Young children are more susceptible to coughs, colds and minor illnesses than adults - who have a more mature immune system.
As we've become increasingly aware of the impact our built environment can have on the people using the space, it's now possible to take steps in your school and classroom designs to improve the health and wellness of building occupants.
We're looking at five elements of your classroom design that can help improve student health and wellness, to minimize time they spend off sick, and maximize learning time in the classroom.
1) Improve Air Quality
Poor indoor air quality can exacerbate existing respiratory illnesses, as well as trigger asthma and other allergies. Therefore, proper ventilation can drastically improve indoor air quality; a well-maintained HVAC system is essential for improving health and wellness in the classroom.
Another contributor to poor indoor air quality are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are found in many building and construction products. A whole range of products can release VOCs: paints, sealants, or flooring adhesives are common sources.
This means that in the period immediately following a classroom renovation, your classroom has the potential to suffer from poor indoor air quality, if contractors haven't considered VOCs when selecting their products.
2) Let in Light
Access to natural light has a huge impact on health and wellness, as it helps regulate the body’s sleeping patterns and circadian rhythms.
Schools can work to maximize daylight in the classroom by ensuring blinds are open, and work isn't displayed on windows. However, it's not always possible for classrooms to have wide windows that let in a lot of natural light. In this case, switching to full-spectrum lighting (rather than conventional lighting) is the next best option.
One study found that students in classrooms using full spectrum light were healthier and attended school 3.2 to 3.8 days more per year, compared with their peers in conventionally-lit classrooms.
3) Reduce Noise
Elevated noise levels have been linked to stress, so managing noise levels in the classroom can have real health and wellness benefits. Additionally, it can be a real help with learning and comprehension, as all students will be better able to hear the teacher and their classmates.
A simple design change, like opting for carpet rather than hard flooring, can greatly reduce noise levels in the classroom: footsteps will be quieter as carpet is better at absorbing structure-borne sound, and chairs will make less noise when moved around too.
You can also install acoustical ceiling tiles, and sound control doors to minimize distractions from sounds outside the classroom.
4) Encourage Movement
One of the biggest design changes you can make is to encourage movement within the classroom. An extremely sedentary lifestyle contributes to a range of health issues, such as obesity and diabetes, so encouraging regular movement can make a huge difference to students' health and wellbeing.
Additionally, movement is a great way to encourage active learning, where students engage with their studies through different activities. Increased movement can improve health and wellness, but also learning and student outcomes, too.
5) Teach Healthy Eating and Nutrition
Research shows that the food choices made in childhood have a huge impact on eating habits as adults. For elementary schools in particular, it's possible to encourage healthy eating through the food available in the classroom.
Providing healthy snacks for break times, along with plenty of drinking water, will help students form a habit of healthy snacking, rather than going straight for unhealthy options.