent bulbs to dim the effects of this type of harsh lighting. If you add some lamps or natural lighting, it won’t negatively impact productivity, and you’ll experience fewer headaches, too.
Everybody loves a neon sign! These are so fun, and an easy way to amp up the classroom decor. Give me a sign that gives off growth mindset vibes and I’m all in!
String lights make every room feel more special! While they don’t give much light, they’re great for special movie clips or creating a coffee shop vibe when it’s time for more creative tasks like writing. There are lots of variations on string lights, but I especially like these larger bulbs that really compliment this classroom with a camping theme.
I love how this teacher with a Bohemian-themed room paired her string lights with gauzy fabric to create a cozy reading nook. It’s a clever way to create multiple zones in a room.
Battery Powered Accent Lights
This teacher mentioned to me that fluorescent bulbs really bother her as the day progresses, so she prefers to rely heavily on smaller lights in her portable building. Her kids are very zen and super productive, too.
She paired battery powered push lights with these rattan baskets hanging from a string to create overhead lighting for each table group. While it doesn’t light up the workspace a LOT, it does help to define each workstation and creates such a homey vibe.
Floor and Table Lamps
There’s nothing handier than floor and table lamps when you’re trying to focus on the lighting in your classroom. If you have enough outlets and seating options in your room, you can almost rely exclusively on table and floor lamps for independent work time, and the kids love it love this classroom lighting idea.
When I had my flexible seating classroom, I had multiple zones throughout the classroom where kids could work and collaborate, and I funded the lighting almost entirely from hand-me-downs from family members. Most people have ugly lamps in storage, and if they don’t, there are CHEAP ones at your local thrift store. Often, a can of spray paint can completely change the look of an old lamp.
If you don’t want to shop for used lamps, there’s always trusty Amazon.
A friend of mine has a wonderful little first grade class that earns “Flashlight Fridays” as one of their rewards. It’s great because they get time to read just for enjoyment, using their library books or classroom library. Each kid is given an inexpensive, kid-friendly flashlight, and then she draws the blinds in her dimly lit portable. Not only are the flashlights great fun, it’s also one more way to punctuate the day with creative lighting.
Concluding Thoughts: Classroom Lighting Ideas
Once you’re past the first couple of years of teaching, you’ll begin to have a strong handle on classroom management, lesson plans, and all the basics. Start thinking about classroom lighting ideas to push your classroom culture of productivity to the next level! You’ll be the favorite spot in the building!