We ask children who are learning to read to ‘read out aloud’, but forget to tell them why. It is not just so we can hear they have decoded a word correctly. The important point is to encourage them to actively listen to what they are saying. The idea is that if they hear the words they will, if it is part of their vocabulary, understand their meaning and therefore fully comprehend the text they have read.
Many children, and grown-ups for that matter, do not enjoy or find reading difficult.
So, keep it short, simple and practical. We read all sorts of things as part of our daily activities but do not always ask our children to do the same or read them out aloud. If getting your child to read from their school reading books is proving to be a battle every day then don’t do it. Try getting them to read other things instead, such as:
- Packets/tins food labels and the cooking instructions;
- Simple recipes for meals you might cook (these can be from a book, magazine, phone, notepad or laptop),
- Ask family and friends to write a text or what’s App message to your child//children every day or two and get them to read them out aloud to you.
- 1 or 2 paragraphs from a suitable article about something they are interested in or enjoy, football, ballet, computer game reviews etc… (these can be from a book, magazine, phone, notepad or laptop). We all like to share information about things that are important to us.
Remember it is not about the number of pages they read but that they are understanding what they are reading and hopefully get an enjoyment from the experience. Who doesn’t like to read a message or letter from family or friends!
At about the age of 4 years old children start to develop an understanding that words can be split into sound parts (syllables) and that these parts give the word its rhythm. A syllable is the largest phonological unit (one or a group of sounds) of a word and is like the rhythmic beat of the word.
They should be able to orally blend syllables together to form words and segment words into syllables.
A fun activity to help develop syllable understanding:
How Many Syllables?
Children love to clap out the number of syllables in a word. It is important to say the word at a normal speed rather than really slowly as this can distort the word and make it difficult to hear the syllables. To start with a child just needs to be able to recognize them by clapping, stamping or jumping for each syllable of a word; they don’t need to be able to count them. It is thought that only about 50% of children can count out the syllables by the age of 4, so you can do the counting for them.
Spoken syllables are organised around the vowel sounds, making counting them easy; as the jaw drops when the vowel sound is spoken in the syllable. Try placing your hand under your jaw with your mouth closed before you say a word. Start with ‘cat’ you will notice the jaw drops once, this is because it is a one syllable (monosyllabic) word.
Most children will find it easier to identify syllables in compound words to start with. A compound word is formed by two words (root words) put together such as: sunset, hotdog, snowman and postman. They find it easier because the jaw tends to drop quite distinctly as we say the vowel sound in each of the root words and because we tend to say these words slowly.
Young children develop their vocabulary and understanding of sound patterns within words through word play.
Rhyme awareness and the enjoyment of alliteration begins early, usually between the ages of 2 and 3 years old (Stage 3 of phonological awareness). This develops in to an important tool, supporting a child in developing an understanding of how words are formed and the sound patterns within them. These are important pre-phonics skills a child needs to develop to support their future ability to succeed with phonics, reading and writing.
This Rhyme awareness is supported and developed through the singing of songs and nursery rhymes and finger chants. Alliteration (words that begin with the same sounds) such as ‘Sammy snake slithers silently’, which children love to hear in rhymes and stories, also supports their word knowledge and understanding of sounds in words.
Being able to repeat, and join in with, short phrases they have anticipated in a story or rhyme, is another important step in a child beginning to understand the use of words in stories and story structure; such as, “I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down!” in the story of The Three Little Pigs.
For more information on this, and other pre-phonics skills (Phonological Awareness) your child develops through from birth to 7 +years old, check out the Pre-phonics section of our website.
These games are designed to help a child learn about the different levels of sound, pitch, tone and volume.
- Skittle Band – Use, or make, a drum stick (wooden spoons are good for this) and explore with your child the different sounds the drum stick makes against objects made of different materials, such as steel saucepan, another wooden spoon, plastic bottles etc. Choose items that are safe and you are happy for them to play with. You could photograph the objects, record the sounds they make, or video (on your phone), to play back and talk about later on. Try moving the activity outside for a different sound quality experience.
- Orchestral Conductor – Once your child is happy and enjoys playing and making sounds, with different objects and instruments, try the conductor game. You can use your hands or a baton to point and encourage them to play certain sounds just like an orchestral conductor does, but make sure you have a clear stop gesture which your child will understand (you may need to say stop at the same time as the gesture to begin with, but they will soon get the idea). Then swap places and you become the musician and they the conductor; it may not be a classic you create but it is great fun. As your child develops their skills you can add new elements and hand gestures to make the sound louder or softer.
- Musical Bottles – Use plastic bottles with different amounts of water/sand in them and different things as a beater. Talk about how:
- Low/deep or high pitched a sound is compared with another.
- Using different beaters can change the quality of the sound when used on the same bottle.
- Using different amounts of pressure to hit the bottle makes the sound louder (harsher) or quieter (softer).
Try organizing the bottles in order of pitch to create a musical instrument and using this as part of the Orchestral Conductor game. You could number each bottle or use a different picture on the bottle as a way of encouraging your child to play the bottles in different orders (making music).
This is the last in our ‘Speaking and Listening Development’ series we hope you have found it useful and enjoyed the games and activities!
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.
The idea is to identify and talk about different sounds in different locations; in the park or at home in different rooms. Ask the child to listen for a moment (timed activity 30 seconds to start with then increase) and to pick out different sounds they can hear. Some will be close and easier to identify; other sounds may be further away and require more focused concentration to work out what they may be.
- Sound Scanning Questions to help:
- What can you hear that is far away?
- What can you hear that is close by?
- What can you hear that is loud?
- What can you hear that is quiet?
- What can you hear that makes a high-pitched sound?
- What can you hear that makes a low-pitched sound?
- What can you hear that sounds big?
- What can you hear that sounds small?
- Listening Walk Activities- You could record some of the sounds heard and talked about on the walk. Try changing the ‘What can you …?’ questions to ‘What did you…?’ Depending on your child’s age they may be able to draw a sound scape picture showing all the things they heard on the walk.
- Where is the Sound? – The aim of the game is finding out where the sound is coming from. Start by using something that makes a good clear sound. Ask your child to cover their eyes (can use a blindfold) and have them sit or stand in the middle of the room. Move around the room, starting not too far away from them and make the sound. Pause between each sound to give your child time to settle and focus on it before you make the next sound. Try to keep an even, slow pace. The aim is for your child to point in the direction they believe the sound is coming from. Gradually move further away, maintaining the same sound level. Swap places with your child, so you have to guess where the sound is coming from.
To make it more challenging:
- Change the volume of the noise.
- Change the object that is making the noise.
- Change the speed (rhythm), as well as the location, at which the sounds are made.
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!