Whether or not we can quite put a finger on why, we all have an emotional connection with light. There’s a reason why we illuminate our bedroom with lamps and candles instead of industrial floodlights.
But have you ever stopped to think about the way you’ve lit up your Early Years setting?
If you haven’t, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll look at how you can use lighting to help direct children’s moods and energy, create new spaces within a room, and help the little ones feel more at ease at your child care setting.
Like all of us, children have an intuitive response to light— and research suggests that it can help shape the way they learn. So let’s shed some light on the subject.
Thinking about light as a tool
Throughout your day, you’ve got to help children through different moods and energy levels for the activities you’re doing. We’re all used to using our voice, our gestures, and our instructions to help guide children — but you might not think of lighting as a part of your toolkit.
But according to Imke Wies van Mil, lighting has a whole lot to do with how we feel and act.
Imke is a lighting designer based in Denmark, who is working towards a Ph.D. from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in architectural design. Much of her work focuses on how different lighting makes us think and feel, and how we can use that to change behavior.
She says that children as young as two can recognize different emotional and atmospheric qualities to light, and that you can use this to shape more comfortable classrooms.
“Lighting helps us create different atmospheres — by changing the lighting, you can create a change in the room,” Imke says. “Maybe you want children to settle down and be quiet, or have them be active and playful, or draw them in as a small group. For all of these, you can use lighting as a tool.”
3 ways to use lights in your setting
Right, enough theory. How can you make this work in your own early learning environment?
Here are three examples of different lights you can use in your child care setting, and how they can support the activities you do every day.
- Pendant lamps: These are a great way of creating what Imke calls “pools of light” — intimate spaces for smaller groups. Pendant lamps are ideal for your reading corner, or you could hang them over communal tables and switch them on for some quiet focus time.
- Portable lamps: In your Early Years setting, Imke recommends portable, battery-powered lamps as a great way to let children use light in just the way they prefer. It allows them to take the light down to their own scale, and create the right atmosphere for smaller activities.
- Overhead lighting: You’ve probably already got this in your classroom setting, and it’s not a bad thing. Imke calls this bright, broad light “general light”. It’s a great light to get the whole group connected in one activity, and particularly something more high energy — like open playtime, or for a boost of energy after lunch or naptime.
- Natural lighting: Not every room has the luxury of great natural light, but if you do, it’s smart to make use of it. Natural lighting has been shown to help boost our mood, regulate our sleep schedule, and for older children, even raise test scores. Plus, it’s a good way to cut back on your power bills.
Shaping space for children
We use things like furniture or wall decorations to change our sense of space, and to make smaller, purposeful areas within a larger room. But light can be a big part of this, too. If you get on the floor to play with children, why not bring the light down with you too?
“Adults design buildings on a scale that’s based on a 5’11” human being. When you’re a tiny person in these spaces, everything seems much larger, which can be a lot to handle,” Imke says. “But you can use light to help bring that space to their level, so they feel more like the space is designed for them.”
That’s what good lighting in the Early Years is about, really — just helping children feel more comfortable in your space. Lighting doesn’t need to be expensive, or complex. What’s important is that you think of lighting as one more tool in your toolbox to help create the best environment for the little ones to learn.
“Lighting design can become a part of how you teach if you use it to create spaces that draw them in, and help them feel focused and calm for your activities,” Imke says. “Ultimately, it’s about giving children this intuitive understanding that they are important, they are seen, and this space is about them.”
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