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Why We Should Teach Hearing Health In Elementary Schools

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A few years ago I visited my son’s 1st grade classroom as part of Family Time. This was a monthly event where different children’s parents would visit the classroom to share something special about their family. Many parents chose to share a special holiday celebration, or something about their country of origin. But I decided to talk about hearing loss — my hearing loss — and hearing loss prevention.

It was a bit of a risky topic since there were was no special food to try or special song to sing, but I discussed it with the teachers and we decided to give it a try. It was a great success! Even today (4 years later), some of the students in the class still ask their parents to provide them with earplugs whenever things get loud. I know this because the parents email me about it.

I am not an educator, so for my presentation, I borrowed liberally from public sources including a video from Dangerous Decibels, handouts and information from It’s a Noisy Planet, and interactive activity suggestions I found on the internet. I pieced them together into a 40 minute session that covered the basics of how hearing works, the importance of protecting your hearing, and the steps you need to take to do so. At the end, each child received a pair of earplugs and a bookmark from Hearing Health Foundation that showed the loudness of everyday sounds.

The children were engaged and interested the entire time. All were eager to try out the tuning fork to see the sound waves and to use the handheld decibel reader to measure how sounds get quieter the farther you are away from them. It was impactful. It was fun. They learned something and some of them still remember it. I bet more of them would remember it if it was repeated each year throughout the elementary school years. I would like to see that happen.

Why is it important to teach about hearing protection at such an early age?

Here are five important reasons.

1. A Large and Growing Health Issue: Hearing loss is a large and growing problem, with more than 50 million Americans experiencing some type of hearing loss. This includes 1 in 5 teenagers! This data is from a 2010 research study so the numbers are almost certainly higher today, given the ubiquitous use of earbuds by children of all ages.

2. Teaching Health Topics at School Works: Recent improved trends in the incidence of teenage pregnancy and the number of teenagers smoking demonstrate that educating children about health topics at school can be effective. Anecdotally, I know my children are horrified by smoking since they learned about the health dangers so early in life at school.

3. Sooner Is Better: In elementary school, children are more open and willing to learn about health and their bodies from parents and other adults than they will be as they reach middle school and high school, where peer opinions take precedence. Plus, the earlier we teach children about wearing ear plugs and protecting their hearing, the easier it is to form a lifelong habit.

4. The Curriculum Exists: Through It’s a Noisy Planet, a program of the the NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) has age appropriate curriculum already assembled, all of which they will send to you for free upon request. In fact, employees of It’s a Noisy Planet have been presenting in schools for a number of years with great success. But they can’t be everywhere at once. We need our local schools to take on this activity.

5. 100% Preventable: Noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable by either moving away from the sound, turning down the volume, or blocking the sound with earplugs or the like. With the world getting increasingly loud, it is important to start protecting your hearing as early as possible.

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at Living With Hearing Loss and serves on the Board of Trustees of both the Hearing Health Foundation and Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing loss. You can also find Shari on Facebook, Google+, Twitter @sheriberts, and on LinkedIn.

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