Preventing hearing damage for our children

How to improve hospitality and classroom acoustics

We love our children, and we want to give them every advantage in life possible. But what if some of the ways we are trying to help them could be hindering them?

Seemingly harmless activities – like taking your kids for a babycino, or even sending them to school – could be hindering their development. Let’s take a look at how this happens, and what can be done about it.

The effect of a babycino on children’s hearing

Okay, so it isn’t the babycino itself hindering their development – it is the noise around them. The background noise in the environment is potentially slowing children’s progress. As we recently discovered, the Lombard Effect is an involuntary reflex where people increase their voices to hear themselves when conversing in a crowded space. The cafe effect is “I must speak louder so my friends can understand me”.

Whichever effect dominates the venue, when you are sharing a “quiet coffee” with your young one, you are exposing them to a lot of noise. They will struggle to decipher what you are saying since their hearing systems are not yet fully mature, which reduces their ability to utilise early reflections (or predictive text).

The potential effects of noise in the classroom

Think back to when you were at school. You sat at your desk with the teacher at the front of the room driving the lesson, and background noise was minimal. Today, teaching is more about interactive learning, with groups of children working together on a set task. Yet this method can increase noise pollution in the classroom, as the children excitedly compete to be heard.

Before we go too far into this section, we want to make it clear we are not being negative toward teachers. We love teachers! We are simply trying to explain how background noise can impede learning – but don’t worry, we will also offers ways to fix it.

Children are loud, and each wants to be louder than the next. We can encourage them to use their “inside voices” when participating in interactive learning, however this technique will only work without background noise. The Lombard Effect is a neurological effect that we don’t even know we are doing. It’s a natural response so that we can hear ourselves and be heard over background noise and noise pollution.

Therefore, in a classroom where interactive learning is taking place, the noise will reach high decibel levels very quickly. While the focus is on the impacts on the students, the increase in decibel levels can damage both hearing and the teacher’s voice.

Cover image for the how sounds impact children infographic.
Download a copy of our How Noise Impacts Children, infographic.

Whitlock, 2003, developed the following prediction model for activity noise in a classroom. “Assuming a classroom with a volume of 200m3 and reverberation time of 0.6s containing 30 students, in which activity noise is the only source of background noise, if we were to consider a group work activity in which the students were working in pairs, and only one of the pair was talking at any one time, there would be 15 students generating the activity noise. If each student were speaking at the average resting level of 53.4 dB(A), then the generated noise level would be approximately 74 dB (A)”.

Worryingly, this 74 dB (A) is far higher than the 60 dB(A) maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Teacher voice amplification systems such as microphones can be used to improve the voice quality of the teacher. However, the systems can potentially have negative effects if the classroom acoustics are inadequate. The system will create reverberation, which causes background noise, leading to the Lombard Effect.

How to help prevent hearing damage for our children

There isn’t much we can do to stop the Lombard Effect. It is a natural bodily response.

Yet we can teach our children about the dangers of loud noise and how to identify when they are in an environment that can damage their hearing. See our infographics Noise and Little Ears and How Sounds Impact Children.

Hospitality venues and schools can help our little ones by improving their acoustics. Adding absorbent materials to the walls and ceilings will reduce the background noise, thus decreasing the incidence of the Lombard Effect. Reducing background noise will help students to learn and protect their hearing.

Some useful products in all applications are Calando Panel and ECO wall tiles. They are available in various colours and can be used on both walls and ceilings. ECO wall tiles are also pin-friendly, which means there’s plenty of space to hang your artwork or notices.

If you have a commercial or educational space you want acoustically treated, call the Avenue Interior Systems team on 1300 827 177 or contact us online.

We look forward to Designing your Silence.