Developing Speaking and Listening Skills: Play – the great starting point!

Developing good speaking and listening skills along with a wide vocabulary knowledge is an important part of your child’s phonological awareness development and phonics pre-skills base. So, it is not surprising that if a child has a weakness in these areas, they may struggle in learning to read and write.

How do we start to working on supporting a child to develop the skill sets needed for learning to read?

PLAY!!!

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the importance of different types of play. By giving your child the opportunity to experience the different types of play you will also be supporting them to build their speaking and listening skills as well as broadening their vocabulary.

Developing these skills is not all about paper and pencil worksheet activities (though this helps later on).

For fun game ideas go to our ‘Big to small’ (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/big-to-small.html) or games (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/games.html) sections.

All these can be found in our Learning Through Play in the new parents’ area of the website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/parents.html

Developing #Listening & Speaking Skills – Games to Develop Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is our ability to split words into their smallest sound units (individual phonemes) and to manipulate these sounds through segmentation, blending, substitution and deletion. This is based on what we hear and say, not the written word.

These games are great for playing in the car or when waiting in queues and hopefully soon when out and about with other friends and family.

We usually introduce this concept to children using one syllable CVC words, a word that has a Consonant followed by a Vowel and then another Consonant, such as cat, dog, sit, peg and sun.

Play, ‘I hear with my little ear…’

This is based on the game I spy with my little eye. In this version you say;

 “I hear with my little ear the words (for example) cat, cake, key and kite. What sound do these words begin with?” The answer is they begin with the sound ‘k’ remember it is about what they hear not the spelling or letter names.

  • To begin with focus on helping your child to identify the first sound in words, remember it is about what you hear not the spelling, so shop, ship, and chef all start with the same first sound ‘sh’; fish, photo, fog would also have the same initial ‘f’ sound. Try not to correct your child based on spelling conventions, as it is sounds you are working on – spelling comes later.
  • Next help your child to listen and identify the last sound in a word such as ‘t’ in cat, sit and hat.
  • Then focus on the medial, or middle, sound in the word such as ‘a’ in mat, lap and tap.

Once your child can identify the initial, medial and final sounds in a word the next step is to playing with the words through oral phoneme segmentation and oral phoneme blending. You are probably doing this already with your child without really realising it.

  • Segmentation – being able to split words into their individual sounds, for example ‘cat’ into c-a-t.

Play, ‘How many sounds (phonemes) can you hear?’

This is a simple oral segmentation game just ask; “How many sounds (phonemes) can you hear in the word ‘hat’? The answer is 3. If your child can not count, they can show you using their fingers. The important thing is for them to hear and pick out the individual sounds in the word not the number of letters used to spell the word.

  • Blending – being able to blend individual sounds together to say a word, for example d-o-g into dog. This is achieved by saying the sounds over and over again getting quicker until it sounds and can be identified as the word (a tricky skills to learn).

Play, ‘I’m thinking of a word and it has the sounds (phonemes)… What is the word?’

This oral blending game seems easy but can be very trick skill for some children to master, so do not be surprised if they find it hard to begin with. Use CVC words to begin with, but do keep trying as it is a very important skill to learn; be patient and over time they will get there.

Say “I’m thinking of a word and it has the sounds (phonemes) l-o-g what is the word?” The answer is log.

Important Tips

We often slow down our pronunciation of the word and over exaggerate them, thinking we are helping our children to hear these sounds. This can be useful to start with, but be careful not to do it all the time. The aim is for your child to pick out the sounds in normal speech patterns, as these can be different from the way that words are spelt.

The most important thing to remember when modelling this, and when playing games to help develop these skills, is to make sure you are making the sounds correctly. It can be very easy to pollute a sound by adding an extra ‘uh’ sound to it, so ‘k’ becomes ‘kuh’ which makes it very difficult for children then to blend sounds.

When your child feels comfortable using and playing with sounds in CVC words move on to CCVC words such as stop, clop and flop, following the same steps of identifying the initial and last sound in the word and then the vowel sound rather than the middle sound. Then play oral phoneme segmentation and blending games.

Developing #Listening Skills – Music Fun

These games are designed to help a child learn about the different levels of sound, pitch, tone and volume.

Music Fun

  • 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).

Developing #Listening Skills – Sound Scanning Games

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.

Games

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.

Have Fun!

Developing #Listening Skills – Sound Screen/Barrier Games

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.

What is listening?

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:

  1. Sitting or standing still
  2. Looking at the person who is speaking
  3. 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!

How to encourage your child to keep talking!

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.”

The Importance of Small Talk!

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/

Different Types of Talk

There are different types of talk:

  • Business Talk – this is when we use more everyday instructional and informational kinds of vocabulary and sentence structures.
  • Play Talk/Rich Talk – this is more conversational, informal and descriptive.
  • Small Talk – this is everyday chatter or conversations, informal and often less descriptive and more factual.
  • Parentese – this research has shown is how babies prefer you to talk to them using regular words (normal adult vocabulary) in a slightly higher pitched and more sing-song way.

It is important that a child is exposed to the different types of talk as it helps them to build their vocabulary (word awareness – receptive & expressive language) this is vital if they are to continue to develop good communication skills.

The Difference Between Receptive and Expressive Language

Receptive language is how we take in and understand language; it is what we hear, see and read. This also includes body language and environmental clues. All these elements help us to interpret a situation and give it its meaning, so that we can understand what is being communicated. We do not need to be able to produce language to receive and understand it, so infants and toddlers understand far more than they can express (expressive language).

Expressive language is our ability to put our thoughts, needs and wants into words and sentences in a way that makes sense and is grammatically correct. A baby’s expressive language to begin with is based on cries and gestures and then moves to sound making, gestures and body language signals. We use this expressive language when we speak and write. When babies and toddlers move to speaking words, they have a limited vocabulary which is why they can get frustrated when we do not understand them.

Good word awareness (receptive and expressive language) is a key pre- phonics skill.

Click the link for ‘Tips to Help Develop Word Awareness (Receptive & Expressive Language)’: https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/word-awareness.html

Turn Taking Skills – Conversation

This week we will look at turn taking in conversation 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 that in conversation they need to take turns listening and speaking.

This is more complex process than we often give it credit for as often we, especially in our busy lives, can be guilty of only listening to reply rather than listening to understand.

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.
  • Actively Listen to the other person.

Learning these skills takes time and needs to be taught as well as modelled by those around the children. It begins very early on for instance, when we talk to a baby, as if expecting an answer. As a baby starts to make cooing and babbling sounds, they begin to respond to you in those gaps, their first conversations.

Something that is worth remembering:

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” (Dalai Lama)