May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. What does that mean we should be doing? I want to use this opportunity to help kids understand about hearing: why it is important, what do we need to do to protect it, and what do we need to do to make things easier for our friends who do not hear well.
Why is hearing important?
It seems obvious to all that hearing is important for learning speech and language, but what exactly does that mean? Most adults are not clear about this, so how can we expect kids to understand? Yes, it is clear that you need to hear to learn, but do you really need to hear everything? Is it okay to hear some of the message? Do you really need to hear it all? If you are an adult, maybe it is okay to hear part of the message. You already have language and your brain will fill in the blanks; but if you are a baby or young child you do not yet have language and you will not be able to fill in the blanks. So, yes, you really do need to hear it all.
Keeping it quiet
Noise interferes with listening and learning. Period. That means we need to reduce noise. Even for kids with typical hearing, noise is an interference. While adults may be fine with the radio or TV on in the background, kids are not. Any time a child is in a position to learn (which is always), turn off the noise. Do not have the dishwasher or washing machine on during dinner when you are trying to talk. Turn the TV off except for short periods when you are watching something specific. If there is a lot of traffic outside your windows, shut them.
Be aware of noise around you, and help make kids aware of noise around them too. Point out noise and ask them to turn it down.
Classroom noise is significant. Research a number of years ago studied the effect of noise on third grade students. They measured reading scores for children whose classroom faced a noisy street on one side of the school building and compared them to reading scores for children on the quiet side of the building. Guess what? Kids on the noisy side made significantly less growth in one school year. NOISE IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM. School administrators, classroom teachers, and kids need to understand the negative effect noise has on learning and they need to turn it down.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Keep doors and windows closed
- Monitor heating and ventilation systems
- Use tennis balls on chair legs and movable tables to reduce noise
- Use carpeting in the block area
- Insist on only one person speaking at a time
- No pencil sharpening or other noisy activities during lessons
- Schedule quiet time when listening is not required
Protecting ears from loud noise
Kids need to learn early that noise causes hearing loss. It is much nicer to walk down the street now with kids using earphones than it was a few years back when they carried boom boxes. But, with earphones, we really do not know how loud the sound is. I tell kids that if they use earphones they need to keep the volume low enough that they can still have a conversation with their earphones on. If they cannot hear someone calling, and cannot carry on a conversation, then it is too loud.
We need to try and help kids understand what it is like to live with a hearing loss. Maybe introducing them to other kids with hearing loss will help. But they are kids, so maybe not. But even if we think they are not getting the message, we need to remind them over and over again that hearing is precious.