Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.2 Quality of the Outdoor and Indoor Environment

5.2.3 Noise Noise Levels

Measures should be taken in all rooms or areas accommodating children to maintain the decibel (db) level at or below thirty-five decibels for at least 80% of the time as measured by an acoustical engineer or, more practically, by the ability to be clearly heard and understood in a normal conversation without raising one’s voice. These measures include noncombustible acoustical ceiling, rugs, wall covering, partitions, or draperies, or a combination thereof.
Excessive sound levels can be damaging to hearing, reduce effective communication, and reduce psychosocial well-being. The level of noise that causes hearing loss commonly experienced by children with fluid in their middle ear space is thirty-five decibels (1). This level of hearing loss correlates with decreased understanding of language. By inference, this level of ambient noise may interfere with the ability of children to hear well enough to develop language normally (2,3).

Research on the effects of ambient noise levels in child care settings has focused on a) concern with damage to the child’s auditory system and b) non-auditory effects such as physiological effects (e.g., elevated blood pressure levels), motivational effects, and cognitive effects (3). Although noise sources may be located outside the child care facility, sometimes the noise source is related to the design of the child care spaces within the facility. In the article “Design of Child Care Centers and Effects of Noise on Young Children,” Maxwell states “spaces must allow for the fact that children need to make noise but the subsequent noise levels should not be harmful to them or others in the center” (3).

When there is new construction or renovation of a facility, consideration should be given to a design that will reduce noise from outside. High ceiling heights may contribute to noise levels. Installing acoustical tile ceilings reduce noise levels as well as curtains or other soft window treatments over windows and wall-mounted cork boards (4).

While carpets can help reduce the level of noise, they can absorb moisture and serve as a place for microorganisms to grow. Area rugs should be considered instead of carpet because they can be taken up and washed often. Area rugs should be secured with a non-slip mat or other method to prevent tripping hazards.

Caregivers/teachers who need extensive help with sound abatement should consult a child care health consultant for additional ideas or with an acoustical engineer to measure noise levels within the facility. For further assistance on finding an acoustical engineer, contact the Acoustical Society of America.

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  1. Lazaridis, E., J. C. Saunders. 2008. Can you hear me now? A genetic model of otitis media with effusion. J Clin Invest 118:471-74.
  2. Newman, R. 2005. The cocktail party effect in infants revisited: Listening to one’s name in noise. Devel Psych 41:352-62.
  3. Maxwell, L. E., G. W. Evans. Design of child care centers and effects of noise on young children. Design Share.
  4. Manlove, E. E., T. Frank. 2001. Why should we care about noise in classrooms and child care settings? Child Youth Care Forum 30:55-64.