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125 JULY 2009
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The quiet classroom and the noise of school-age care: A reflective essay

Alan Ironside

Noise is symbolically important in school-age care programs for children. It helps separate the difference between the school and care environments for school-age children. Noise levels should not be disregarded, though. Addressing noise levels in school-age care needs to take account of the individual temperaments of school-age children, but also their developmental need to release energy at the end of the school day.

The most common factor in elementary schools and school-age care programs are the children. Although common to both environments, children behave very differently in each setting, even though these settings may share the same space and environment. A marked difference in the nature of children's behaviour noticeable to any outsider would be the noise level of the children (and staff) in each environment. That is, the classroom has far less noise than the school-age care setting.

A reduced noise level is, naturally, very important during class time. A certain amount of quiet in a classroom enables the whole class to hear each question asked by a child to the teacher or each educational statement made by the teacher to the class. An atmosphere of quiet work enables the teacher to teach all the class and not just those students closest to the teacher. A quiet atmosphere is associated with application to the task at hand. Carl Jung once suggested that Swiss children's lack of concentration might be due to too much noise (McLynn, 1997, p. 517). Today, this still makes a great deal of sense if one has ever tried to concentrate while reading in a modern public library.

A certain amount of noise is symbolically important in any school-age care setting. Noise establishes the difference in social environments between the child's schooling and leisure time, particularly if the school-age care program shares the same venue as the school classroom or school campus. A school-age care program supportive of increased noise level encourages children to discharge their energies that can seem to be excessive at this elementary school-age. Benson and Harrison see “enforced quiet and lack of motor discharge” [during school] as seeming to “impose a greater burden on boys than on girls” (1991, p. 356). After-school care programs experience the result of this observation when the children begin to arrive. Michael Gurian, in his book The Wonder of Boys, says that “so often the boy’s brain cries out to us...”Give me more space–” (1997, p. 16). A symptom of this expressed need in a school-age care program may be an increase in the amount of noise coming from boys, especially on days when weather does not allow time for playing outside within school hours.

Yet a certain supportive increase by staff in noise levels at school-age care programs encourages a further understanding in children of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate opportunities to create noise.

When comparing school and school-age care environments it is interesting to note a difference in the location of noise. That is, at school, inside means quiet time and outside means noisy time. Whereas in most school-age care programs it appears that the opposite is mostly observed, and that the inside venue is far noisier than the program’s outdoor area or playground.

In school-age care, inside means more children due to food, organized activities, weather conditions, and fewer rooms in which to care for them. Also, inappropriate venues, which include those with concrete floors and ceilings and large glass windows (what Richard Scofield calls acoustically challenged [1997, p. 1]), cause elevated levels of noise when children who have just been released from school are added. With this, the quieter children go outside to escape this relative jump in the amount of noise from the classroom. I once experienced an overt symptom of this phenomenon when I was told by a five-year-old boy that he was crying because the after-school care room was too noisy.

I sometimes witness school-age care program staff trying to keep inside noise levels down for reasons that appear to centre around concerns that the teaching staff and parents will otherwise not think they are in control of the environment. I believe I have also behaved like this in the past when I have coordinated an after-school care program. The logic of this behaviour is probably based on an adult-centred attitude that a quiet atmosphere equals industriousness. And observably industrious children give added reason for the worth of the program being maintained in the eyes of the decision-makers. Bredekamp (1987, p. 63) asserts that elementary-school-age children “continue to learn in all areas through unstructured play.” Elementary-school-age children can create vast amounts of noise through their various forms of unstructured play, which include rough and tumble play and discussions over rules. Does this mean that adults should attempt to lessen noise levels according to their own temperaments and noise thresholds?

Alternatively, some staff at school-age care programs need to understand that high noise levels do not appeal to all children's temperaments and, therefore, set aside a quiet space for these children. A quiet indoor area does not necessarily mean that the program is behaving too much like a prescriptive classroom, nor does it mean that the children are not enjoying themselves.

These observations imply a dilemma for school-age care programs of performing a balancing act between ensuring an enjoyable and fun play space for children, yet ensuring that these children are not developmentally affected by the noise levels that normally apply to this time of day and the environment. The ultimate solution to this dilemma would be for programs to upgrade the acoustics of each venue. There are less costly solutions of improving the planning of indoor space, having quiet space indoors, and encouraging children to release their desire to make noise outside.

Elementary-school-age children learn a great deal through their participation in school-age care programs. I believe that it is a general developmental axiom that elementary school children learn best by doing. Any “doing” requires a certain increase in the level of noise to be undertaken effectively. It is the responsibility of staff to ensure that noise levels are appropriate to the child's needs, not the needs of adults; nor the perceived attitude of parents and teachers. Abraham Maslow once reflected that “education in practice too often adapts children to the convenience of adults by making them less nuisances” (1987, p. 172). One of the symptoms of this observation is still identifiable when adults quiet children because they are too noisy, instead of adapting the environment to deal with the dilemma of noise.

References

Benson, R.M. and Harrison, S.I. (1991). The eye of the hurricane: From seven to ten. In S. Greenspan and G. Pollock (Eds.). The course of life Vol 3: Middle and late childhood (pp. 355-364). Madison. International Universities Press.

Bredekamp, S. (1987). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Gurian, M. (1997). The wonder of boys. New York. Tarcher/Putnam.

McLynn, F. (1997). Carl Gustav Jung. London. Black Swan.

Maslow, A.H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). New York. Harper and Row.

Scofield, R.T. (1997, June). The noise factor: A place for everything. SchoolAge NOTES, 17, 10.

This feature: Ironside, A. (2001). The quiet classroom and the noise of school-age care: A reflective essay. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 14, 2. pp. 75-77.

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