Colours for living and learning
Colour through age development
Over a hundred years ago the pioneering educationalist Rudolph Steiner believed that people were surrounded by particular colours that had a spiritual influence and objective effect on their emotional life as well as benefiting physical health and mental well-being. Followers of the Steiner philosophy introduced his principles into their networks of schools and communities. It was believed that surrounding children with soft pastels and rounded architectural forms at the kindergarten level (2-7 years), progressing to central shared learning areas with stronger more vibrant colours for older children (7-10 years) then onto larger shared work areas in which soft greens and blues were used for children from 10 into their teenage years, was less distracting to the mental concentration of each stage of development.
Very young children and colour
Green is calming but can be cold when used as a wall colour, especially in a south facing or dark room. Yellow or blue-based greens create differing effects. Blue-based greens are good as a cooling element in a hot north/west facing room. The fresher yellow-based greens are beneficial when used as an accent in soft orange or red rooms. This will add a balance to colours that are warming and stimulating.
Blues on their own can also be cold and may make a child more susceptible to colic and colds. Blue is a good colour if a child is over-active and can be used as a wall colour with contrasting warm colours in drapes, mats or bed linen. Clear pastels to mid-tones of blue are less cold and more appealing. Very dark blues are not recommended for young children as their intensity relates to DARK and can cause nightmares.
Comfort colours for very young children are pinks, peaches, pale almond beiges and lavenders as these equate to love and security.
Older children and colour
Soft fruity coral reds and violet blues are good for social areas as they create inspiration and imaginative play. Reds are generally not as good for the implementation of ideas into concrete goals as they stimulate but don’t encourage achievement. Violets open both sides of the brain – both the logical and the creative – and children often do their most interesting work when small amounts of this colour are present.
Like adults, children have distinct personalities and colours that appeal to their souls. This means that some children who are active and outgoing are happy in a brightly coloured rumpus/playroom. It may not however be what they need in a learning environment. Scaling down the bright hues they ask for to softer versions might be a wise thing. Work or study areas should ideally be decorated in more muted colours.
Less energetic or more sensitive children might always be attracted to softer, paler colours but may need cleaner, sharper colours in a learning environment to activate them. Grey is not recommended as it is a hue with no direction or purpose. It is neutral and indecisive. White as a standalone colours in a learning environment is chilly and needs to be used as an accent to contrast with pastels or bright colours.
Teenagers and colour
Teenagers go through an identity crisis and often use black to hide this as they feel it is cool. Black needs to be combined with other colours if it is to be used as it is not beneficial to emotional development. It is without light. Using small amounts of fluoro brights will lift the young person away from the feeling of isolation or withdrawal from the world. Red is a favourite bright for this age group – it expresses sexual development and intense energy. Bold blues and citrus greens also provide some tranquillity and release of tension.
Purple is usually embraced when the mind develops social awareness and outward thoughts – this is later in the teenage years, usually between 14-17 years old. Texture and changing sheens in fabric (matt velvets to silky satins) offer a positive tactile experience to teenagers as well as being seen to be desirable from a cool point of view. At this age a fixation with metal and glass in all forms is prevalent – car fetishes with young boys and jewellery with girls.
Older people and colours
Softer shades of reds and oranges are warming and can help with circulation and energy levels. Peaches, apricots, warm tans, terracottas and pinks can also be used for this purpose. Reflecting on the past and thoughts of a spiritual future can also be reflected in colour choices. Soft blues, lavender mauves and violets are colours that connect to the spiritual or reflective mood. It is interesting to note that blue rinsed hair tints and lavender water are the province of the elderly lady. Studies carried out in nursing/rest homes indicate that soft pinky-beiges contrasted with soft blue/greens are emotionally supporting, physically nourishing and mentally soothing and peaceful. The judicious use of floral pattern can evoke the tranquillity of rural life and the simplicity of times past.
General guides to colour self help
Dark Bright Blues
Information collated by Carolyn Atkinson, Resene Colour Consultant, 2004.
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