Noise may affect your child’s learning more than you could imagine

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Read about the results of a very interesting study on the impact of noise on our kids' development...

Children can be noisy little beings, but have you ever stopped to think that noise (other than what they make) could have an effect on their development — in particular, their learning?

According to new research, it can.

In fact, noise is much more distracting to a kid’s brain than an adult’s and it could even have a negative impact on their learning, says a New York Times report.

At a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, reseachers said that one of the worst noise-related offenders is other voices talking in the background when a little one is trying to listen to someone or something.

“What a child hears in a noisy environment is not what an adult hears,” said Dr. Lori Leibold of Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, presenting parents with a Catch-22 situation.

This is because on the one hand, children need to hear speech and language in order to learn it, but on the other hand, “they’re less equipped to deal with it,” according to Dr. Rochelle Newman of the University of Maryland.

This is nothing to do with young kids’ ability to hear, because if they are healthy, the auditory system is quite well developed a few months after birth.

The experiment

Researchers simulated the din of a noisy restaurant in a series of experiments involving children.

They observed how easily these kids were able to detect known words such as “playground”, or how easily they learned new words, through the babble of the background noise and especially when a new voice emerged from all the noise.

According to Dr. Newman, the youngest child in the group was able to identify one person’s speech amid multiple talkers, but only at relatively low noise levels. So, with this in mind, “even the background noise during relatively quiet day care story time can be enough for tots to miss parts of what’s read,” she said.

This phenomenon is not just of concern for preschoolers and toddler. Dr. Leibold said “the ability to understand and process speech against competing background noise doesn’t mature until adolescence.”

What’s more, a young child’s brain — unlike that of an adult — is unable to tune out background noise. So, loud sudden noises, like the horn of a car, can obscure part of a word or sentence. In other words, their brain can’t fill in the blanks.

An adult’s brain, on the other hand, “automatically substitutes a logical choice, often well enough that the person doesn’t notice”, said Dr. Newman.

Dr. Leibold added the research has implications for classroom design, as “the type of flooring or ceiling height can either soften kids’ natural noise or bounce it around.”

University of Maryland child language specialist Nan Bernstein Ratner said, “we tend to think bustling environments and creating background noise is stimulating for kids.  But what’s stimulating on the part of the parent may not be for the child.”

Here are some tips from Ratner and other experts, as stated in The New York Times:

  • Don’t leave the TV, radio and other electronics on in the background. It’s not clear whether soft music is distracting, but lyrics might be.
  • Speak clearly and make eye contact.
  • Especially in noise, make sure tots see your face. They can pick up on mouth movements, Newman said.
  • If the child doesn’t understand, try again with simpler words.
  • If a child’s having school behavior problems, make sure being unable to hear in class isn’t the problem.

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Child Health Health / Wellness