Skip to nav Skip to content

How to Design a K-12 Classroom to Support Student Mental Health

February 22, 2022
  • K-12 Education

Students can spend up to seven hours a day in a K-12 classroom, so it’s no wonder that the classroom’s design and ambiance can have a major impact on students’ mental health and morale. A study from the American Sociological Association shows that something as simple as access to child-friendly furnishings correlates with fewer mental health issues among students.

An inviting classroom arrangement can also support social interaction and empower students in the process, according to research from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

Here are some strategies to consider for developing a happy, healthy classroom that students are eager to enter.

Tips for Approaching Your Classroom Design

As you approach how to design a classroom to accomodate different learning styles, it helps to keep a few general guidelines in mind.

  • Engage furniture. Student morale in learning has a direct correlation to the physical environment. Our research found that classroom furniture alone can increase the amount of student participation and learning retention by more than one-third.

  • Define objectives. Support your goals for interaction and instruction by outlining your pedagogical intention. For instance, an active learning classroom meant to foster a playful, social climate will look different than a classroom designed to direct students’ attention at the educator.

  • Solicit participation. Allow students to help create their physical learning environment. When students have agency over their learning space, they are more likely to look forward to school and be engaged.

FBLIT_St Bede_Pillar_600 series_Lab.jpg

Creating a Strong Learning Environment

By maximizing the use of lighting and seating arrangements, you can help bring a sense of life and well-being to the classroom. 

Classroom Lighting

Access to windows and natural light has a significant impact on student well-being. Limited exposure to sunlight can even lead to depression.

Learn how classrooms at Notre Dame of De Pere used movable glass storefront entrances to usher in natural light and support student well-being while providing instructors with clear sightlines to students studying in other areas.

We understand you only have so much control over the design of your classroom. If you’re working with limited windows, make sure to keep bookcases, shelves and artwork out of the way to maximize any natural light. Adding plants and natural elements can help improve well-being, too. A University of Illinois study found that a view of greenery can reduce students’ stress levels and improve their test performance.

At the other end of the spectrum, large windows without adequate shades or other room darkeners can create a glare that makes visual media difficult to use, impeding student learning in the process. If your room has limitations when it comes to adjustable shades, get creative by constructing a mosaic out of tissue paper over the windows. You can even change it with the seasons or match the themes of your lesson plans.

FBLIT_ND_Ruckus Tote Storage_600 Series Stool_Pillar Large Rectangle_Classroom 2.jpg

Classroom Seating Arrangements

When considering interaction and instruction, different classroom style seating arrangements each have a unique set of advantages.

  • Rows of seats: This traditional classroom design is well-suited to instructor-focused or non-interactive lessons as well as test-taking. It’s not meant for interaction, given that students in the front row can’t see their peers and those in the back of the room mostly see the backs of their classmates’ heads.

  • Groups of tables and chairs: This arrangement is excellent for group work because it allows students to collaborate on a shared surface. Ideal for maker-centered classrooms, you can configure mobile furniture to make dynamic groups. You can also rearrange furniture on the fly to bring students together for other purposes.

  • Semicircle of seating: This layout encourages interaction and gives students a line of sight to their classmates. It also provides younger students a space to gather in the middle on the floor. It’s a great layout for fostering student relationships, creating an open environment and establishing a sense of community.

No matter what layout you choose, mobile chairs offer maximum flexibility for rearranging the classroom as needed. For added functionality, pair seating with mobile writable surfaces that allow students to move around and sit or stand as needed.

Classroom Design Considerations for Teachers

As a teacher, you have a unique opportunity to influence the design of your classroom and improve your students’ learning experience in the process. It can be a challenge to know how to accommodate different learning styles in the classroom, so perhaps just start small. One simple change can make a major difference in supporting the mental health of your students.

If you’re inspired to try a new layout for your K-12 classroom, test it out virtually with our new Classroom Planner design tool. Also make sure to browse our top 10 favorite K-12 furniture solutions.

And as always, our team is here to help. Reach out to me directly at or contact your dedicated KI specialist.

If inspiration has already struck, share your space with us at @KItweets on Twitter or @KIfurniture on Instagram. We can’t wait to see what you create!


by Emily McGinnis  K-12 Education Specialist

Emily previously spent 21 years of her career in the K-12 realm, splitting her time as a teacher and principal in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Her blend of leadership, teaching, and community growth provide a wealth of knowledge to KI’s K-12 clients and internal team members. Emily holds a masters in teaching from Wingate University and has earned other degrees in sociology, school administration K-12 and reading specialist K-12.


Stay up to date with the latest trends and more.

By clicking "Accept All Cookies," you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage and assist in marketing efforts. For more information, see Website Privacy.

Accept All Cookies