Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.2 Quality of the Outdoor and Indoor Environment

5.2.2 Lighting Levels of Illumination

Natural lighting should be provided in rooms where children work and play for more than two hours at a time. Wherever possible, windows installed at child’s eye level should be provided to introduce natural lighting. All areas of the facility should have glare-free natural and/or artificial lighting that provides adequate illumination and comfort for facility activities. The following guidelines should be used for levels of illumination:

  1. Reading, painting, and other close work areas: fifty to 100 foot-candles on the work surface;
  2. Work and play areas: thirty to fifty foot-candles on the surface;
  3. Stairs, walkways, landings, driveways, entrances: at least twenty foot-candles on the surface;
  4. Sleeping and napping areas: no more than five foot-candles during sleeping or napping except for infants and children who are resting in the same room that other children are involved with activities.
These levels of illumination facilitate cleaning, reading, comfort, completion of projects, and safety (3). Too little light, too much glare and confusing shadows are commonly experienced lighting problems. Inadequate artificial lighting has been linked to eyestrain, headache, and non-specific symptoms of illness (1).

Natural lighting is the most desirable lighting of all. Windows installed at children’s eye level not only provide a source of natural light, they also provide a variety of perceptual experiences of sight, sound, and smell, which may serve as learning activities for children and a focus for conversation. The visual stimulation provided by a window is important to a young child’s development (1,2). Natural lighting provided by sky lights exposes children to variations in light during the day that is less perceptually stimulating than eye-level windows, but is still preferable to artificial lighting.

A study on school performance shows that elementary school children seem to learn better in classrooms with substantial daylight and the opportunity for natural ventilation (4).

Lighting levels should be reduced during nap times to promote resting or napping behavior in children. During napping and rest periods, some degree of illumination must be allowed to ensure that staff can continue to observe children. While decreased illumination for sleeping and napping areas is a reasonable standard when all the children are resting, this standard must not prevent support of individualized sleep schedules that are essential for infants and may be required by other children from time to time.

When providing artificial lighting, consider purchasing energy-efficient bulbs or lamps (e.g., compact fluorescent lights [CFL] or light emitting diode [LED] bulbs) to help benefit our children’s environment (5-7). Saving electricity reduces carbon monoxide emissions, sulfur oxide, and high-level nuclear waste (8). CFLs contain very small amounts of mercury and care should be taken to ensure the lights are not at risk for breaking and are disposed of properly. In rooms that are used for many purposes, providing the ability to turn on and off different banks of lights in a room, or installation of light dimmers, will allow caregivers/teachers to adjust lighting levels that are appropriate to the activities that are occurring in the room.

Contact the lighting or home service department of the local electric utility company to have foot-candles measured.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Areas for School-Age Children
  1. Greiner, D., D. Leduc, eds. 2008. Well beings: A guide to health in child care. 3rd ed. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Paediatric Society.
  2. Greenman, J. 1998. Caring spaces, learning places: Children’s environments that work. Redmond, WA: Exchange Press.
  3. IESNA School and College Lighting Committee. 2000. Recommended practice on lighting for educational facilities. ANSI/IESNA RP-3-00. New York: Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.
  4. Heschong, L. 2002. Daylighting and human performance. ASHRAE J (June): 65-67.
  5. American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers, American Institute of Architects, Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, U.S. Green Building Council, U.S. Department of Energy. 2008. Advanced energy design guide for K-12 school buildings, 148. Atlanta, GA: ASHRAE.
  6. Kats, G. 2006. Greening America’s schools: costs and benefits.
  7. Tanner, C. 2008. Explaining relationships among student outcomes and the school’s physical environment. J Advanced Academics 19:444-71.
  8. Maine Senate Democrats. 2007. Legislative leaders change to high-efficiency light bulbs.