Noise in Preschool Classrooms

When someone thinks of acoustics, they usually think of large performance halls and the orchestras that perform there. However, the field of acoustics has multiple applications in almost every facet of a regular person’s day. From the sound that their microwaves make to the quietness of their cars, acoustics (specifically psychoacoustics) is an ever-evolving field, aiming to better the sound quality of everyday persons, including children.

In recent years, psychoacoustic studies on children’s productivity have been conducted. Due to any combination of loud HVAC units, poor room acoustics, or simply ineffective classroom layouts, it has been observed that the acoustical properties of a classroom have an extreme impact on a child’s development in the classroom. If a child is sitting at the back of a fairly reverberant classroom, right next to the large old gas heater, that child’s academic success will be significantly less than that of someone sitting in the front row. To ensure an equal level of opportunities to learn, acoustical measures should always be considered.

While the correlation between a child’s attentiveness and their acoustical surroundings hasn’t been officially recognized in most countries and states, it is obvious that unwanted noise can distract anyone from concentrating on a task. To measure the effectiveness of an acoustically treated room on a child’s attention, researchers in Japan did just that on a real group of kindergartners.

To control this experiment, two average kindergarten classes (30–40 kids) were analyzed in two rooms with similar layouts. The reverberation times of each room were measured, and simple acoustical treatments were applied to one of those rooms. Because kindergarten rooms are multiuse rooms, with a large play area, shelves and cubbies, and desks, acoustical measurements of the classroom were only made when children were being taught lecture style or being read a picture book by their teacher. To measure the attentiveness of the children, the team created a concentration time ratio (CTR), which was the percentage in 10-second intervals that the children looked at their teacher. After measuring the CTRs of both classes, the team acoustically treated the other room and remeasured the CTR for the two classes. The results were as expected; when the acoustical treatment wasn’t in the room, the CTR for both groups were around 50 percent, or about half the time. With acoustical treatments in the classroom, the CTR was between 80 and 90 percent.

While this experiment was very conclusive in its results, it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are many acoustical factors that impact the performance of a room, such as outside/seasonal noise and neighboring rooms and hallways. These factors can also provide distractions to students and weren’t included in this study. However, in this ongoing research, one thing is for sure: there’s nothing quieter than attentive kids!

Editor’s Note

This is a summary of work presented in Kawai, Yoshidome, Muta, and Masumoto. 2018. “Effect of Sound Absorption on Children’s Concentration to Listening to Teacher’s Speech in a Child Daycare Room.” Proceedings of INTER-NOISE 2018, Chicago, IL, USA.