Written by: Angela Mischkulnig, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
In today's predominantly visual world, it is important to offer children opportunities to strengthen their auditory perception and their listening skills, as these are fundamental for being able to communicate well with others and for having a good start in school. Already in 2012, UNICEF released a research about ‘How listening develops and affects well-being throughout childhood’.
Firstly it is important to note that hearing and listening are two different things. While hearing is a passive process of sound detection that relies on a properly functioning auditory system, listening is an active process where we listen and pay attention to the sounds around us and our brain then tries to make sense of them. Hearing can occur independently of listening comprehension. For instance, we may hear someone talking in a foreign language without understanding the content. To understand spoken language both hearing and listening skills are indispensable. To be able to comprehend, we need to know the spoken words (vocabulary knowledge) and connect the dots of a story so we can create a mental picture in our head of what someone’s talking about. Only from the age of two a child is able to create a mental picture of a word they hear and can then go looking for it. From age three they are able to create mental pictures of a whole scene and things they experience, which is the beginning of understanding stories. Background knowledge, drawn from our prior understanding of the world, is equally essential. Without prior knowledge, deciphering new information and making sense of it can be difficult. Consistently struggling to comprehend what others are saying can significantly impact a child. This difficulty often places a burden on parents as well, as they may perceive their child as inattentive. It is helpful to know that children with poor listening comprehension skills will also struggle with reading comprehension especially when academic demands become more complex. Other factors that can contribute to poor listening comprehension include issues with working memory, attention deficits or auditory processing disorders, where a child can hear but struggles to process the received information. Diagnosis of auditory processing disorders should be sought from a professional. Concerns about a child's poor listening comprehension skills can be addressed with a speech and language pathologist, who can pinpoint the source of the problem. Between birth and approximately three years old, children's listening skills undergo rapid development, allowing them to understand more words and follow simple instructions. By age three children understand two-part instructions, by age four they typically comprehend longer and more intricate sentences and by age five or six, they can usually follow more elaborate, multi-step directives.
10 Tips to enhance your preschoolers listening skills
1. Demonstrate exemplary listening skills yourself and emphasise their importance. When you are talking to your child, get down to their level, make eye contact, speak slowly, give them your full attention and time and actively listen to what they are saying.
2. Expanding vocabulary prepares children to be able to follow conversations and to understand what others are saying. Encourage them to ask about unfamiliar words and answer their questions. The many ‘Why’ questions appear typically around the age of three.
3. Engage in a sound guessing game: Have your child close their eyes while you create various household noises (e.g. running tap water, closing a door) and ask them to identify the sources, maybe even in the correct sequence. This activity enhances auditory discrimination and memory, both critical skills for listening comprehension. Another great option is going for a ‘listening walk’ for example in a forest where children can try to identify different sounds.
4. Read books together and talk about characters, plot, and settings. The complexity and length of the story depend on the child's developmental stage.
5. Ask your child to do three specific tasks in the correct sequence, such as 'Can you get your backpack, put on your shoes and then put on your jacket?'
6. During grocery store visits, pause in one section and ask your child to find three familiar items. Evaluate their ability to recall all items, varying the number and complexity based on age and developmental stage.
7. Be mindful of environmental distractions that can impede listening. Children who struggle with paying attention are quickly distracted by background noises, so try to minimise those in your home. If your child faces listening challenges in the early years of school, consider requesting a seat closer to the teacher at the front of the classroom, to minimise potential noise distractions from all sides.
8. A fun way of enhancing the attention span is to choose a specific word from a story and every time that word comes up (while an adult is reading the story), the child has to clap.
9. If younger children find it challenging to listen to a story, choose shorter stories, to begin with that include pictures, encourage them to spot objects in pictures or select books with functional interactive elements.
10. Engage in activities like singing, rhyming and clapping games, which are fun and enhance the auditory sequential memory, discrimination and attention. Age-appropriate audio stories and rhyming games are excellent for car rides, where children have to identify very similar-sounding words.
For more information about how play supports your child's development and for clever designed compact open-end travel toys visit our website ‘The Wonderful Little Suitcase Company’ or follow us on Instagram.
Angela Mischkulnig, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Angela, Co-founder of 'The Wonderful Little Suitcase Company' is a skilled Australian-based designer with a background in pediatric speech therapy focusing on children with developmental disorders. Combining her knowledge of child development and parenting, she creates imaginative and sustainable toys that promote playful learning. In recognising the growing impact of digital technology on very young children, she is committed to offering engaging alternatives for busy caregivers. With a German B.A. in Design, an Austrian Speech Pathology degree with over a decade of experience working in Austria and Liechtenstein and additional studies at Stanford Center for Health Education, she applies her expertise to nurture children's natural curiosity.