How to offer balanced stimulation of children’s hearing, support their vocal self-expression, and prevent auditory overstimulation.
Which senses would you say children rely the most in their early years? Alongside touch and vision, hearing is one of the senses used to explore and understand the world around them. It is also the time when sense of hearing develops and the time when it is the easiest to stimulate and support it.
Supporting their Sense of Hearing
When we offer children just the right amount and volume of audio input their sense of hearing is constantly positively challenged and has enough space and time to develop, digest and respond. Children love playing with sounds ad rhythm, they are very sensitive to sounds of nature and often pick up sounds that we adults do not pay attention to. When they speak they are able to use the volume, pitch and tone that is appropriate and acceptable, they are able to use their voice with awareness and paint it with their own emotions. They can even play with their tone, voice and pitch when they pretend to be someone else. This unique sensitivity helps them build positive relationships and trust.
The danger of overstimulation
The problems begin when children are overstimulated and this has become a very common problem nowadays. Overstimulation may not only lead to medical conditions but may affect other areas of child’s development such as social-emotional development and communication.
What can cause overstimulation?
1.Media exposure – Too much and too loud
It can happen easily if we allow children spend too much time in front of the screen or listening to music or audio on their headphones. Now, movies and games have rich and powerful sound effects that can easily create a wall of constant sound.
2.Aggressive and loud parenting
Shouting and being a verbally loud parent at home means a child is exposed to a constant volume and possibly negative energy. If there is no place for the child to escape just to rest and take a break then the overstimulation may occur from the very early life of a child and is more likely to affect the child in the long term. Quiet breaks are very important as they help the body, the brain and the mind to relax and regenerate.
Spending too much time in noisy and chaotic environment such as shopping centres and even school, nursery or living in a place where there is constant noise from trains, traffic or construction can be very tiring for the sense of hearing and the mind.
How overstimulation affects the child?
It’s not only the sense of hearing that will be affected. Overstimulation my lead to the following problems.
1.Anxiety and stress
Constant noise is very tiring for the body and mind and if there is no place or time to rest the child will most likely become stressed and nervous. They may try to get rid of the energy that accumulated in the body and as a result may become anxious, nervous and even aggressive.
Children who are exposed to constant noise or high volume might find it difficult to focus and as a result their overall performance might suffer. They might need more time to learn and understand more complex ideas or even follow instructions.
Children may become less sensitive to lower sound frequencies and volume. They may find it difficult to hear sounds from bigger distance or even whispering. They may start asking to turn up the volume when watching movies or listening to music even if it already is loud.
4.Communication and relationship problems
Children may become more agressive in general which might affect their ability to make and keep their relationships. They may also become verbally louder, more likely to shout or scream, their pitch may become higher and their voice, tone and the way they speak less pleasant for people. This as a result may lead to communication problems.
If we stimulate children properly and with sensitivity there will be no overstimulation, the child will not only have enormous pleasure using their sense of hearing every single day to learn a lot about the world and themselves.
How to properly stimulate children’s sense of hearing through Active Experiential Learning?
Create stimulating but balanced environment
There’s many ways you can positively stimulate your children’s/students sense of hearing and it all comes down to creating Enabling and balanced learning environments where children can learn in the most natural way by being hands-on and immersing in Experiential Learning. The following will give you ideas of where to start:
1. Nurture vocal self-expression
Encouraging self-expression may be one of the most important things to do. What does it have to do with sense of hearing? Voice is a powerful vehicle for self-expression and children discover this amazing tool in their early years. They experiment with sounds, volume, pitch, they start to sing, vocalise and play with sounds, rhythmic expression, rhymes. Using voice empowers them, helps them channel their energy, communicate, make things happen – it’s a force that becomes available and can be consciously used to affect reality. It’s very empowering for children to see how using their voice and sounds helps bring about changes in their immediate environments, how their vocal expression affects others, how it brings relief.
Encouraging children to experiment with voice and sounds helps them discover what they are capable of, what kind of tone, pitch, voice is the voice they wish to use and also helps them notice how certain ways of expression can negatively or positively affect others and themselves. Being too loud may cause upset in others and also result in a sore throat – observations like this one help children self-regulate and adjust their vocal behaviour. Another way to encourage vocal self-expression is to promote communication, discussions, exchange of observations whether it is in the classroom or at home. This way children learn to use their voice in everyday exchanges with people and promoting positive communication helps maintain balanced and healthy environment to learn and grow.
Finally, encouraging humming, sining, vocalising, playing with voice in a creative way is one of the best things to help children express their energy using this vehicle. Many children likes humming, singing while doing other activities for example drawing, reading or bathing and this should certainly be promoted. When children are allowed to use their voice on a daily basis in a free, creative and non-restricted way they will less likely need to resort to disruptive loud and aggressive behaviour.
2. Work with instruments, rhythm, music
Make sure in your classroom or at home your children have access to instruments or variety of noise, sound making objects that they can use without restrictions. This again helps children express themselves and work with sound and noise in a balance and healthy way. Children will be able to approach instruments and play, turn on their favourite music whenever they feel so and this all will again help them self-regulate, learn how to adjust volume to have the best experience, how to use instruments gently without causing damage to the objects and affecting people around.
3. Cosy Dens
Make sure children can take a break from noise whenever they wish and need. Each child has their own level of sensitivity to noise and it’s important to create enabling environments that allows each child to choose whether they wish to and to what extent actively participate in noisy activities or retreat to peaceful and quiet space.
Cozy dens, rest corners are very important part of Enabling Environments – they honour children’s choice to take a break from active play, allow to rest whenever a child is tired, emotional, needs privacy, or during the transition period.
Spending many hours in a noisy place with other children may be very tiring, especially for more sensitive children. If there is no place to rest, children may become overwhelmed with the noise and commotion, less willing to participate in play and learning activities. It may also lead to behaviour problems.
Rest areas promote decision making, allow children to recognise and honour their body needs, help them learn about their emotions and moods, support them in addressing their needs and preferences at the right time.
Quiet play dens are fantastics spots for making meaningful relationships, they promote communication and bonding between children. They are flexible and perfect for a quiet role-play time, and can be even used by children as a construction place. They can be affectively created in every early years/early primary setting and at home.
Outdoor Learning provide fantastic opportunities to promote balanced, healthy and safe use of voice and help children self-regulate. Discovering sounds of nature while exploring the outdoors is what children really love and they can do so by being completely hands-on and immersed in rich, natural and cross-curricular learning contexts. Different types of outdoor activities help children notice that various levels of vocal expression may be needed for them in order to participate and fully benefit from these contexts. For example, messy play is the time when children can be louder than usual, the same applies for activities supporting more physical expression eg. sports, using playground equipment, running etc. Other contexts such as exploring the woods to spot animals requires children to be gentle, more quiet and sensitive to the world around. This all helps them not only express themselves fully but also self-regulate and adjust their own level of noise to the contexts and environments around.
Although the modern world becomes louder and more noisy with overstimulation negatively affecting children’s balanced growth and overwhelming their sense of hearing in your age there is still a lot we can do as educators and parents to promote healthy and safe environments for children. Promoting self-expression, positive communication, taking advantage of the outdoors helps children self-regulate, understand how to effectively and safely use voice and sound to enjoy themselves and respect others around.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
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This article was initially published on The Educator, written by Natural Born Leaders.