Sometimes as parents you wonder if your children ever listen to you. How much can a baby really hear and understand? How can a toddler be listening when she is so engrossed in play? Does a preschooler listen even if he talks a mile a minute?
Rest assured your child, no matter what her age, is listening intently to what you say and to what is going on around her. Furthermore, listening is a first step on the path to learning to read.
Babies listen from birth
Hearing develops in pregnancy about the fifth month. After birth, the brain is able to perceive and process all the sounds of speech, even those not contained in the child’s native language.
The brain begins to map the sounds of speech as the baby hears adults talking to it. These are the sounds that the child will need to know in order to learn to read.
Parents help their baby listen when they speak using a voice that is higher in pitch, slower and more drawn out, and has greater contrasts in inflection.
This way of speaking presents speech sounds in exactly the way babies need to be able to listen and process them. It’s not baby talk.
Your baby shows she is listening to you by turning to the sound of your voice, smiling and laughing, and moving her arms and legs in excitement.
Toddlers listen on the go
By the end of the first year of life, babies have had lots of experience hearing sounds in their daily lives, and they are beginning to understand that certain sounds represent particular things.
This is receptive language. The fact that toddlers are curious and into everything exposes them to many different words and sounds. Toddlers listen; they just do it standing up!
As they grow closer to speaking words themselves, they seek lots of language stimulation. Your little one may be glued to your side, as he wants to look in your face, watch your mouth, and hear your words.
Listening is very important to language and literacy development in the toddler years, even though it occurs on the move.
Preschoolers are all ears
Most preschoolers are in love with talking. Children this age listen more for meaning and less for the sounds of speech. If your child doesn’t say some sounds clearly, repeat the word using the correct pronunciation rather than pointing out the mistake.
Also, help your child learn to slow down and listen by getting her attention and giving her yours when she is trying to tell you something.
Preschoolers are learning to listen to a story and to retell a story or answer questions about it, important skills that prepare the child for learning to read in the next few years.
Helping your child to pay attention to key parts of a story can enhance listening skills. You might provide a clue before reading.
Here are some things you can do to help your child listen:
Be sure you have your child’s attention. Make eye-contact down on her level. Look out for ear infections and treat them promptly. Pronounce words the way adults do so your child will know what is correct.
Speak a little slower. Use funny voices when reading a story to interest your child. Ask your child to make a prediction about a story. Be a good listener to model for your child.