What is an Echo? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever wondered how echoes are made? Read this lesson to find out what causes echoes, why we hear echoes sometimes and other times we don't, and what echoes have to do with reverberations.

Sound Waves Bouncing Around

Have you ever noticed that your voice sounds different when you're in a large, empty room? Especially if there isn't a rug or curtains, your voice will usually sound louder. This is because sound travels in waves; the sound waves you make when you speak are traveling through the air in the room, so the room affects what you hear.

Have you ever bounced a basketball? If you bounce it on a hard floor or on cement, the ball bounces very well, but if you try to bounce it in the grass or a rug, it doesn't bounce very well, does it? Like a basketball, sound waves can also bounce.

Sound waves will bounce off hard surfaces, like walls and floors. If the sound waves hit soft things, like carpets, curtains, pillows, plants, or people, the waves are absorbed by the soft things, so they don't bounce off them. So if a room is very empty, the waves will bounce off the walls and floors instead of getting absorbed by the stuff that would normally be in the room, making your voice sound louder.

Sound Waves and Echoes

Sometimes when sound waves bounce off of a hard surface, you will hear the sound repeated again. For example, you might say ''Hello,'' and then a few seconds later, you hear the word ''Hello'' again. This called an echo. The sound waves left your mouth, traveled through the air, hit a hard surface, such as a wall, and then bounced back again, causing you to hear the sound again.

An echo is made by sound waves bouncing off a hard surface.
echo

Have you ever wondered why you don't hear echoes for every sound that is made? The sound waves are typically absorbed before they hit something hard that they can bounce off of. But sometimes there still isn't an echo, even if you're in a place where there are no soft things to absorb the sound waves. Let's see if we can figure out why that happens.

Echoes and Reverberations

Remember, sound travels through the air in waves. It takes time for those waves to reach a wall or other hard surface, bounce off the wall, and then travel back to your ears so that you can hear the echo. If you are standing close to the wall, the sound will bounce back faster than if you are standing further away.

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