Active listening is truly an art. As a teacher and mother, I am often giving instructions and having conversations with my children and students. At the beginning of kindergarten I teach my students that you not only listen by hearing with your ears, but you also listen with your eyes, your body language and your brains. Not only do you have to sit still and look at the speaker, but you have to process what they are saying and determine how you should respond. It sounds simple enough, but getting children to actively listen takes teaching, practice and lots of patience.
Believe it or not, listening is a literacy skill mentioned on several Language Arts Virginia Standards of Learning as well as on literacy Common Core standards (for all you non-Virginia folks). Not only are students expected to follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (listening to others and taking turns) but they're also expected to listen to varieties of literary forms and follow directions. So, what can you do to foster listening growth at home? I'm so glad you asked. Here are four easy ways that you can help your child become a more active listener.
1) Have conversations with your children. It sounds easy enough, but honestly, take an interest. Ask your child about his or her day and model good listening skills. This can sometimes be a little tricky if you're anything like me. Sometimes I feel like I'm running a million miles an hour and don't have time to sit down, stop prepping dinner, make eye contact and really pay attention to what's being said. That could by why my son always says, "Mom, look at me" before he starts talking. He actually will not start telling me something until I look. Well, that saying actually might be my fault, for some of those preschool discipline chats that began with, "look at Mommy when she's talking." Oops! But this is something simple that can be done on a daily basis and requires no preparation or materials and hopefully it'll set you up for the teenage years when you want them to tell you things and they won't.
2) Play Simon Says. Make listening a game. I've said it before and I'll go ahead and say it again, if it's a game, kids will do it. I can't tell you how many times I've started a quick game of Simon Says to get my students' attention when they are chitchatting. I actually call it "Mrs. Fields" says. It works like a charm and I don't have to raise my voice above the volume of normal speaking. Not only does it get my students' attention, but they have to listen to what I say and how I start the sentence.
3) Draw a Face/Monster. I recently played this with my son and he really got into it. All you need is a piece of paper (I used chart paper from our easel) and a few basic color crayons. I made our picture a monster, but a simple face will do if your child is not so into drawing monsters. First, I asked my son to draw a large green circle for the head. Then I asked him to draw two small blue circle eyes and a red square nose (yes, he drew a triangle instead of a square). From there we added more details, purple ears, orange hair, and a black mouth (the triangle teeth were his own creation). Your child will have to listen and follow simple directions to complete the face. This is also a great activity for practicing colors and shapes.
4) Say it once. This is probably the most important. One of my colleges recently gave me an article from Edutopia on 5 Ways to Get Students to Listen by Rebecca Alber. The first strategy was "Say it Once" which was very sobering for me because in 11 years of teaching and 4 years of being a parent, I repeat instructions until the child completes the task. I am a repeater. So why aren't my students and kids listening to me the first time? Because they don't have to, Mommy/Mrs. Fields will say it again, and again, and again. Nope, no more. I've quit repeating cold turkey, well, almost, I still catch myself repeating, sometimes.
I'd love to hear ways that you teach active listening in your home or at school in the comments below.