It’s about 5:00 pm after a long day of work and you hop in the car to buzz over to your child’s preschool center to pick them up before dinner. As you open the door, you’re instantly greeted with a familiar sound – the loud, joyful glee of a couple dozen little ones and the absolute racket that accompanies a group of small children wherever they go.
For parents and caregivers of young children, this noise is a daily occurrence, but one that only lasts for a couple of minutes as they collect their child’s things and head out the door. But, for a preschool or early childhood educator, these noises are an all-day event – save for naptime.
Since sustained or frequent exposure to noises over 85 dB is known to cause hearing damage, many professionals think that we really ought to be concerned about the hearing health of preschool teachers and child caregivers. According to new research from the Sahlgrenska Academy, Sweden, early childhood educators are much more likely to experience sound-induced auditory fatigue, difficulty understanding speech, and hypersensitivity to sound than the average adult.
The researchers in this study sought to understand the impact of consistent exposure to preschool noise on the hearing health of early childhood educators. After a survey of 4,718 preschool teachers (all women), the researchers found that 71% experienced some form of sound-induced auditory fatigue, which left them unable to listen to the radio or television after a day at work. In direct contrast, only 32% the control group, which was comprised of 4,122 women who do not work in preschools, experienced the same auditory fatigue.
Additionally, about 46% of preschool teachers had difficulty understanding speech after work, as compared to 26% of the control group while 39% of preschool teachers experienced pain or discomfort in their ears from everyday sounds which is contrasted with only 18% of the control group.
With statistics like these, the researchers suggest, we really ought to pay attention to the impact that the preschool environment is having on preschool treacher’s hearing health.
Protecting Preschool Teachers
Unfortunately, this is a problem that’s potentially quite difficult to remedy. Unlike people who work with heavy machinery, explosives, and similarly loud objects, preschool teachers cannot simply wear soundproof headphones. While a factory worker can happily drown out the majority of noises in their work environment, the screams and cries of young children hold important information that needs to be listened to.
That being said, there are still ways to protect preschool teachers from the debilitating effects of excessively loud noise levels. First and foremost, part of the issue comes from the design of modern school buildings. These concrete walls provide poor acoustic quality for classrooms which simply amplify noise, making them particularly noisy environments, regardless of how tactful an educator is in facilitating quiet lessons. Thus, spending more time outside can help reduce the impact of classroom noise on preschool teachers.
However, it is not always practical for preschool teachers to spend more time outside, so other options include the use of earplugs, particularly custom molded options which are specifically designed to reduce the impact of noise on the ears without affecting sound quality.
At the end of the day, preschools are noisy places. The research shows that this noise can have serious consequences for preschool teachers and other early childhood educators, so schools may need to consider steps to protect their hearing health.