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Developing listening skills are vital to a child's school success

Students who have strong listening skills do much better in school than students who do not have this ability. Good listening skills also help adults succeed in relationships and in careers. Because of the emphasis placed on listening skills, school can be very frustrating for kids, even if your child does not have an auditory or language processing problem, or ADD/ADHD.

Parents must understand that listening is not the same as hearing. Our brains can process an astonishing 20,000 bits of auditory information every second. Hearing is a very passive activity. Think about the last time you were in a crowded room and were aware that there was a lot of talking, but didn’t know what each person was saying. The conversations are just “background noise,” not really registering with you, even though you could hear them.

Listening, on the other hand, is a conscious process of getting meaning from what we hear. It involves attention and a decision to participate intellectually with the speaker and the message. Skillful listening requires the ability to stay focused on the message, resist other distractions, and make a meaningful connection with the content of the message. Good listening requires practice because it involves effort to do it well. So what can parents do at home to improve listening skills?


Do

Do develop mutual interests and discuss these interests together

Encourage your children to describe their thoughts. Keep the focus on actively listening to what they are saying. Show through your example what good, thoughtful listening looks like by being attentive, asking good follow-up questions and interacting with what your children have to say.

Do build your child’s vocabulary skills using mutual interests

Help your child learn new words by developing mutual interests, such as going to museums, learning a sport or investigating interesting animals. As you and your children engage in interesting activities, take the opportunity to increase their vocabulary. Vocabulary words learned in interactive, fun activities are better learned and remembered.

Do focus on auditory processing strategies

If your children have a great deal of difficulty understanding speech sounds due to an auditory processing problem, speak slowly and distinctly. Let your children see your mouth as you speak. Teach your children to feel what the sounds feel like when they speak by having them put their hand on their mouth or throat as they say a difficult word. Let them look in a mirror when they pronounce a difficult word to give them visual feedback.

Do reduce distractions

During learning periods, reduce distracting noise, such as noise coming from artificial lighting, TV sets or washing machines. If outside noise is a problem, hang drapes or wall hangings to absorb sound. Try using white noise to soothe and focus your child. Good sources of masking noise are fish tanks; upbeat, instrumental music; and desktop waterfalls.

Do take movement breaks to revitalize

The body and brain need movement to function properly. Movement stimulates the growth of neural networks upon which learning depends. It affords us the opportunity to explore our world and gather the sensory data that fuels the development of intelligence, in other words, it provokes learning. Movement provides feedback that the brain requires in order to learn, and it allows us to express knowledge and therefore advance to the next plateau in our understanding.

A few minutes of movement exercises during homework time will re-energize the nervous system for better attention and learning.
In particular, children who have learning issues benefit from the systematic inclusion of movement in their daily lives.

Most students remember new information better when they talk, write or draw. Encourage your child to “teach” new information to others in the household. For those students who anchor information best by writing, provide them with a white board and erasable markers or encourage them to take notes on paper. It isn’t always necessary to keep notes or read them later in order to anchor information in memory. The act of writing down the information promotes the development of connections among concepts. Demonstrating the concepts of the learning is another powerful way to incorporate the new learning into existing neural networks. Allow your child to act out what has been read, build a model, draw a diagram or chart, sing or dance.

Many students attend, concentrate and learn better when engaged in a repetitive, low concentration task, such as doodling, folding paper, rocking or squeezing a ball. Your children also can try walking around the room while reading or studying. Suggest to your kids that they do this every 15 minutes while completing homework.

Because the mouth is an important site of neural integration and is closely tied to brain development, some students find that chewing can be a highly integrating activity that promotes concentration and understanding. Chewing gum actually can be an effective way to focus. It’s best to keep it simple. Crunchy, spicy, salty or sour foods can be effective concentration boosters. Have your child try carrot sticks, sugar free gum, pretzels or sour candy.

Encourage your child to engage in cross lateral physical activity for five minutes every hour. Cross lateral movements engage hand and foot on opposite sides of the body. Most of these movements are more effective when done standing. The addition of rhythmic music provides a boost. Some cross lateral movements students enjoy include:

-Touch hand (or elbow) to opposite knee.
-Lazy 8: Use one hand to trace a large infinity sign in front of the body, following the hand with the eyes. Alternate hands and continue.
-Cross the arms in front of the face in the shape of an “X” tracing a lazy 8. Be sure to watch the path of the 8 while tracing it.
-Karate Cross Crawl: Kick while punching or chopping with alternate hand and foot (right hand chops while left foot kicks).
-Cross Crawl Sit-ups: While lying on the back with hands clasped behind the head for support, sit up and touch the right elbow to the left knee. Alternate touching elbow to opposite knee.
-Double Doodle: Draw a design with both hands simultaneously. Be sure the designs are mirror images of each other, rather than facing the same direction


Don't

Do not forget to read to your child every day for at least 10 minutes

One of the most powerful strategies a parent can use to build their child’s skills is to read stories that your child finds interesting. Choose materials in areas of mutual interest or stories that go along with the topics your child’s class is studying. Stop regularly and ask your child to predict what will happen next or express an opinion. Listen to stories together at libraries and bookstores. Additionally, books on tape are great tools.

Do not ignore the need to help your child develop inner language skills

Inner language is the little voice inside our heads that guides and directs our actions. Develop these skills by teaching your children to repeat back what is said to them. Ask them to explain what they are thinking as they work. Teach him to describe to you what they are going to do before they do it and while they are doing it. All of these strategies will help kids learn to focus on the steps in a process and make it easier for them to work through the specific steps the teacher gives them in the classroom.

Do not fail to teach your child to visualize on classroom walls

Start by using a piece of paper and dividing it into four sections. Read a story to your children and discuss it with them so they remember it. Then have them draw four pictures that illustrate the story—beginning, middle and end. When you have done this a number of times, read a story, discuss it and have them look at one of the walls in the room and imagine that their picture is drawn on the wall. Continue with three other walls. Now practice by pointing to a wall and asking your children what they are imagining on the wall. Discuss how to use this technique in the classroom to increase interest and attention during class discussions.

Do not overlook the importance of playing games

Make “Echo-Tap” a game. Read to your children in phrases short enough for them to repeat the phrases back to you. Poems are excellent sources because they contain rhythm and rhyme, and are lots of fun. The next step in this method is to have your children tap out the syllables as they repeat back to you. Now, for the third phase, have your children listen to you read, but instead of repeating back to you what you said, they will only tap out the syllables. This will develop inner language skills.

If this is difficult, give kids shorter phrases to tap or let them whisper while they tap, gradually phasing out the whispering. Be sure at each stage that after you finish reading, your children can tell you in their own words what you have read.

Fun games for preschool and early elementary children include:

-Clapping Patterns: Clap your hands in a rhythmic pattern and have your child repeat it. Increase the number of claps and build in a memory aspect to the activity.
-Talk with the Animals: Collect your child’s favorite stuffed animals and sit your child facing away from you. Each animal knocks and gives clues to its identity using a funny voice.
-Word Shout: Read a book with a word or phrase that is repeated frequently. Have your child shout out the word or phrase whenever he or she hears it.

Fun games for older elementary children include:

-Then: The first person makes a statement that ends with the word, then. The next person adds a statement that goes along with the story. For example: First person: “The doorbell rang, then…” Second child: “….the dog started to bark, then…”
-Who’s Talking: Watch one of your children’s favorite movies or television shows together. Have them close their eyes. Now and then say, “Who’s talking?” Your child identifies who is speaking.
-Cook Together: Find a recipe and read the directions out loud to your child.

Do not inadvertently erode your child’s motivation and self-confidence

We have so much pressure in raising our families, earning a living and caring for ourselves that we often do not realize how our behavior is affecting our children. We fall into the trap of calling out directions from another room without knowing whether our kids are able to give us their attention.

We need to get our children’s attention before expecting them to listen.
Try this strategy: Stand in the doorway or near your children without saying anything and wait for them to notice you. Then make a positive comment about your their activity before launching into your directions.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Your children’s success in school is dependent upon many things, but strong listening abilities are one of the most important. Remember to connect with your children in activities that truly interest them, and they will be eager to listen to what you have to say.


More expert advice about Help Your Child Succeed Academically

Photo Credits: listening in science and math by woodleywonderworks via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Dr. Kari Miller, PhDEducational Therapist

Dr. Miller is a Board Certified Educational Therapist and Director of Miller Educational Excellence. She has been mentoring special needs students for approximately twenty-five years, working with students in a vast array of capacities, includin...

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