Noise suppresses reading skills

When it’s noisy, kids don’t learn language skills, writes Ashley Merryman in Newsweek.

Kids in noisy environments hear enough words that they learn to communicate. But they miss out on the additional language necessary to master the more sophisticated nuances of phonics, vocabulary, and structure.

Researchers have looked at children living near busy airports. “Compared to the British average, the kids near Heathrow were a full eight months behind in reading ability,” Merryman writes.

A group of scholars once looked at a New York City school located 220 feet away from an elevated subway train. Every 4 1/2 minutes, a train roared by at 89 dB. The sound would last for 30 seconds. The kids who had classes on the train-side of the school were up to 11 months behind those in classrooms on the other side of the building.

In the early ’70s, new “open schools” were built without classroom walls. I’ve visited some — after walls or dividers were added to act as noise barriers.  Even then, the ex-open schools have noise problems.

Merryman and Po Bronson are the authors of Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children.

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  1. In further news from the leading edge of educational research it has been determined that children have difficulty reading in the dark.

    Researchers are unsure what conclusion to draw but believe that this information indicates that public education is underfunded, teachers underpaid and that more – lots more – research is required if researchers are to afford two weeks in Ibiza this year.

  2. Ever been in public housing? TVs blare 24/7. Prison is quieter.

  3. …which is why when I know I’m going to be stuck in the waiting room at the mechanic’s (TV on from the time it’s open ’til the time it closes), I don’t even try to bring a book with me. Makes me sad, though.

    Sometimes I wish we could all agitate for a bit more quiet.

    Or maybe I just need to always carry earplugs.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    So, wait, you’re saying that the reason my Kindergartener does better at phonics when her siblings are napping than when they’re playing tag and shreiking is the NOISE LEVEL? I thought she was just stupid and lazy! (j/k)

    Seriously, though. If we would recognize the fact that children are simply short people with fewer skills, these things would be self evident.

    Adults need quiet to concentrate, so why wouldn’t kids? And they have to concentrate MORE, because the skills are new to them……


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