A house is constantly swimming with sound. Whether it be the obnoxious hum of the laundry machine or the voices of other people, background noise actually plays a part in your child’s ability to learn.
A recent study published in the journal of Child Development examined the effects of background noise on 106 different toddlers, and let’s just say the results were a bit of an eye-opener.
In three separate experiments, toddlers were first taught two words and were then taught to match the meaning of the word with the word itself. Toddlers were later asked to recall the correct match between the meanings and the words.
One group of 40 toddlers between 22-24 months old learned unfamiliar words in a quiet environment and were unable to learn in a louder environment. 40 other toddlers between 28-30 months had the exact same results: learning the words was only possible in a quieter environment.
“Learning words is an important skill that provides a foundation for children’s ability to achieve academically,” said lead author of the study Brianna McMillan, a psychology student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Modern homes are filled with noisy distractions such as TV, radio, and people talking that could affect how children learn words at early ages. Our study suggests that adults should be aware of the amount of background speech in the environment when they’re interacting with young children.”
A house or school is almost always noisy though, right? But this doesn’t mean your toddler can’t learn if it’s noisy.
One last experiment tested 26 toddlers’ abilities to match meaning with sound after hearing two words in a quiet setting before having to learn them again in a noisy one. This time, the tots preformed well in the noisy environment only after learning the words in a quiet environment first.
“Hearing new words in fluent speech without a lot of background noise before trying to learn what objects the new words corresponded to may help very young children master new vocabulary,” explained Jenny Saffran, the study’s coauthor. “But when the environment is noisy, drawing young children’s attention to the sounds of the new word may help them compensate.”
You don’t need to have a zero-noise policy in place at your house to get your toddler to focus, but you may want to try toning down the noise for a bit. At least while your toddler’s trying to learn.