Last week we explained the three things required for good listening skills:
- To pay attention – being able to focus on a particular voice or sound by filtering out other voices and ambient noises.
- To concentrate on the voice or sounds to take in the information, building the stamina needed to listen for extended periods of time.
- To interpret that information to gain meaning – comprehension.
Here are some games to help build these skills.
These games are designed to help a child learn how to block out ambient noises so that they focus and concentrate on one particular sound.
Create a barrier between you and your child so that they cannot see the object you are going to use to make noises with and see if they can guess the object. Try to use objects that make sounds that occur around them a lot of the time, for example keys rattling together or wooden blocks being knocked together. There are many variations of the game that can be played but you need to make sure your child has the opportunity to experience the sounds with the relevant object beforehand so they don’t get frustrated by the game.
- Mrs Blog has a box… To the tune of Old Macdonald changing the name as best fits the situation. Place a box, on its side with a number of objects inside that make a noise (choose items your child is familiar with the sound of), between you and your child so they can’t see what is in the box. Start singing “My mummy has a box ee, i, ee, i, o and in that box she has…” Stop and gesture to encourage your child to listen (maybe a cupped hand to your ear) then pick one of the objects and make a sound; your child then tries to guess what it is. Continue to sing but imitating the sound of the object you played, which your child can now see. If it was a bunch of keys for example; “with a jingle, jangle here and a jingle jangle there, my mummy has a box ee, i, ee, i, o.” Swap places so your child can choose an object in the box, change the song so you are using their name, for example “My James has a box…”
- Same or Different? Place a barrier between you and your child so they cannot see which object you will use to make a sound and that you duck behind so they cannot see your face when you make vocal sounds. This can be played at different levels. At the basic level using animal noises such as baa, moo, woof etc. A more complex level would be to use shakers with different size things inside to make different shaking sounds. Plastic containers or bags of the same size and type can be used to make the shakers with different small items in such as dried pea, rice, sand or small coins, pebbles or small Lego bricks. Make the noise once and then repeat either with the same noise or a different one. The child then says if they were the same or different.
- Copy Cat! Place a barrier between you and your child so they cannot see which object you will use to make a sound and that you duck behind so they cannot see your face when you make vocal sounds. You will need two set of the same objects, a set for you and one for your child. The aim of the game is for you to make a noise with either an object or your voice and for your child to copy that sound choosing the correct object in front of them or using their voice as you did. The game can become more complicated as you mix a number of sounds using objects and your voice. Swap roles so that your child becomes the leader of the game and you have to copy them.
Have Fun! N.B. Be careful of small objects, especially those escaping from shakers, as these can be a choke hazard.
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!
Learning to the conventions of conversation start from birth, as parents we do not really think about it in this way but it is what we tend to do naturally.
Sometime though we all need a few pointers to help us, so here are some ideas to help you develop and encourage your child to talking skills:
From Birth to 1 Years Old
- To encourage cooing and babbling. Get yourselves comfortable in a face-to-face interaction position, babies often like lying on their back or on your lap looking up at you.
- Start by talking to your child while gently tickling their tummy or neck.
- Anytime they make a sound you imitate or match the sound as best you can. It is best to wait until they have finished before you try (one of the conventions of conversation).
- Try changing or adding a new sound to the one your child has made, so if they say ‘ah’ you might say ‘ah-ooh’, this will help to keep the game interesting.
- Show that you are excited by the sound they make – smile and laugh, if you are enjoying the interaction, they will be excited by it too.
- Vocal play works best when it occurs naturally, such as playing with farm animals, for instance sheep go baa, baa or cows make a moo, moo sound.
1 to 2 Years Old
- Talk directly to your baby/toddler so they can see your facial expressions and how your lips move, as this is the beginnings of learning the conventions of communicating, listening and responding (something they cannot get from the TV, iPad or overheard conversations – indirect talk).
- Talk through everyday events, such as getting dressed; what is happening, where you are going and what the plan is for the day.
- Use your body language, expressions and gestures to help reinforce and develop your child’s neurological pathways to support understanding and comprehension.
- Share books with your baby/toddler, they may not understand what you are saying to begin with but they will be listening to the different sounds that the words make. By reading aloud you are probably using words that will introduce new sounds that your child may not be picking up from your normal day to day conversations. As they get older you are developing and increasing the range of their vocabulary.
- Babies and young children love to hear you singing and saying rhymes, this is because the language is slowed down, allowing them to hear the small units of sounds and patterns which are often repeated several times in a short time lapse. Again, the language used is often different from your day-to-day talk.
- To encourage and help your child to generate and play with sound, repeat the sounds that they make.
- Using familiar objects and toys make the noises associated with them for example a toy car, broom, broom or a toy bumble bee buzz, buzz.
- When you are out and about talk about what you can see and about the sounds they make, a cat goes meow or a train Choo, Choo, for example.
- You can use other onomatopoeic words to describe sounds, such as wooden spoons on saucepans could be bang, bang or blocks being knocked together could be click, clack.
2 to 5 Years Old
- When playing, talking and sharing new words it is important to get down to your child’s level so they can see your face and how your mouth and lips move to form the words or sounds being explored.
- Remember toddlers learn to listen best when they are taking an active role in what they are doing, especially when you or others join in eagerly with them to play the games.
- Give your child thinking and response time, this may seem like a long pause but it is worth waiting, be sure your child has finished what they wanted to say before you respond.
- Try not to finish off your child’s sentence, yes sometimes it may be quicker but just give them a little moment longer and they will get there. If it is clear they cannot think of the word they want then that is of course different.
- Before a child can really take part in meaningful interactions with others, they need to learn how to take turns. It is one of the basic elements of communication, when we are talking to someone, we leave a gap/pause so that the other person has the opportunity to respond, taking turns. Turn taking skills need to be modelled and taught to help your child develop and understand this element of communicating with others.
- To encourage your child to keep talking try nodding, smiling and using comments such as; wow, really or acknowledging something they have said by repeating rather than always asking them questions.
- We are all guilty of half-listening, especially when we are busy trying to cook dinner for example. If it is obvious that what your child wants to tell you is really important then make it clear that you are interested by saying “Just let me finish this and then I can listen to you more carefully.”
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.
The Communication Trust is now part of the I Can organisation and has a great range of information and guidance for parents and professionals: https://ican.org.uk/