Over Easter, I was fortunate to be sent access to resources produced by Michelle Waldron of 1st Early Ed. This sparked me to think more deeply about listening skills and how we use these effectively in children.
As a teacher, I have been trained in the importance of listening skills in young children, plus the fact that I am a terrible chatterbox (!), means that my own children developed these skills too. However, this process is not natural to all - parents and children alike.
Michelle's resources are audio albums that are designed to be played on car journeys. They are built around rhymes that focus on encouraging children to look at their environment and to learn the correct vocabulary for each item that they might see (animals, cars, colours, numbers, etc). This should evoke conversation in the car, which, again requires listening skills and turn taking within the process of talk.
How does Rhyme help children to improve listening skills?
You will notice, as a parent, that alot of children's early reading books contain rhyme. This not only improves the pace at which a book/poem/rhyme is read (it's like keeping a beat on a piece of music - Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are...), it also helps children to begin their journey into learning to read themselves.
Encouraging children to listen whilst you read to them, starts them off on a magical journey of discovery, because they start to distinguish sounds. This is the first step into learning phonics. Children need to learn to listen to different sounds around them in their environment and to be able to label those sounds correctly. Then, when they begin to learn letter sounds, they will be ready to listen to the various sounds that are made in words (e.g.: c-a-t spells cat).
Hearing rhyme is a huge stepping stone in this learning journey and is so diffficult to master. I will quite often ask the children I teach to complete a rhyming string (cat, bat, mat......) or to finish my sentence when reading a rhyming book (There was a cat who sat on a mat, and he was wearing a dark, blue...... (hat)), but this skill needs to be taught - children will not automatically know what a rhyming word is - they need to hear the similarities!
How does Vocabulary help children to improve listening skills?
As I said above, children need to distinguish different sounds, but to also be able to label them correctly. To us, as grown ups, it is obvious that the "mooooo" we just heard comes from a cow. Children do not know this. It is our role, as their parents or teachers, to explain to them where these sounds come from. We can also extend this to talk about the volume of these sounds - if they are loud, they are closer.
Remember, all words are new to children. What is a cow? What does loud mean? Some children will be able to verbalise these questions to you, and an enquiring mind will seek answers everywhere you go (!), but some children will not ask, so we must fill those gaps in order to help them to be ready to learn.
How does Talk help children to improve listening skills?
The actual process of talking to someone involves a lot of steps! You need to attract that persons attention, you need to allow them a chance to talk to you, and you need to listen to what they are saying to you, so that you can continue talking to them.
When your child starts school, they will need to share their voice with (potentially) 30 other voices. To be able to hold their idea in their heads and to wait until the other child has finished talking, is a huge skill at such a young age. Therefore, the more that you talk to your child, they easier that this will be for them.