As a teacher of young children, if I could have given the children in my care one skill it would have been for them to have good listening skills. If I had a 50p for every time I asked a child ‘to listen’ during my teaching career I would have been able to retire early!

So many children come into school unable to listen. Being able to actively listen is a vital skill to have if a child is going to make the best of the opportunities school has to offer. We all have those times when we are trying to get a child’s attention and it seems as if we are talking to a brick wall! It doesn’t matter how many times you say their name, nothing. Whilst at home this is perhaps frustrating, imagine the consequences if this is happening regularly at school.

Listening is one of the basic building blocks of language and communication and particularly during the early years of education, one of the main ways children learn. Up to 80% of learning in the early years is verbal, which is one of the reasons why teachers of young children are so concerned if children have poor listening skills. Good listeners grow up to become good communicators.

It is easy to think that listening just happens, we can all do it, why is it so hard for some? If you think about it though when I ask a child to listen I am expecting them to be able to hear my voice, listen the words I’m saying, look at me or an object, all while filtering out others voices or background noise or any other visual stimuli in the classroom and then be able to break down my sentences and understand the meaning of the information I am giving. I hope you can appreciate that there is quite a lot going and it is difficult to sustain for a long period. Which is why children need to be taught how to listen.

Active listening vs passive listening

When a child is not attentive they can easily become ‘passive’ listeners. This means they may simply hear what the speaker is saying but do not think or understand beyond that. Children who do this are easily distracted and often fail to grasp the information which is being passed on. Teachers want ‘active’ listeners who will give their full attention to the speaker and understand what is being said so they are therefore be able to act upon it. Active listening is a crucial skill to have, indeed it is one of the top soft skills, such as leadership and problem solving, looked for in the business world.

The benefits of active listening include:

• Fewer misunderstandings
• Faster work rate
• Improved resourcefulness
• More self reliance
• Improved productivity

Active listening takes a long time to develop so children will benefit from a lot of exposure and opportunities to practice and improve their skills. Parents can really help those children become better listeners.

#1 Maintain eye contact

Teach your child to look at the person who is speaking (teachers constantly surveil the classroom to see who is looking at them!)

#2 Don’t interrupt

Encourage your child to law the speaker finish speaking before they try to respond, this can be hard for young children so give them lots of practice.

#3 Ask questions

Teachers will check on the level of understanding simply by asking questions as this allows them to clarify misunderstandings, ensure understanding and show that children were listening. Help your children by getting them used to be questioned, not interrogated! This is an important distinction.

#4 Repeat back what has been said

By getting your child to repeat what you said in their own words will help you gauge if they were paying attention, actively listening and understood what was said.

As with any skill, it has to be practiced and encouraged if it is going to improve. There are lots of things you can easily do to help with listening, just 5 - 10 minutes a day, done on a regular basis can make a massive difference:

• Read stories together
• Cook together
• Listen to stories
• Make up silly rhymes
• Watch a favorite T.V programme together and ask about their favorite characters
• Take a listening walk
• Play Simon Says
• Give your child multiple instructions - ‘Please go into the kitchen and get the book from the table. Open it and bring me the recipe card inside’. Ask your child to repeat the instructions and then carry them out. You can make them more and more complicated depending on the age of your child.
• Make up stories together
• Praise good listening

One of the best things you can do to help your child be a good listener is by being a brilliant role model for them! Your child and their teachers will thank you.

Contributed by Christine Havercroft

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