Discover how noise affects children and explore 5 effective tips to enhance classroom acoustics 
 
Enhancing Classroom Acoustics: The Impact of Background Noise and Reverberation on Children 
When designing a classroom, the importance of background noise and reverberation cannot be overstated. Intuitively, we know that good classroom acoustics promote better learning, but what does the research reveal? 
 
Various studies have examined how background noise and reverberation in classrooms influence speech intelligibility, memory, and the well-being of students. 
 
The Susceptibility of Children to Noise Effects 
Research shows that children's speech intelligibility is more affected by the signal-to-noise ratio than by reverberation time. Younger students, particularly those under 13, are more susceptible to the impacts of noise due to the ongoing maturation of their auditory pathways and developing phonological processing skills. 
 
Studies indicate that as children age, their ability to process speech in noisy environments improves. For example, children aged 14-15 perform nearly as well as adults in noisy conditions. However, younger children, especially those aged 6-7, struggle more. At a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 10 dB, adults and older children achieve speech intelligibility scores above 90%, whereas 6-7-year-olds score just below 80%. At 0 dB SNR, adults and older children score around 80%, while the younger children score about 60%. 
 
This information is crucial when planning classroom layouts or learning activities. What is suitable for an eighth-grade class may not be appropriate for first-grade students. 
 
For more information on how hearing impacts children and effective solutions, visit Hearing Specialists. 
 
The Challenge of Group Work in Noisy Environments 
A study by Professor Emily Elliot in 2002 explored the ability of children to recall sequences of visually presented verbal items amidst noise. The study found significant impairments in recall when children were exposed to "irrelevant sound," particularly changing-state noise like background speech. This was more detrimental than steady-state sounds such as white noise. 
 
In practical terms, high noise levels during group work (irrelevant sound) significantly affect memory, more so than constant background noise from a fan (steady-state sound). Age also plays a role; second graders experienced a 39% drop in recall performance in noisy conditions compared to an 11% drop in adults. 
 
To read more about how noise affects learning and memory, check out our blog on hearing health. 
 
The Effect of Noisy Classrooms on Children's Well-Being 
In 2019, Professor Astolfi and her colleagues studied how noise impacts the well-being and perceived disturbance of first graders. The study involved 326 students from 10 schools in Italy. Room acoustics were measured, and the socioeconomic status of the children was considered. 
 
Questionnaires were administered to determine the students' well-being and perceived disturbance. Students were categorized into "happy" and "unhappy" groups based on their responses. Happy students reported disturbances in classrooms with poor acoustics, while unhappy students related their complaints to personal feelings, such as fitting in at school. Higher noise and reverberation levels negatively impacted the children's perception of fun and self-contentment. 
 
For tips on improving classroom acoustics and creating a better learning environment, visit Hearing Specialists. 
 
Conclusion 
Understanding and mitigating the effects of background noise and reverberation in classrooms are essential for enhancing student learning and well-being. By implementing effective acoustic solutions, we can create a more conducive learning environment for all students. 
 
For more expert advice on managing hearing health and improving classroom acoustics, explore our resources at Hearing Specialists 
 
5 Effective Tips for Improving Classroom Acoustics 
1. Install Acoustical Tiles 
Acoustical tiles are highly effective in reducing reverberation and noise. If wall space is limited, these tiles can be installed on the ceiling. Fiberglass tiles, while more expensive than foam, are both highly effective and fire-safe. Consider using fiberglass acoustical tiles for optimal noise reduction. 
 
2. Seal Windows to Block Outdoor Noise 
If outdoor noise is an issue, check the window seals. Adding an inexpensive foam seal around each window can help. If noise passes through the glass, consider installing a second glass panel. Learn more about window noise reduction techniques. 
 
3. Soundproof Doors 
Sound passing through doors, such as from an adjacent classroom, can be mitigated by adding seals around the door or a drop seal at the bottom. Effective door soundproofing can significantly reduce classroom noise. 
 
4. Relocate Noisy Equipment 
Consider the placement of noisy equipment like computer fans. Often, these are located against walls or under desks surrounded by hard surfaces. Adding acoustical panels next to such equipment can absorb some of the noise. Discover simple ways to soundproof classroom equipment. 
 
5. Use Tennis Balls on Chair Legs 
A simple yet effective method to reduce noise from moving chairs is to place tennis balls on the bottom of chair legs. This method minimizes the noise produced when children move or leave their seats. 
 
 
References 
 
Gheller, F. et al (2020). Classroom Acoustics: Listening Problems in Children. Building Acoustics, 27(1), 3-77. https://doi.org/10.1177/1351010X19886035. 
 
Klatte M, Bergström K, Lachmann T (2003). Does noise affect learning? A short review on noise effects on cognitive performance in children. Front Psychol, 4(578). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00578. PMID: 24009598; PMCID: PMC3757288. 
Astolfi, A. et al (2019). Influence of Classroom Acoustics on Noise Disturbance and Well-Being for First Graders. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(2736). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02736. 
 
Shield, B. and Dockrell, J. (2003). The Effects of Noise on Children at School: A Review. Building Acoustics, 10(2), 97-106. DOI: 10.1260/135101003768965960. 
 
Nixon, M. (n.d.). A Crash Course in Classroom Acoustics. Acoustical Surfaces Inc, accessed June 2024, https://www.acousticalsurfaces.com/soundproofing_tips/html/crashcourse.htm. 
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