We teach our children so many other skills, but do we really think about teaching them to listen?
The art of listening is something children will use throughout their entire lives and while it usually takes a back seat to learning how to talk, walk, ABC’s… it really is just as important a skill. Maybe even more important.
So how does one go about teaching “listening”?
Believe it or not there are many simple and fun ways to teaching listening skills. Think “PLAY”, the natural way children learn. When participating in any of the activities below be sure to comment on “what a good listener” they are. That the connection that draws a child’s attention to listening as a skill that’s a positive in them learning. That’s the teaching.
- Play games like, “Simon Says,” or “I Spy”. Play “Clue” games that involve following clues/directions to find a hidden (or in our case lost) object. We also like to play “Who says…….” – make an animal sound and have them label it. If your good make other sounds like a truck backing up, popcorn popping, ….
- Sing favorite songs together. Then when singing it again (which we all know children love to do) change up some of the important words. See if they notice and point out your “mistakes.” Do this a few times and you’ll find them always watching for you to “make mistakes” again. They might even start making their own “mistakes” for you to catch.
- Talk about sounds. When talking with your child about the ordinary things that are happen during their day be sure to ask them about the things you both are hearing. For example- talk about the sounds you hear as you are outside like birds, airplanes, traffic.
- Ask those “predictor” questions. When reading books aloud asking questions about what they think will happen next. At the end of the story, question them about events in the story to see how well they were listening. No “yes” or “no” questions, we want information shared. This activity works better for children as they are getting closer to preschool age. They need some base of language to follow through on clearly answering the questions. Do not let this stop you from asking right from the start. Every engagement is an opportunity to support your child’s learning.
We can teach listening skills through fun or play activities, but it’s just as important that we model good listening when we are with our children.
- Be at eye level. We know it’s easier to talk to someone when you are on the same level. Our children deserve that also. Getting down to their level makes that connection and it’s more likely they will focus and listen to you. If it’s hard to kneel down, adapt – pick them up, sit in chairs. What’s most important is that you’re eye to eye, or on a similar level.
- Use a normal (volume) voice speaking at a steady pace, in a language your child can understand. Please with toddlers, don’t dumb down your language (baby talk). First they understands more than you realize and second we want them to hear rich expanded language. If they do not hear it how are they to learn it?
- Say it once and give them so time to respond by words or action. Saying it over and over means they don’t need to listen the first time, and that is not a behavior pattern we want to set in place or encourage. Try it again using different words, making sure your directions aren’t too wordy, and really are appropriate for the developmental level of the child. If your child continues not to respond after you have adapted, this time repeat the directions and then gently show them the way or how to follow your directions.
- Keep your word. If you tell a child that they must eat a good meal or they can’t have dessert, stick to it. Developing a reason to listen is part of one’s listening skills, so it’s important that children know you mean it and will consistently follow through.
- Control your yelling. It’s often better to drop your voice tone or whisper to get a child’s attention. When they are ignoring you, it’s tempting to yell to get them to do what you want. However, if you yell too much, they are just learning to tune you out, or just see this speaking as normal. Save your loud voice for times when you really need it, like if you notice your toddler is about to run out into the street.
- Listen to your child. This seems like such common sense, but so often we do not truly listen to them. Remember good role models are needed in developing good listening skills. The other benefit of listening to your child is supporting the development of their personal sense of self-worth.
- Repeat what you hear them saying. Take the opportunity to expand by adding a descriptive word. This not only works on listening skills, but increases their vocabulary.
Listening is also more than just “listen” and “follow the directions” or “respond”. Listening is really how we communicate. No matter the age we need to be having real conversations with our children. Talk with them, not at them. Really listen to them and show them that you are, through your responses. These conversations with you, help them learn about the flow of conversations. Even with an infant these conversations, which as usually “silly”, are encouraging listening skill development while making those important personal connections.