Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, City University of New York
Over forty years ago, when I was conducting my research on the effects of passing train noise on children’s classroom learning (the noise lowered their reading scores), I had the opportunity to talk to the students about their reactions to sound and noise. They not only expressed how the noise of the trains intruded on their learning, but they also told me how much they appreciated quiet when they had to study and learn.
International Noise Awareness Day
I then decided to give some talks to young schoolchildren about quiet and noise and, much to my surprise, the students were very receptive to these talks. They also began to tell me about the noises in their neighborhoods or the loud sounds emitted from their siblings’ rooms that intruded on what they were doing, whether it was reading or playing with a friend. When the Center for Hearing and Communication initiated International Noise Awareness Day in 1996, we knew at the start that we wanted to educate children to the dangers of noise and the beauty of quiet. Thinking about how the information provided could be more effective, we came upon the following idea: How about using the arts to allow the students to express their thoughts on sound and noise.
The Center for Hearing and Communication then set up an Anti-Noise poster contest and invited children in grades K-12 across the country to participate. The posters came in to the Center and a "Stop that Noise" calendar for 1998-99 contained the winning posters. The posters showed people holding their ears when surrounded by airplanes and helicopters; a child jumping on a loud boombox; a broom sweeping up a loud plane, loud radio; etc. The children, through their posters, clearly demonstrated that they knew noise was harmful, especially to our ears.
Listen to the Raindrops Children's Book
Then one day, while visiting with a friend who had written children’s books and who knew that I wanted children to learn about the dangers of noise, suggested I write a children’s book about noise. I had first rejected the suggestion, essentially because I was an academic who published in academic journals, and did not believe I was capable of writing a book for children. Then, during the hour bus ride home, I wrote “Listen to the Raindrops,” a book in rhyme for young readers.
Thanks to the Center for Hearing and Communication for introducing me to Steven Parton who appreciated my rhymes and the theme of the book. He offered to illustrate “Listen to the Raindrops” which he did beautifully. Thanks also to the Center for Hearing and Communication for publishing the book and promoting it as well. Several years later, the Department of Environmental Protection, when it developed its curricula on sound and noise to educate children from the lower grades to the higher grades about sound and noise, decided to include “Listen to the Raindrops” as part of the curricula for the lower grades. While reading the book in their classes, the children are asked to make the sounds found in the book. Do look at this website: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dep/environment/sound-noise-education-module.page
Engaging Children Through the Arts
I continued to visit classes to talk about sound and noise and the book became part of my presentation. The children enjoyed hearing “Listen to the Raindrops.” They also sent me wonderful “thank you” notes for meeting with their classes. At one school, I had spoken to a group of third graders in the auditorium and their “thank you” note, to my delight, contained “sound rhymes.” Here are some of those rhymes: 1) Hammers go smash, smash; fish go splash, splash; 2) Cows go moo, moo; trains go choo, choo; 3) Cameras go click, click; clocks go tick, tick. Wow!!
As we recognize International Noise Awareness Day in 2022, we need to remember how important it is to educate our children about sound and noise. However, let us be mindful that enabling them to be part of the educational process through the arts will significantly enhance our message: Noise is harmful to health; quiet is beneficial to well-being.
About Arline Bronzaft
Dr. Bronzaft is Professor Emerita of the City University of New York, and a researcher, public advocate, and consultant on the effects of noise worldwide for five decades. In her hometown of New York City she has been continuously appointed by five NYC mayors to the Board of GrowNYC where she oversees its noise activities, and assisted in the 2007 revision of New York City’s noise code. Dr. Bronzaft has conducted landmark research on impacts of transit noise on classroom learning and on airport-related noise on the health of residents living near airports. She co-authored the 2011 book “Why Noise Matters” (Earthscan 2011), and the children’s book “Listen to the Raindrops” (illustrated by Steven Parton). Her writings on the impacts of noise on health and well-being have been included in academic journals, book chapters, encyclopedias, and popular media including the New York Times and others. Known as “the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of noise,” she is a forthright public speaker and a forceful advocate who knows how to speak truth to, and collaborate with, political leaders. Dr. Bronzaft has been interviewed and quoted extensively in the media, especially for her pioneering research on the impacts of transportation noise on classroom learning. She is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award (2018 Presidential Citation) from the American Psychological Association.