Listen to Me!

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.”

Parents need to know that distance learning does not define their worth as a parent.

Take heart…and then take these few simple actions that can smooth the journey.

Distance learning programs designed to bring school curriculums online and into households have been launched by schools all over the globe these past few weeks. For some parents, this may be exciting – a dream come true! For others, it might feel like a challenge from an episode of Fear Factor, or perhaps as though you are being forced to take the stage in a performance for which you did not audition. Gulp!

But, here’s what I want to say to parents – take a deep breath and know that nobody is going to judge you by how well you do – or don’t do – distance learning.

This past weekend I read an article by Dr. Laura Markham, on her website Aha! Parenting.com, about the uncomfortable feeling that some parents may have as they prepare to support their child’s education from home. Several key ideas in her blog resonated with me. However, one point really stood out to me: The situation we are in right now is NOT homeschooling…

Homeschooling is something parents intentionally choose to do. Rather, this is taking on schoolwork in our homes because of mandated shelter-in-place orders and parents should know – they are not in this alone – we are all in this together. As parents and teachers, we are going to find ourselves partnering in new and innovative ways as we transition our teaching and student learning into your home environments – hopefully as seamlessly as possible. At BCD, we believe that the experience of preschool is a valuable tool in the development of children and as such schools should be committed to providing this crucial component of learning and socialization during these tough times to the best of their abilities.

We believe parents need to know that distance learning does not determine their value as a parent. We need to let parents know that we are here for them and that we will support them along the way to ensure they don’t feel overwhelmed. And to that end, we need to offer them tools. Ways that they can set themselves and their children up for success. Below is a list of action items that parents can use to make this period of ‘distance learning’ run smoother. Note, I share some key points here from Dr. Markham’s article as well as some of my own advice.

  • Make the school’s schedule your new best friend. If the schedule they sent doesn’t work for you, make one that does and use it. A schedule will save your sanity and will help prevent every minute of the day from becoming an invitation to a power struggle with your child.
  • Preview any learning activities you can and decide what you can reasonably accomplish. The good news is, if your school is being mindful of children’s needs, as well as the time and energy required of parents, then the schoolwork your school created for your child probably won’t take long. Let your school know what is working and what is not through whatever feedback forum they provided.
  • For Preschoolers, reassure your child that nobody is at school. Your child may not understand what is happening and why they’re not at school. I created a short YouTube video for the families at my school in which I take them on a tour around our preschool building and show them that, really, no one is at school. Ask your student’s teacher if they might be able to provide a message similar to this and I bet they will happily oblige.
  • If you can only do one thing with your preschool child, READ. Research shows that absolute number one thing we can do for our children is to read and model reading. Doing so helps to nurture their love of reading and helps to ensure that they grow up to be a reader – not just someone who knows how to read.
  • Expect emotional development to be on the agenda. We’re all struggling in our own ways right now, and your child is no exception. According to Dr. Markham, some children show this by misbehaving. Others are surly or torment their siblings. You probably have less patience than usual, but your child needs your help to work through emotions they may not be able to articulate. Remind yourself that your child is trying to cope with this unprecedented time, just like you are. Schools understand this and should be making it a high priority within their lesson programming.
  • Give yourself a break and remember to practice self-care. Think of the safety instructions flight attendants give before take-off and put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Be sure to take care of your own needs so that you can better attend to your child’s.
  • You don’t have to be Mary Poppins and you don’t have to suddenly be a model teacher. Resist the urge to compare yourself (or your child) to others. This is new for all of us. It’s not going to be perfect. Focus on keeping things simple and fun as you settle into your new distance learning routines and platforms.

Finally, I cannot resist sharing this Seuss-inspired distance learning poem I found on the internet (source unknown.) I think it really sums up the message the teachers of the world want parents to know right now:

“I will teach you in a room, I will teach you using Zoom, I will teach you while I’m in my house, I will teach you with my mouse, I will teach you here or there, I will teach you because I care…”

With gratitude and support,

Kath Courter, Head of Preschool at BCD

More on BCD’s Distance Learning program

More on BCD’s Preschool program

More on BCD’s Elementary program

More on BCD’s Middle School program