While moms may occasionally wish for the ability to simply tune out, listening is an important skill that children should develop as they grow. Listening skills are like muscles that need to be nourished and exercised in order to flourish. Activities that promote better listening skills should be a hands-on, fun experience for you and your child.
1. Everyday Activities
There are many times throughout the day when your child is listening and you don't realize it, despite his superhuman ability to selectively hear you say he could have dessert and completely miss the part about how he needs to finish his dinner to get it. Make a habit of narrating your actions throughout the day, and you'll be surprised by what you find your child repeating. You may say, "I'm measuring out 2 cups of flour and adding 2 tablespoons of paprika for the batter. Now I'm going to sprinkle it on the chicken." Your child may later use this dialogue to narrate his own cooking activities in his play area. Encourage your child to participate in conversations with you by frequently asking open-ended questions that deviate from simple "yes" or "no" answers. Try, "What was your favorite activity today?" and avoid only asking questions like, "Did you have fun today?" By encouraging a back and forth dialogue, your child will learn to listen to what's being said in order to give an appropriate response, thereby practicing his listening skills without even realizing it.
Games like "Telephone" and "Simon Says" help build your child's listening skills. When a relative or friend (or two) is with you and your child, start a game of "Telephone." Whisper a word or short phrase in the ear of the person to your left. They listen to the word or phrase, and repeat it to your child. Then have your child repeat the word or phrase out loud, and compare what she says to the initial word or phrase. Start with simple words like "elephant" or "butterfly," and build up to phrases like "I have a pretty pony" once your child gets the hang of the game. Another fun listening game is "Simon Says." Start by taking a turn as "Simon" and issue a command like "Simon says... hop three times." Make sure your child understands that "Simon" must say "Simon says..." before every command and that she will be out if she acts out a command that wasn't preceded by it. Your child should follow a new command, listening carefully to both the command and whether it was preceded by "Simon says" until she does one wrong. At that point, switch roles and have your child take a turn as "Simon" while you act out her commands.
3. Interactive Play
Story time is often incorporated into children's daily activities to encourage early literacy skills, but it also helps children develop their listening and attention skills. Sit with your child and read a story together. Ask questions about the story as you read. Say, "What could be hiding in that cave?" or "Look at all those cupcakes she ate! How many cupcakes can you eat?" Encourage conversation about the story as you turn each page. Doing this inspires your child to invest and take part in the story, building valuable listening and reading comprehension skills. You can also incorporate listening activities into your dramatic play sessions. Take turns as both the performer and the audience during puppet shows. Offer praise when your child is patient and attentive during his turn as the audience. Say, "Thank you for listening so well during my show!"
4. Listening Songs
Songs are a great way to grab and hold your child's attention. Start your day off with a sweet little good morning song. Sing, "Good morning. Good morning. Good morning, to you! Good morning. Good morning, to you!" Although simple, this practice gets your child's attention focused on you as soon as she wakes up. Children love to hear and repeat catchy little songs, so singing with your child encourages her to listen for the words so she can sing along. Use this early morning time to talk about her dreams and plans for the day. Toddlers and preschoolers may join in the conversation while infants may simply listen or babble along with you. When your child is ready for the day, gather a small group of her favorite toys and sit in a circle. Sing, "If your name is (child's name), jump up and down. Jump up and down. Jump up and down. If your name is (child's name), jump up and down, and sit back down." Repeat the song, replacing your child's name with the name of her toy, and encourage her to act out the action for her toy. If your child doesn't want to or doesn't understand what she should do when the toy's name is called, try saying, "Oh no. Baby bear isn't listening very well. Let me help him listen better," and proceed to act out the song for the toy as you sing again.
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