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Do you feel as if you spend more time talking at your child than to her? Many children have notoriously selective listening skills – they hear what they want and seem to tune out the rest.
But listening is a skill that we can help our children improve. Like a muscle, it needs constant exercise to grow stronger.
Here are some games and activities to boost your child's listening skills. Because children learn in different ways, the games are arranged by learning style. But any child can benefit from the suggestions in all three categories.
For auditory learners
Talk to your child all the time. Tell her about an interesting story you read in the newspaper. Describe a conversation you had at work with a friend. When you go shopping for clothes, tell her about the shopping trips that you used to take with your mom.
Get in the habit of narrating everyday chores. If you're in the kitchen together while you're making dinner, for example, you can say, "I need to measure out two cups of water and then add one cup of rice..." It may not seem as if your child is paying attention – but she is.
Don't be surprised if you hear her repeating something you said when she talks to someone else. And remember: Children are natural mimics, so watch your language!
Make reading an interactive activity. When reading a book to your child, stop before turning the page and say, "What do you think will happen next?" Ask her to explain her answer to see how well she's listened to what you've read so far. If she seems unsure about what happened, start again.
Ask your child to predict how a story will end. Read a book aloud to your child and stop just before the last page. Ask her to guess how the story will turn out, based on what she's already heard.
Then finish the story and discuss the ending with your child. Was her prediction accurate, or was there a surprise ending? If the latter, were there any clues to the ending planted earlier in the story?
Revisit an old favorite. Bring out one of your child's most dog-eared, battered books and read it aloud yet again, only this time pause at key points to let her supply the words that come next.
Or read the story and purposely change key details to see how well your child is paying attention. If she hears something that's not quite right, she'll be sure to correct you.
Listen to stories together. We never outgrow our delight at hearing stories told aloud. Libraries, bookstores, and community centers usually have read-aloud story times for young children.
Go to fairs and community events at which professional storytellers will be performing. And borrow or buy audio books for the car or the house.
Make up silly rhymes. The more absurd, the better. ("The fat cat ate the hat. Then the rat ate the fat cat who ate the hat...")
This activity will teach your child to listen for words that sound the same and to identify rhyming patterns.
Play "story chain." Everyone in the family will enjoy this. Have one person begin a story ("Once upon a time, there was a little boy who lived in a tree house in the woods"), and then have another contribute the next sentence, and so on.
Because each person has to listen to what came before to advance the story, this game enhances listening skills.
If your child is too young to extend a plot line, ask her to supply specific details: "What color was the tree house? Did any friends visit him there? What kind of animals lived near him in the woods?"
For physical learners
Listen to music. Eve Ackert, an early-childhood education teacher in Connecticut, recommends Kids in Motion: Songs for Creative Movement. To learn the movements for each song, your child will have to listen closely to the lyrics. It's also great exercise!
Play listening games. You can rely on old favorites, like Simon Says, or make up your own simple listening games.
For example, you can say, "I'm going to give you a mission. I want you to bring me the following items: A hairbrush from your bedroom and a slipper from your sister's room." Each round, you can add one item, and give her a prize at the end.
You can also find games and worksheets that build listening skills at stores that sell teachers' supplies.
Cook together. Find a recipe, read the directions out loud, and let your child do the measuring, mixing, stirring, and pouring.
Use puppets or a recording to relay instructions. Your preschooler may choose to ignore you when you ask her to tidy her room, but she may comply happily if the request comes from one of her favorite puppets.
Or make cleanup a game by recording your instructions: "Pick up your dolls and put them on the shelf. Then put your clothes in the hamper."
Role-play. Get out the dress-up clothes or puppets and invite your child to act out a favorite story together. Take turns performing for each other.
For visual learners
"Read" a song together. Download music and the corresponding lyrics so you can follow the words along with the music. Even beginning readers can pretend to read a songbook.
Watch a child's video or television show together. Shows such as Arthur and Sesame Street are designed for parent participation. Ask your child to tell you what the characters are saying and doing.