Attention and listening skills are the foundation of language development and learning. Children need to be able to listen and attend to the world around them in order to make sense of the language they hear.
Attention and listen develops over time. Babies (under 1) have fleeting attention and are easily distracted by their environment. As children get older (1-2 years) they begin to focus on an activity of their own choosing (though they find it tricky to be interrupted!). As single channelled attention develops, the child can focus on one thing at a time but can be stopped to listen to an instruction (2-3 years). By 4-5 years old a child should be able to listen to an instruction at the same time as carrying out a task (though their concentration might still be short).
How to support your child’s attention and listening skills:
- Get down to your child’s level
- Use lots of eye contact and facial expressions
- Vary your tone of voice
- Minimise distractions e.g. turn off the TV and put away technology
- Use visual cues to help your child know what you’re talking about
- Follow your child’s lead
Activities and Games to help your child develop these skills:
Ready, Steady, Go games – games such as cars on a track, rolling a ball between you and the child, or blowing bubbles can be fun ways to develop attention skills. Choose an activity your child is interested in and say ‘ready, steady…’ pausing before you say ‘go’. Vary the length of the pause so your child is anticipating what is about to happen next.
Turn taking games – increase the amount of time a child waits for their turn.
Activities to try:
- Building a tower – taking turns to put the next brick on (and then knocking it over!)
- Rolling a ball to each other
- Simple jigsaws
Nursery Rhymes – encouraging your child to join in with the actions.
Sharing stories – encourage your child to sit and listen to a short story (use lift the flap books to allow them to join in)
Silly stories – read a simple familiar story and see if your child notices if you change something e.g. the character’s name
Rice/pasta shakers – fill bottles or yoghurt pots with different items e.g. pasta or rice. Shake the bottle and encourage your child to listen to the noise it makes. Have 2 which make the same noise and see if they can find the matching one
Animal noises – have a selection of animal toys and make an animal noise and see if your child can find the animal
These are just a few ideas to help to develop your child’s listening and attention at home. If you’re worried about your child’s communication skills, please consult a Speech and Language Therapist.