Listening is a complicated skill that requires children to learn how to pay attention – being able to focus on a particular voice or sound by filtering out other voices and ambient noises. They then have to concentrate on the voice or sounds to take in the information, building the stamina needed to listen for extended periods of time. Then they have to interpret that information to gain meaning – comprehension.
The usual approach to teaching children to listen is based on three behaviours:
Sitting or standing still
Looking at the person who is speaking
Thinking about what the person is saying or said
However, just because your child is replicating these behaviours doesn’t mean they are listening.
It is also surprising how often children are happy to follow steps 1 and 2 but completely miss step 3.
This is not surprising really as listening is not a set of behaviours but a set of skills that need to be taught and developed, starting from birth.
A child with poor listening skills will find it difficult to complete tasks, as they have not taken in all the information and so not understood the full extent of the task, or what was required of them. This can lead to a child flitting from one activity to another and never finishing anything, slowing down their learning. They also miss out on the sense of achievement and feeling of pride when a task is completed. This helps to build a child’s confidence, self-esteem and self-motivation to try again or attempt a more challenging task.
For many children good listening skills do not develop naturally, they have to be taught!
Don’t underestimate the importance of everyday chatter or conversation (‘Small Talk’), children develop and learn a great deal through ‘Small Talk’ with adults and other children.
What do we mean by ‘Small Talk’?
With babies it is the kind of talk that explains what we are doing, what they are doing, where we are going and what we can see. As they get older our verbal exchanges increase as we support their receptive and expressive vocabulary development. Through these exchanges we also support their general language development and understanding of how words are pronounced, basic sentence structure and using the correct tense.
When we talk with a child we demonstrate and model the use of language in real time so that it has meaning. For instance, a child may point and say “cat” and we would respond with “Yes, the cat is sleeping.” Or we may correct the child and say “That is a dog.” If we could we would point to a cat and explain the difference. We also correct mispronunciation of words and correct tense issues in the same way; repeating the word or sentence using the correct pronunciation or tense back to the child.
We covered this a couple of weeks ago but I think it is useful to recap the main points again here as it supports the development of ‘Small Talk’:
Children need to learn when to talk and when to listen; for this to happen they need to do the following:
Actively Listen to the other person. This means:
Concentrate on the words being said, by blocking out other environmental noises and voices.
For most children and adults this also means looking at the person, watching their facial expression and body language.
Listening for the verbal cues and/or changes in the tone of voice that signifies that the person has finished speaking.
Recognising that it is either your turn to respond by formulating a reply or not.
Formulate a Response. This means:
Extracting meaning – taking understanding from the words that have been spoken.
Mentally searching for words to compile a grammatically correct set of sentences.
In young children this can take time, not because they do not have the answer, because they just take longer to recall and formulate their responses. This is due to the constant acquisition of new language and understanding of the grammatical conventions that need to be applied.
Communicate Response. This means
Speaking clearly, pronouncing words correctly in coherent sentences.
Using socially appropriate facial expressions and body language to accompany the response.
Using the appropriate verbal cues and/or changes in the tone of voice that allow the other person to understand it is now their turn.
Wait. This means giving time for the other person to formulate their response.
It is not just the key to literacy success but an essential social communication skill.
Sadly, with the closure of schools over the last year due to the COVID-19 situation schools are reporting ever increasing concerns over the decline in young children’s speaking and listening skills. So, over the next 7 weeks, we are looking again at the different developmental elements of speaking and listening; providing practical games and activities to help build a child’s skills.
Week 1. The Importance of Small Talk & Conversational Turn Taking Skills
Week 2. What is Listening?
Week 3. Games to Develop Listening Skills – Sound Screen Games
Week 4. Games to Develop Listening Skills – Sound Scanning Games
Week 5. Games to develop Listening Skills – Music Fun
Week 6. Accents – Phonemic awareness & Phonics
Week 7. Games to develop Listening Skills – Phonemic Awareness
This week we will look at turn taking in play a skill children need to learn to take part in meaningful interaction with others. These interactions are a vital part of children’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth and wellbeing.
Children need to learn the importance of waiting for their turn when playing with others, something many find hard to understand to begin with.
Like most skills it needs to be taught and practised and is part of our phonological awareness development as it requires us to learn an associated vocabulary along with facial and other physical cue.
A child who is taught and given lots of practise at taking turns will find interacting and playing with others easier later on.
Turn taking is easy to implement into everyday activities and play and something you probably do anyway, without even thinking about it
Here are some ideas to help you to support your child:
Try to use the phrase “My turn”, “Your turn” or “Daddy’s turn” (name a third person) when playing or doing an activity such as sharing a book.
Toddlers have a short attention span so keep the turn short to start with.
Physical games such as rolling and kicking a ball or running and jumping activities can help to encourage turn taking and learning to wait for your turn. Again, don’t make the turns too long and to help keep your child engaged while you have your turn, talk with them about what you are doing during your turn and when they are having theirs.
Count Down or Up – To help young children develop an understanding that if they wait, they will get their turn, explain that you will count to 10 and then it is time to swap and someone else has a turn, count to 10 again and return the toy or wanted object to your child. It won’t take long for them to understand that they will get their turn without a fuss.
Turn Time – As your child gets older try using a timer/clock to help them increase the time scale between taking turns. Try not to make the gaps between turns too long to start with, as young children find the concept of time very difficult, 1 minute might as well be an hour in their eyes. Show clearly a start point and the finish point for the time scale so your child can watch or come back and check the passing of time. Don’t be tempted to ignore the timer if it is your child’s turn, make sure they are offered the toy or turn that is due to them, otherwise they will feel cheated and some of the trust is lost.
As children get older, playing card and board games helps to further develop their turn taking skills.