What Types of Sound Experiences Enable Children to Learn Best?
Linda Flanagan Published on
At Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Lab, Kraus and colleagues measure how the brain responds when various sounds enter the ear. They’ve found that the brain reacts to sound in microseconds, and that brain waves closely resemble the sound waves.
Making sense of sound is one of the most “computationally complex” functions of the brain, Kraus said, which explains why so many language and other disorders, including autism, reveal themselves in the way the brain processes sound. The way the brain responds to the “ingredients” of sound—pitching, timing and timbre—is a window into brain health and learning ability.
practical suggestions for creating space “activities that promote sound-to-meaning development,” whether at home or in school:
Reduce noise. Chronic background noise is associated with several auditory and learning problems: it contributes to “neural noise,” wherein brain neurons fire spontaneously in the absence of sound; it reduces the brain’s sensitivity to sound; and it slows auditory growth.
Read aloud. Even before kids are able to read themselves, hearing stories told by others develops vocabulary and builds working memory; to understand how a story unfolds, listeners, need to remember what was said before.
Encourage children to play a musical instrument. “There is an explicit link between making music and strengthening language skills, so that keeping music education at the center of curricula can pay big dividends for children’s cognitive, emotional, and educational health.Two years of music instruction in elementary and even secondary school can trigger biological changes in how the brain processes sound, which in turn affects language development.
Listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Well-told stories can draw kids in and build attention skills and working memory. The number and quality of these recordings has exploded in recent years, making it that much easier to find a good fit for individuals and classes.
Support learning a second language. Growing up in a bilingual environment causes a child’s brain to manage two languages at once.
Avoid white noise machines. In an effort to soothe children to sleep, some parents set up sound machines in bedrooms. These devices, which emit “meaningless sound,” as Kraus put it, can interfere with how the brain develops sound-processing circuitry.
Use the spread of technology to your advantage. Rather than bemoan the constant bleeping and chirping of everyday life, much of it the result of technological advances, welcome the new sound opportunities these developments provide. Technologies that shrink the globalized world enable second-language learning.
More on the brain in this IMS blog