Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Is a Quiet Environment Important in Children's Learning?

Category: Child Care


A recent study in Berlin, Germany showed the effect on learning of excessive noise in the children's environment. The study proved that noise levels in about one fifth of the Berlin apartments located near main roads had decibel levels well over the recommended levels of 65. They were up to 10 decibels higher, which translates to a noise which is 10 times higher than what is considered reasonable. The effect of this noise created primarily by vehicles on highways did show an effect on children's learning, even in the formative years when they are trying to learn communications skills, reading and writing. The study also showed that the excessive noise affected concentration and intellectual performance on all age children. The children were less able to attain deep concentration. They tired easier and they worked slower. It was difficult for them to filter out all the unimportant background noises and they scored lower on their tests compared to their more attentive control students who were not in such high noise environments.

Similar findings have been shown in studies from Japan and the United States. All the studies conclude that children living and going to school in areas of very excessive motor traffic or very near airports or other overcrowded urban areas have a harder time learning than if they were in a quiet environment. August Schick of the Institute for Research in Human Environment Relations at Oldenburg University in Germany describes the difficulty in focusing attention with excessive noise as the channel model. According to this model, information being processed through the sensory organs such as the ears must pass through a restricted channel to be processed by the brain. If there is too much sensory input received at one time such as the excessive city noises, the channel becomes overloaded and at least partially blocked. What solutions can we find for this all too common problem in our inner cities? We might try building double glazed windows on our houses and apartments and demanding a lower speed limit in certain areas around schools and apartments. Other interesting studies have shown that hard rock music and loud non-rhythmic music impairs learning. On the other hand, rhythmic, baroque type music which mimics the timing and rhythm of a heart beat has been shown to actually improve learning when played in the background in a classroom or study environment. What is the message here for parents of school age children? We must control the noise level of learning environments for our kids to have their best shot at effective learning. We must limit excessive loud music such as hard rock and heavy metal, particularly while our children are studying. We might try playing a song like Pachelbel's Cannon Suite in D or a hundred other good baroque type soft rhythms in the background. The choice is ours, but ultimately the effect of the results will influence our children's learning and their future.