Over the last week, I spent some time thinking about the skill of listening and revisiting Mary Renck Jalongo’s book, Learning to Listen and Listening to Learn. In her book, Jalongo poignantly describes how listening is a skill that is commonly misunderstood and hard to define because it often has different meanings to different people. To emphasize this point, Jalongo shares the following examples: If a teacher says to a child, “You’re not listening,” it often means, “You’re not thinking along with me.” If a parent says the same thing to a child, it usually means, “You’re not doing as I say.”
Learning to listen may seem pretty simple, but actually, it’s not. Consider this… When learning to listen and the skill of listening to learn, children must practice effective listening – meaning they must be able to:
- Take in both verbal and non-verbal messages,
- Attend and keep our attention focused completely on the message, and
- Interpret or understand the message.
In addition, they must also be able to filter out distractions, process information, ask relevant questions, and formulate connections. Yowzah!
Now, consider this paradox… Listening is the skill most often used – but least often taught. With this in mind, we believe that learning to use effective listening must be intentionally taught.
In preschool, we teach effective listening skills by practicing “Whole Body Listening” using the descriptive language listed below:
Eyes = look at the person talking to you
Ears = both ears ready to hear
Mouth = quiet – not talking, humming, or making sounds
Hands = quiet in laps, pockets, or by your sides
Feet = quiet on the floor
Body = faces the speaker
Brain = thinking about what is being said
Heart = caring about what the other person is saying
Right about now, some of you are probably wondering – Okay, that’s great. But really…
How do we teach effective listening skills and what can I do at home? Below are some tips and strategies that we recommend:
- Encourage listening by varying the volume of your voice. Sometimes, children listen best when we whisper.
- When reading aloud, pause at strategic times to check for understanding by asking who, what, where, or why questions.
- Be aware of background noise and interruptions.
- Don’t start talking until your child is showing you “Whole Body Listening.”
- Keep directions short and use simple, sequential steps.
- Talk slowly enough to give children time to process information.
- Ensure children know WHY what you are telling them is important (keep it short).
- Balance questions that have one right answer with open ended questions that can be answered in a variety of ways.
- Provide fun opportunities to practice listening. Talk on the phone, listen to children’s podcast, play an audio book.
- Practice giving your child times of undivided attention. Turn the TV and/or your phone ringer off.
- Model active listening yourself and characteristics of “Whole Body Listening.”