Improving the sound environment in classrooms supports learning

Improving the sound environment in classrooms supports learning

Noise disturbs children more than adults and exposure to noise weakens children’s learning results through various mechanisms. However, it is possible to control the noise in school classes for example with the right choices of materials and equipment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 35 decibels as the limit for background noise in school classes. Noise which exceeds the limit makes it more difficult to communicate and to distinguish speech. A computer’s noise level is 30-50 decibels, conversation makes 50-70 decibels and traffic will cause a sound of 70 to 85 decibels. The ear’s pain threshold is 125 decibels. There is a risk of hearing loss, when the noise level rises to 85 decibels for eight hours repeatedly.

According to measurements made in (Finnish) schools, the WHO recommendations may be exceeded even in an empty classroom. The noise is caused by air conditioning, traffic and activities in other parts of school facilities. During studying, the level of noise in the classroom depends on the size of the group and their ways of working.

The noise level in a school can rise momentarily over 90 decibels

The average noise level for eight hours is typically 70-80 decibels in kindergartens and schools. In certain situations and spaces, such as lobbies or hallways, cafeterias, moving from one place to another and during free play, the noise level can temporarily rise to over 90 decibels.

Mirka Hintsanen, professor of psychology at the University of Oulu, Finland, reminds in her article about noise research that adults find noise less disturbing than children, so it might be difficult for adults to understand how disturbing noise can be for children. Children can have very little influence on their sound environment at school and it is usually not possible for them to move to another, quieter room to do tasks which require concentration.

Noise weakens memory, concentration and learning

Research on the effects of noise show that noise disturbs the learning and wellbeing of children. Noise impairs memory, concentration, the ability to distinguish speech, the process of learning to read and reading comprehension. It has also been discovered that noise is connected to the amount of stress hormones and high blood pressure on children. Research indicates that children do not become accustomed to noise and the harm it causes does not reduce over time.

Exposure to noise can have long-term effects on children’s wellbeing

It has been discovered in research focusing on adults that continuous and long-term exposure to loud noise causes measurable changes in brain activity. Especially the ability to distinguish speech becomes more difficult. These effects can be long-term or possibly even permanent. Comparable studies have presumably not been conducted on children.

The stress experienced in childhood can program the psychological or physical stress system so that the child will grow up to become more prone to stress as an adult. It is not known how long-term the effects of stress caused by noise can be, but noise is one of the stress factors to which many children are exposed.

Some children are more vulnerable to noise than others

All children are not equally disturbed by noise. The younger the children are, the more noise jeopardizes their understanding of speech and memory. Children with impaired hearing must work harder to hear, which may disturb their school work. When the intensity of background noise increases, speech separation becomes more difficult. This particularly affects children with learning disabilities.

Background noise is more disturbing to speech separation when listening to a foreign language. Therefore, noise reduction is particularly important, when there are students in the class studying in a non-native language.

When sounds grab a child’s attention, studying is disrupted

Attention span refers to how easily a child’s attention shifts to stimulation from the environment. Low attention span means weak concentration. Some children have low and some have high attention span, but for most children it is something in between.

Low attention span is related to weaker success in school. Studies do not point out a clear reason for this, but one reason can be related to noise. For a child who has a low attention span, it might be difficult to ignore noise from the environment. Relatively quiet sounds can also distract such a child and interrupt studying.

It is possible to reduce noise and echo with a good sound insulation and by choosing silent equipment

Noise in classrooms can be reduced by building sufficient sound insulation and by choosing as quiet air conditioners as possible. Felt pads can be installed under classroom furniture, which makes it quieter to move them. Echo can be reduced by panels and textiles. Plants also reduce echo.

Keeping group sizes small is the most efficient way to prevent noise in a classroom

It is important to pay attention to structural factors affecting noise levels in classrooms, but they alone are not enough. The most important source of noise are the children themselves. The bigger the group, the more noise it creates. Therefore the most efficient way to prevent noise in classrooms is to keep group sizes small enough.

In Cramo Adapteo modular space for schools noise is minimized

A lot of attention has been paid to the design of Cramo Adapteo's modular space for schools in order to reduce noise and echo. The target is to have the best possible indoor experience.

“It is important for us to have the best possible soundproofing in our modular spaces. We are striving for good design to minimize voice propagation in the structure of the modular spaces. In addition, the roofs of our spaces have an extra acoustic noise reduction. Our floors are mostly covered with a plastic mat that attenuates sounds from steps and furniture,” says Niko Oksa, sales manager at Cramo Adapteo.

Continuous development of the modules’ technology

Cramo Adapteo continuously develops and improves the technology of its modular spaces.

"In our latest C90 module, we have been upgrading the ventilation devices and their components to reduce noise. The air conditioning in our modular spades is now even quieter than before," Oksa comments.

 

Sources:

Kuuloliitto ry: Kuulolla työssä -materials

and Melun vaikutukset

Mirka Hintsanen: Uhkaako melu lasten hyvinvointia ja oppimista? In Outi Ampuja and Miikka Peltomaa: Huutoja hiljaisuuteen, Ihminen ääniympäristössä. Gaudeamus, Tampere 2014, ss.142-156.

 

Research:

Manlove E, Frank T, Vernon-Feagans l: Why should we care about noise in classrooms and child care settings? Child & Youth Care Forum (30)1, 2001. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1016663520205

Kujala T, Brattico E. Detrimental noise effects on brain's speech functions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19482230

Stansfeld SA, Berglund B, Clark C ym. Aircraft and road traffic noise and children's cognition and health: a cross-national study. Lancet 2005;365:1942-9 

Stevens C, Sanders L, Neville H. Neurophysiological evidence for selective auditory attention deficits in children with specific language impairment. Brain Res 2006;1111:143-52

Hygge S, Evans GW, Bullinger M. A prospective study of some effects of aircraft noise on cognitive performance in schoolchildren. Psychol Sci 2002;13:469-74 

Sperling AJ, Lu ZL, Manis FR ym. Motion-perception deficits and reading impairment: it's the noise, not the motion. Psychol Sci 2006;17:1047-53 

Warrier CM, Johnson KL, Hayes EA ym. Learning impaired children exhibit timing deficits and training related improvements in auditory cortical responses to speech in noise. Exp Brain Res 2004;157:431-41 

Hygge S, Boman E, Enmarker I. The effects of road traffic noise and meaningful irrelevant speech on different memory systems. Scand J Psychol 2003;44:13-21