How the difference between sounds and noises can affect our ability to learn

Think of the moment when the dishwasher finishes its cycle or the neighbor turns off the lawnmower. “You didn’t even notice these noises were there. But when they are switched off, we breathe a sigh of relief, because from an evolutionary point of view, sound is our vigilant mind. “It’s not for nothing that we are tuned to noises at night, says Kraus. Our ancestors needed to see threats in the dark. Noises, whether we are consciously aware of them, put a strain on our brain because they keep us on the alert.

Creating a healthier world of sound for children

There are things we can do to control and shape our sound environment, says Kraus. First, we need to pay more attention to the sounds that fill our homes and classrooms, and think about which are necessary and which are not. For example, do we need a ping every time we get a notification on our phone or computer? Does the iPad app your kid is playing need the sound to work, or are the beeps just noise? We are, she says, “cavalier when it comes to the sounds with which we salt and pepper our lives”.

Noise is almost always caused by humans, so spending time in nature offers children and adults a rejuvenating listening experience. “You can go into a forest and it is full of noises. Streams run, birds chirp and animals move in the thicket. ”These sounds help us to connect with our environment and to experience multi-sensory beauty. Silence is also part of a healthy sound diet. “Quiet is part of the sound. It’s the space between the sounds, ”says Kraus, and removing noisy distractions and stimuli allows our brains to relax and wander to new places.

The impact of noise on children’s learning is a factor that must be taken into account in efforts to increase educational equity. For example, Studies have found that children whose classrooms were near the subway tracks – resulting in higher decibel levels and more interruptions – performed worse on the tests compared to their peers in classrooms on the opposite side of the school.

“We did a number of studies with children in low-income areas,” says Kraus, “and we found that there is a biological signature of poverty.” In these high-noise environments, sound processing in the brain can be reduced, and so can it can also lead to increased neural noise – or “background noise in the brain”.

While teachers cannot control the external noise environment, they can do more to make acoustic decisions in the classroom. Anita Collins, music educator and author of “The music advantage” says teachers often create classrooms that are best for them. “If teachers find a busy listening environment stimulating, they create it in their classroom. But not all children will learn well in this environment. ”During working hours, she recommends creating both collaborative learning spaces and quiet study spaces, including access to noise-canceling headphones. And for an experience for the whole class, balance moments of high auditory stimuli with moments of calm. “Building these tiny little changes into our teaching can be powerful. It makes kids say, ‘I can control my surroundings and make decisions that will make me as productive as possible,’ and that’s a wonderful skill to take with you into adulthood, “says Collins.

The enhancing effects of music and language learning

Music and learning an additional language both have a strong impact on cognition. Kraus notes that for bilingual, low-income children, “the neural signature of poverty is diminished”. For all children, “learning another language as early as possible has a tremendous advantage in strengthening the healthy mind, reading, and processing skills that children need to learn.”

In addition, music education – from keeping the beat to reading music – offers children clear cognitive advantages. “From my point of view,” says Kraus, “music should be part of every child’s education. It should be as important a priority as learning to read and write. Indeed, playing music will aid reading, writing, and arithmetic in addition to the other possibilities that develop the brain. “

Adults have a responsibility to create nutritious sound experiences for children, says Kraus. “When we are aware of our acoustic surroundings and the environments we create in our homes, schools, and communities, we can do our part to get rid of unnecessary noise and to encourage children to hear birds to listen to each other To honor the wonderful and abundant information contained in the sound. “

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