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 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, if they are not to be 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.
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)
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 has a link to a free downloadable booklet called Small Talk which is a very useful guide for understanding how your child learns to talk from birth to age 5:
Supporting a child to develop their speaking and listening skills is vital!
It is not just the key to literacy success but an essential social communication skill.
Sadly, schools are still reporting huge gaps in young children’s speaking and listening skills. So, over the next 6 weeks, we are re-running our popular blogs that look at different developmental elements of speaking and listening; providing practical games and activities to help build your child’s skills.
Week 1. The Importance of Small Talk
Week 2. Conversational Turn Taking Skills
Week 3. What is Listening?
Week 4. Games to Develop Listening Skills – Sound Screen Games
Week 5. Games to Develop Listening Skills – Sound Scanning Games
Week 6. Games to develop Listening Skills – Music Fun
Print Awareness to Develop Understanding of Reading Conventions
Print Awareness is knowing that print (words) has meaning, including noticing print around them in the environment (posters & street signs) and understanding how to handle the conventions for reading a book. We can often assume that all young children or pre-readers (as not always young children) will develop print awareness naturally. However, research suggests that 95% of their visual attention is directed towards pictures, which in themselves hold a great deal of meaning and often tell the story very effectively.
Pictures/ illustrations in story books and pure picture books are powerful ways to engage children and adults with books, storytelling and reading. This is not to say that pictures are any easy way to interpret a storyline as they can hold a great deal of meaning, from simple obvious interpretation to more sophisticated symbolic representation.
Young children and pre-readers need opportunities to explore print and be helped to understand that the written word (print) has meaning. Once they start to see print they will begin to notice it everywhere not just in books but on posters, food packets, menus and street signs.
Again we can often assume that a child or pre-reader knows how to handle a book, however this is not always the case and can be due to a lack of experience with books or different cultural reading conventions. So it is important to check and teach these reading conventions for reading English:
- Front cover opens to the left and we read it from the front to the back.
- Print on a page is read left to right.
- Usually print is read from the top of the page across and down (this may differ slightly in some children’s books).
Supporting Print Awareness:
- Use takeaway menus or create your own as part of role playtime, they could have their own café serving up all sorts of interesting dishes for you. A blackboard can be very useful for this, allowing you or your child to write up their own menu for the day.
- Travel brochures or leaflets from your local tourist information office are great for role play encouraging new language as well as a different way to explore print as they often have maps and timetables.
- Use sticky labels or post it notes to label items or furniture as part of a ‘can you see or find’ game.
- Making lists of things to do, or a shopping list. Their version of the list may be just squiggles and dots (so don’t rely on this for your shopping trip) but it is the beginning. I would keep the list and get them to tick off things done or items purchased as part of the experience so that it has a genuine purpose (children really like this).
- For slightly older children making simple invitations and thank you cards can be fun. Try not to make the messages too long or to write too many as they will get bored and see it as a chore not as fun.
- Making and drawing their own story book.
Through Songs/Nursery Rhymes
- Showing the printed words to songs and rhymes.
- Point out signs, logos and labels when out and about as well as at home.
- A lot of print awareness skills is developed through the sharing of books and appropriate on-line material.
Through Book Sharing
What Books to choose?
- Books that have writing as part of the story;
- Books that have writing as part of the picture;
- Story books; all types;
- Factual (non-fiction) books; all types;
- Children’s magazines and newspapers.
Book Sharing Tips
- Remember babies will chew and bash the pages of the book as you read. This is normal and part of their learning experience so go with it.
- Encourage and let your child turn the pages.
- Point to the words of the title as you say them
- Explain what the author and illustrator do as you say their names.
- Point to words or repeated phrases as you say them or as your child says them. This will also help your child to develop the skill of reading from left to right and from the top of the page down (English).
- Point to words of interest and explain how words have spaces between them and why.
- To help your child understand how to handle a book use the word ‘front’ and ‘back’ of the book. If you are handed a book upside down or with the ‘back’ cover facing you explain that you have to turn it around or over so that you can read it.
- Explain that page numbers help you to find things in the book as well as to help make sure you do not miss any part of the story.
- Explain that content pages in story books show the chapters and in factual (non-fiction) they show different subject areas, as well as giving the page numbers on which to find them.
- Explain how the index page in non-fiction books work.
- Explain what a glossary is in a book.
Vocabulary Development for Comprehension
Vocabulary is knowing the meaning of words including names of things, feelings, concepts and ideas. The larger a child’s vocabulary (understanding what words mean not just being able to say them) the easier it is for them to understand what they are reading.
The more you talk and share words and their meaning with your child the greater their vocabulary will become.
- Introducing and playing sorting games helps your child to build a mental filing cabinet system of categories, this helps them to remember and learn the meaning of words. Start by introducing simple categories of everyday items like food or clothes as their vocabulary increases categories such as colour, size and texture become more appropriate.
- As babies handle objects and toys describe how they feel, what they look like or the sound they make
- When you are playing with your child add in new words and descriptions to the words as well as descriptions or expand on words they use in play. For example, if you are playing cars with your child you may comment on the size difference or colours between the cars.
- Remember children learn new words best when they are learned in context, that is, in a natural setting.
- If they are trying to say a word, let them finish and then say it back to them clearly and correctly. Do not make them repeat it back to you, they may choose to do so but make it their choice.
- When drawing or painting with your child or they are sharing their pictures with you talk about the shapes, colours types of lines (straight line or curves line), what you like best about the picture, and the objects you can see.
Through Songs and Nursery Rhymes
- Listening of nursery rhymes and children’s song is a good way of helping your child make the distinction between the music and words (language used) in them. It is a good idea to practise this skill when there are no other noise distractions.
- Try playing some action songs and rhymes to help your child learn the actions for the rhyme, then let them have a go on their own. Watch them to see if they can do some of the actions at the right time in the song, to see if they are listening for the right cue words. If they are struggling, explain they have to wait for certain words and show them what to do and when to do it.
- Nursery and silly rhymes are great ways to introduce your child to rhyming sounds and increase sound play in words.
- Singing often slows down our pronunciation of words, helping your child to pick out unusual or rhyming sound patterns. As with reading aloud it can introduce a wider vocabulary for your child.
- Finger rhymes and action songs encourage your child to interact with words, the sounds within them and the rhythms they create. Finger rhymes such as ‘Round and Round the Garden’, ‘Pat-a-cake’ and ‘Incy Wincey Spider’. ‘Row, Row Your Boat’ is a lovely whole-body movement song that encourages a rhythmic whole-body motion, which babies and toddler enjoy (as well as the adults).
- Speak in ‘parentese’ until a child is about 9 months old as they will listen to you longer and hear more words
- Talk about feeling and situations throughout the day.
- When your child points at something tell them the name of the object, for example if they point at an apple, say “Apple”.
- Explain words or give synonyms
- Avoid replacing unfamiliar words with familiar ones (explain the meaning). Remember to try to use the new word in context regularly as repetition of the word will help your child to remember it and reinforce the meaning of the word.
- Repeat and expand on what your child says, so if they say “Dog!” you may say “A big dog!” This also helps them to develop an understanding of sentence structure.
Through Book Sharing
What books to choose?
- Books with word not used in everyday conversation.
- Non-fiction books (informational, instructional, true stories) -as they use different words to friction (story) books.
- Any book really. The language of books in much richer and varied than that of everyday conversation.
Book Sharing Tips
- Sharing and talking about the books you are reading helps to build word knowledge, as you point to the pictures, picking out different objects.
- Reading out aloud helps to introduce your child to words that they may not experience in their everyday talk. This helps to expose them to new vocabulary and the sounds to be found in those words.
- Reading aloud poems and story books with strong rhyme elements, like those found in Dr.Seuss books, helps introduce the new words and rhyming sounds in words.
- Try exaggerating the rhyming words to help highlight the sound patterns, making it easier for your child to tune into them.
- Explain unfamiliar words; don’t replace it with a familiar one.
- When a word has more than one meaning. Talk about the different meanings.
- Add descriptive words or more information than in the book.
- Encourage your child to talk about the pictures. Add information and ideas to what they have said.
- Use words to describe how characters in the book might have felt at a point in the story.
- Use words to describe ideas in the story even if they are not used in the book.
- Remember children learn new words and their meaning through repetition, so you will need to be patient as you re-read the same story over and over again or answering the same questions over and over again.
Phonological Awareness Games and Book Sharing Ideas
Phonological awareness relates to our sensitivity and understanding of the sound structures of our oral language. It enables us to progress from our awareness of large sound units (words in sentences) to smaller sound units (phonemes in words).
Our phonological awareness develops over time and the depth of that awareness is based on the range of experiences we have. Research suggests that our phonological awareness begins in the womb at about 24 weeks and is continually built upon throughout our lives. We tend to think of children going through ten distinct phonological stages; the later stages being related to phonics.
Children are taught to read in schools through phonics; the association between sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes).
Phonics reading is the process of firstly segmenting the written word into letters, or letter combinations, then associating known sounds to those letters and finally blending the sounds together to form words (decoding). If a child is weak in any of the phonological awareness stages before those relating to phonics then they will struggle with learning to read.
Because of the nature of how we develop our phonological awareness games and activities cannot easily be split into categories. Playing, drawing, writing, singing and book sharing all require you to talk with your child highlighting sounds, words and rhythms of language.
Here are some games and activities to help you:
- Singing and sharing nursery rhymes is a great way to help children hear sounds in words because the words are drawn out and the sounds highlighted or exaggerated.
- Clapping, bouncing or tapping to songs and rhymes helps to highlight the syllables of the words. 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.
- Pointing out the sounds you hear, such as animal or environmental noises, and explaining what is making that noise.
- Playing games or sing songs where you and your child can make noises such as animal sounds (Old MacDonald had a farm) or vehicle noises (The Wheels on the Bus).
- Drawing animals or other everyday objects that have a distinct sound, name them and make the sound they produce.
What books should you choose?
- Books with sounds of animals and other objects that make sounds
- Nursery Rhymes
- Books formatted from songs
- Books with rhyme and alliteration
- Poetry books
- Any book really, remember your local library can help you to choose a good range of books to share with your child if you are not sure.
Book Sharing Tips
- Don’t be shy, make animal and object noises. If you are self-conscious about it your child will pick up on this. No one thinks twice about an adult making what may appear to be strange noises if they are sharing them with a child (it’s when you forget they are not with you and you do it that they tend to look at a you a bit funny).
- Talk about whether the words in a book rhyme or not. Point out the rhyming words, make up other rhyming words for any of the words in the book. Remember they do not have to be real words they can be silly funny words that pick up the rhyming sounds in the original word.
- It is important to remember for some children saying a word that rhymes with one you have given that can be very difficult, if not impossible. So, don’t stress them out with this, it is often easier for them to recognise a rhyme than to make one. You could ask them to tell you if two words you give rhyme or not. If they find this easy try giving them three words with only two that rhyme and ask them to identify the rhyming words.
- After sharing the book pick out words that you can clap out the syllables for. You could make this into a jumping or hopping game instead. With older children ask then to tell you how many syllables the word has and then to check their answer by counting the number of claps or jumps they make.
- Play an ‘I Spy’ game using the pictures in the book looking for rhyming words for instance by giving clues such as; “It is red and rhymes with the word sock.” The answer is clock.