Forward Thinking Approach to Lighting Design’s Transformative Effects on Children’s Environment and Learning in K-12 Schools
When we think about ways to increase attendance and productivity in our schools, lighting is rarely considered ahead of curriculum. “Psychologically, light can decrease depression scores and even increase cognitive performance such as reaction time and activation” (Kaplan and Kaplan 1988). We have invested years into refining what we learn in schools but without equally engineered thoughts concerning where we learn.
Shining Light on Mental Health Efforts in Schools
As standards and requirements continue to develop and expand for our schools, the needs and resources provided naturally will change as well. The aftereffect of the pandemic is still very much a factor for returning K-12 students who have recently experienced traumas that can lead to learning impediments or apathy and parents are searching for reasons to feel comfortable leaving their children in the care of schools. Mental health services are more necessary now than previously considered and schools should adopt best practices to combat these issues. One such cause can be attributed to a condition commonly known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a mood disorder caused by symptoms of depression that are activated during specific times of the year but more common during the winter months. This is significant because the months that this condition is most prevalent is during the time that schools are in full swing and is the busiest and most stressful due to it being exam season when testing for the SAT and Gmat occurs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of SAD include:
Light therapy is a common treatment method for SAD. There are unique and intuitive lighting techniques that can be integrated with a school’s lighting design to elicit specific therapeutic benefits. The concept is, to expose those students to a particular amount of light their first hours of the school day and act as a substitute for the natural sunlight lost from learning indoors. Studies have shown that it can cause a change in the brain’s chemicals, thus impacting mood, and is typically very effective for most individuals experiencing SAD.
How Lighting Affects Productivity in Schools
The successful academic results and accolades schools hope to produce should be reflective of the way buildings and workspaces are constructed. The lighting design is also a fundamental piece in creating a functional and productive workspace. According to the American Psychological Organization, “a study demonstrated that when people have control over the lighting in their workspaces their moods are more upbeat, they are more committed to their employers, and they have overall improved well-being". Teachers are the head of classrooms and the people we entrust to ensure the well-being of our most precious possessions.
They excel in the difficult task of implementing comprehensive strategies that are most conducive to learning for various times of the day. Motivating students to learn in between breakfast, lunch, and recreational hours of the school day presents different challenges for each. Integrating an adaptable lighting design that gives teachers another tool for maintaining an environment suitable for learning is a subtle but necessary consideration to make teachers feel more empowered and appreciated as valued employees of the school or more appropriately named, “primary caregivers” of our children during the day while parents are at work.
New LED advancements provide a level of capability that previously had been inaccessible to school facilities. Educating administrators and the design community, in the complexities of LED systems will help them better prioritize decisions when designing education facilities.
Peter Basso Associates and Illuminart, a division of Peter Basso Associates, has created cost-effective and appealing lighting design solutions for more than 30 years.