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Listening and attention skills

Your child will be given many spoken instructions throughout the school day and will need to be able to shift their attention from what they are doing to listening to what the teacher is saying.


Here are some lovely activities to try to enhance these skills:


  • Broken Telephone: This game can be played around the dinner table or anytime when at least 3 members of your family are present. Start with single words if your child is very young and slowly move up to phrases, then entire sentences as your child becomes more competent at listening. Make up a word or sentence and whisper it into your child’s ear, who must whisper it to the next family member, who continues passing the message around the table. The last person to hear the message says it out loud. This usually ends in laughter as the phrases often change and the message is broken. In time, your child will be able to listen to detail better and convey accurate messages. Vary the sentences by using alliterations (e.g. my tiny teddy is talking) and rhyming sentences (e.g. do you have a blue shoe?). Also, change the order of who-whispers-to-who and allow your child to make up messages as well.


  • Musical Statues: Musical Statues is another favourite that kids love. All you need is some music and a space to dance. Play the music and stop it every now and again. You and your child must both freeze as soon as the music stops. You will see the difference over time as your child refines their listening skills. Initially, it may take a while for your child to realise the music has paused and to stop dancing.


  • I Went to the Zoo and I Saw A…: This game is more advanced than the previous ones and involves listening as well as memorising. Choosing any animal names, start the game by saying “I went to the zoo and I saw a monkey”. Your child then responds with “I went to the zoo and I saw a monkey and a lion”. You respond with “I went to the zoo and I saw a monkey, a lion and a tortoise”. For each turn, repeat the animals that have already been listed, in sequence, then add a new one. You may not repeat an animal. At first, this may be tricky, but with time you will be amazed at how many animals your child can remember. This game is actually easier with more people because it is easier to associate words with different people than 10 words from the same person. So be sure to get the whole family involved. This game can be varied with any list (e.g. I went to the shop and I bought a…” or “In my fruit salad there is a…”).


  • Which One is the Odd One Out?: This is a game that develops listening for a particular piece of information. Say a string of words to your child that are part of a particular theme or category. Insert one word into the set that does not belong and ask your child to identify the word that doesn’t belong. For example, in the group of words “apple, banana, leopard, pear and apricot” the word leopard is an animal but the rest of the words are types of fruits. Start off with an easy example like this and later make the categories less obvious or make the odd word of a slightly different category. For example, say a list of vegetables and insert one fruit, or say a list of negative emotions and add in a positive emotion.


  • What Sound is That?: This is a game of listening to everyday sounds and recognising what they are. Blindfold your child or ask them to turn around. Walk around the room and make noises with various everyday items. Ask your child what they are. This can be done in any room – a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room or even outdoors. Make sounds such as open the refrigerator door, switch on the blender, lift and close the swing dustbin, take an ice-cube out of the tray, switch on the tap, peel a banana or boil the kettle.


  • How Many Things Did You Hear: This is a variation on the previous game and involves listening as well as memorising. Ask your child to close their eyes and put a timer on your phone for 30 seconds. Ask him to listen carefully and try to remember all the things he heard – in order if possible. List all the sounds that were heard and count how many different sounds there were. With time, increase from 30 seconds to a minute of focused listening.


  • Sing Action Rhymes: When children are using their bodies to move, they are concentrating better, learning more and developing better listening skills. A great listening activity for preschoolers is to tell them an action rhyme where they follow the instructions such as this one: ‘Hands on shoulders, hands on knees. Hands behind you, if you please. Touch your shoulders, now your nose. Now your hair and now your toes. Hands up high in the air, down at your sides, and touch your hair. Hands up high as before, now clap your hands, one-two-three-four!


  • Make Up An Impromptu Story: At bedtime, make up a nonsense story together by adding on one line each and seeing where the story goes. The first person starts a story with one sentence. Then the next person adds onto the story, and it continues until everyone has contributed at least one sentence to the story. This requires listening to what has already been said and making connections, as well as working together as a group.


  • Mother, May I: The person who is the “mother” stands on one end of a space, while the other players line up at the other end. Each player takes a turn asking if they can move (e.g. ‘Mother, may I take 3 giant steps forward?’). Lots of fun listening here. It’s also great for following directions and taking turns being the leader.


  • Red Light Green Light: Start with the traditional Red Light means Stop and Green Light means go. There are several entertaining variations you can add in. Different colours mean different types of movement, like yellow light means skipping, purple light means crab walking or blue light means hopping. You can also pretend to be a different animal for different colours (e.g. yellow for lion, green for bunny, purple for frog, etc.). You can say words that rhyme with red or green to see if they catch the difference "Bread Light! Teen Light!" Very silly, and quite fun.