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Help Your Child Learn to Listen

written by: Sandy Fleming • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 8/2/2012

Listening skills are acquired habits. You can shape your child’s ability to pay attention by using these fun and engaging activities while you share stories.

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    Learning to Listen

    Nearly every parent knows that reading aloud to children builds a firm foundation for academics. Read to your kids and you set them on the path to school success. That’s not the whole story, however. You can make the story as inviting as can be, and some children still just don’t pay attention.

    Some children are in high gear all day long. Even when they ask you to read a story, they sit still for only a few moments before something else attracts their attention. They’re running across the room to play with blocks or color before you’ve even gotten to page three. How can you help children learn to enjoy being read to?

    One trick is to get them more involved. For some children, the pacing of a read-aloud story just seems too boring. They need more action, and you can give it to them with a task to do while they listen. Choose a book of interest, such as one about something familiar or about a favorite subject. Coax your child into joining you on the couch, then try one of these games to keep them engaged.

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    Catch the Mistake

    Children of all ages love to catch adults making mistakes, even if they know it was intentional. Try this game for loads of laughs when you read. To make it easy, use a familiar book. To make it tougher, try new text.

    As you read, slip in a nonsensical word instead of one that’s written. Words on the ends of lines will be easiest to catch, and words embedded in sentences are tougher. For example, if you are sharing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” slip in an error like this: “Mary had a little ham, its fleece was white as snow.” Or to make it tougher, try “Mary had a little lamb, its geese was white as snow.” Be careful that you don’t give away the trick by tone of voice or shift of emphasis! It can be very hard to keep a straight face. This game will build important attention and comprehension skills. It will also keep your busy listener at your side for a few extra moments while you share a book.

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    Picture Book Scavenger Hunt

    The nice thing about books is that you can use them in many ways. Sometimes the pictures can be as engaging as the text, and can be used to draw your child’s attention to the story.

    As you read, pause occasionally and encourage your child to find items in the pictures. Some books are illustrated with this sort of game in mind, such as Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books. Each illustration has a picture of a small mouse hidden in the artwork. Even if your current book has no such theme, though, you can still ask your child to find small details, such as a green door or a purple flower.

    As your child grows, make this task tougher. Try searching for objects that are partially hidden behind other objects or that are not clearly drawn. This will strengthen an important skill called closure that later helps readers notice portions of words or sentences and fill in the rest.

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    Secret Word

    You can help children build listening skills by choosing a secret word to notice. Develop a signal to show they heard the secret word. Many teachers and parents use a quiet movement, such as rubbing the tummy. Have the audience listen for the secret word and use the signal to show they’ve heard it.Use a common word to get kids excited, or use an unusual one to promote listening skills. Your secret word should appear between three and ten times during the story.

    This activity promotes listening and attentiveness. You can even assign a different secret word to different children! Try keeping score to see who finds their word the most times. Keep them listening by changing the signal or picking a new word.

    All of these ideas will help you keep a reluctant listener at your side for a few extra moments. Once your child discovers the fun to be had from reading, he or she will learn to sit for longer periods of time.

Make the Most of Read-Aloud Time

Reading aloud is a great way to introduce your child to the world of reading, but it's also the perfect opportunity to build a host of vital skills. Discover how to get the most mileage out of your read-aloud time with your child!
  1. Encourage Learning During Read Aloud Time
  2. Three Methods Parents can Use to Build their Child's Phonics Skills
  3. Help Your Child Learn to Listen
  4. Use Reading Time to Build Language and Comprehension