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Tips to create a nourishing classroom/ school environment Biophilic theory teaches that interior spaces should connect us with nature in a profound way. The interplay of visual, auditory, and haptic connectors can cement our relationship to interior spaces and support positive learning outcomes.

Classrooms that HEAL

DESIGNING SCHOOL SPACES to support mental health

By Diana Mogensen, former Vancouver teacher

Students were noticeably less anxious and spent more time in the learning center after I applied biophilic design principles to the space. Some, who previously avoided the learning center, gravitated toward it. They seemed less depressed, more productive, animated and refreshed, instead of drained while studying. After stressful therapy sessions with their respective treatment teams, their down time seemed to lessen. Their self-regulation skills and transition back to the learning environment seemed easier. I SPENT the last 10 years of my career teaching as part of the therapeutic team in the inpatient unit of the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program at BC Children’s Hospital, working with vulnerable children and youth and school teams from across BC, aligning my pedagogy with the team’s trauma-informed practices. My biophilic design studies made me acutely aware of how classroom environments affect the health, well-being, and academic performance of students. Classroom lighting, colour, plants, materials, air flow, and temperature all affect physical/ mental health and can be used to create comforting, nurturing spaces that restore, heal, and inspire.

go back to work after half an hour.” The yoga teacher who taught a class in the center noted how the room de-stressed students/patients.

Hospital staff began to enjoy lunch or quiet breaks in the learning center. One nurse said, “I love coming in here just to sit and think. I feel energized and ready to

I have witnessed real benefits from applying this theory to my classroom practice. Teachers can also apply biophilic design at home for self-care and to de-stress.  

8  TEACHER  Nov | Dec 2017

Biophilic design relates to the environmental and conversation movements of the last three centuries and was popularized by Harvard biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson. Defined as “love of life or living systems,” the term was originally coined by social psychologist and humanist Eric Fromm. Biophilic theorists and interior design experts subsequently identified 14 elements to consider when designing interior spaces that would encourage our mind/body systems to respond in healthful ways.

A diversity of plant life and textures (biodiversity) addresses students’ needs for visual complexity, keeping them engaged with the environment by reminding them of nature. Bring in plants and artistic replications of natural landscapes. Vertical gardens are a space-saving way to produce edibles, or just beautiful foliage. Open windows to allow fresh air flow when possible. Studies link fresh air to improved cognition. Deep mindful breathing is also helpful! Consider carefully the mood you want to achieve in your classroom. An art room meant to excite creative processes may have a vibrant palette. A natural palette can be calming. Overstimulating children and youth with bold colour and other stimuli could overwhelm some students, especially those with certain special needs. Recent research has shown that exposure to daylight can improve academic scores and attendance in a significant number of students. Inexpensive water features can be strong or whimsical additions to classrooms. Water features that can be seen, heard, and felt provide a haptic component as well as auditory and visual elements. Biophilic elements have the potential to improve: • mental agility • cognition • memory • mood • thinking • concentration/focus • learning • alertness. • adaptability And can counter the effects of: • fatigue • anxiety • anger. Learn more at

Teacher Magazine Nov/Dec 2017  

In this issue: Tips for teachers fighting fake news Teachers’s mental health Sunshine Coast local profile Pizza and paycheques Sex talk on t...

Teacher Magazine Nov/Dec 2017  

In this issue: Tips for teachers fighting fake news Teachers’s mental health Sunshine Coast local profile Pizza and paycheques Sex talk on t...