Children are wonderfully curious. If you’ve just started wearing hearing aids, chances are your kids or grandkids will want to know all about those mysterious little devices in your ears: why you wear them, what they do, how they work…
It’s never too early to start teaching kids about hearing loss, especially with rates of noise-induced hearing loss in children on the rise. Talking to them about how hearing works and the importance of protecting their ears is a great way to encourage healthy listening habits now. And demonstrating what it’s like to have hearing loss will help them better understand your experience, making communication easier for both of you.
Read on for tips, activities and resources to educate kids about hearing loss and promote healthy hearing.
Recreating the auditory experience of hearing loss is a helpful way to explain the concept — particularly for little ones who may not understand easily. Put earplugs or cotton balls in their ears to block sound. Ask at a normal volume, “Can you hear me?” Then, remove the earplugs or cotton balls and speak to them at the same volume. Explain that when someone has hearing loss, many sounds can be difficult or impossible to hear, so it’s important to speak up and speak clearly. (You can also visit our hearing loss simulator together.)
Talk about the hearing loss causes in terms kids can understand, for example, you could explain that as people get older, their hearing may not work as well. Or that listening to very loud noises can hurt our ears. Or that, in some cases, people may be born without their hearing or lose it after being sick — but hearing aids and other tools can help them hear and communicate with others.
Turn the TV or music up to a high volume and speak in a normal voice, facing away from them. Then, turn down the background noises so they can hear you more clearly. Explain that too many noises can make it difficult for you to understand them when they talk. Encourage them to get your attention and minimize distracting sounds before speaking to you — so you don’t miss a word!
Come up with a hearing protection plan for kids. Work together to identify ways they can practice safe listening in different scenarios — whether it’s setting a volume limit on the phone/tablet/TV, wearing earplugs at noisy sporting events or simply reminding them to cover their ears near loud buzzers, sirens, etc.
Highlight how hearing aids help your loved ones. Point out that, just as glasses enable people to see better, hearing aids enable people to hear better. Share how they help you listen to all the things you love (like their laughter or singing!).
Give them a closer look. Kids love to explore with their hands. Though you’ll want to keep curious little fingers from tinkering with your devices, you can appeal to their curiosity by letting them hold a hearing aid in their hand. Point out the microphone, receiver, etc., and describe how all the different parts work together to process and amplify sounds.
Practice safety. Hearing aids have tiny parts that can easily be damaged, misplaced or swallowed. Practice these safety tips when you’re educating children about hearing aids:
Looking for hands-on ways to teach kids about sound and hearing? Here are a few fun, educational activities (sure to engage even the shortest attention spans!).
Goal: build awareness of different types/levels of sound and noise protection
Best for: ages 4+
What you’ll need: household items that make noise
Explore different sounds around the home or yard (the blender running, an alarm clock beeping, leaves rustling in the trees), or look up sounds online. As you study each sound, ask if they think the sound is “good” (pleasant to hear) or “bad” (unpleasant). Ask them to explain what they like and don’t like about each sound.
Say a child points out that they don’t like the sound of the blender because it’s “too loud” or “hurts their ears.” You can explain that very noisy sounds can actually damage our ears and lead to hearing loss. Teach them to cover their ears around very loud sounds (or even better — gift them a set of earplugs).
Goals: learn how to measure sound intensity, understand safe listening levels
Best for: ages 6+
What you’ll need: smartphone decibel meter app, various sounds to measure
Download a free decibel meter app, such as Decibel X or NIOSH Sound Level Meter (these allow you to accurately measure sound levels through your smartphone’s microphone). Explain that a decibel (dB) is a unit used to measure the loudness of a sound, just as we use the unit of pounds to measure weight and inches and feet to measure length. Near- total silence measures at about 0 dB, a whisper is around 30 dB and a normal-volume conversation is around 60 dB. Any sound above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.
Seek out a variety of sounds around the house or neighborhood and use the app to measure decibel levels. Note which ones fall at or above 85 dB — and why it’s important to limit exposure to those noises. Explore our decibel chart guide for more details on safe hearing ranges.
Goal: demonstrate how hearing aids work
Best for: ages 3+
What you’ll need: construction paper, adhesive tape
Did you know the earliest hearing aids were funnel-shaped devices called ear trumpets? Craft a homemade “hearing aid” together, and discover how funnels amplify and direct sounds. Click here for the instructions!
Here’s a list of books, videos and websites where kids can learn more about sounds and hearing health.
Books for kids about hearing loss:
● Sounds All Around by Wendy Pfeffer
● The Ear Book by Al Perkins
● Gracie’s Ears by Debbie Blackington
● Mila Gets Her Super Ears by Ashley Machovec
Videos for kids about hearing loss:
● How Ears Work (via kidshealth.org)
Website for kids about hearing loss: